Notorious (1946)

Notoriousnotorious poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ben Hecht
1946/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
Repeat viewing/Criterion Collection DVD
#193 of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die

 

Madame Sebastian: Wouldn’t it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?

If I had a gun held to my head and was forced to name my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, there could be only one answer. This one.

After the arrest of her father as a Nazi traitor, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) becomes a party girl and budding alcoholic.  One night. a tall, dark, handsome stranger, Devlin (Cary Grant), crashes one of her parties.  She is immediately attracted, then repelled when she discovers he is one of the many “cops” who are tailing her.  It turns out he has a proposition to make. The U.S. government wants her help in rooting out some Nazis in South America.  She is more attracted than repelled by Devlin and he appeals to her patriotism, so she agrees.

After they leave for Rio, the two rapidly become an item.  Alicia is unabashed in her love but Devlin has evidently been burned before and keeps his emotions tightly in check. It turns out that the job Devlin’s superiors have in mind for Alicia is basically to prostitute herself to get close to Nazi cell leader Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains).  Devlin, not trusting in Alicia’s redemption by love, neither puts up a fight with the authorities nor discourages Alicia from taking on the assignment.  Broken hearted, Alicia agrees to take on the job.  She is successful beyond anybody’s wildest dreams in that Alex asks her to marry him.

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Devlin continues to be Alicia’s handler and their meetings continue to stick the knife into Alicia’s heart.  Meanwhile, Alicia is informing on all of Alex’s associates and some suspicious circumstances surrounding the wine cellar.  Matters come to a head when she gets Devlin invited to a big bash at the house so that she can slip him the stolen key to the cellar.  With Madame Konstantine as the mother-in-law from Hell.

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I have no problem in pronouncing this movie perfect.  It combines a lush and beautiful romance with some serious suspense.  No matter how many times I see it, I still get a little nervous in that wine cellar.  Devlin’s conflicted feelings give the romance its own suspense.  And just looking at Grant and Bergman as photographed by by Ted Tetzlaff is pleasure in itself.  This time around, I focused especially on Claude Rains’ performance. The movie would not have worked as well as it does if he had not been able to make us feel pity for his situation.  My highest recommendation.

Claude Rains was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Notorious. Although non-professional-actor winner Harold Russell was very good in The Best Years of Our Lives, I think Rains got robbed.  The film was also nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

The Blu-Ray DVD contains two commentaries by film historians, one on the context of the making of the film and one on the film itself.  I really enjoyed learning about the history of RKO, the history of David O. Selznik and the collaboration of the two on Notorious.

Trailer – talk about a trailer that gives away the whole plot!

 

My Reputation (1946)

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Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
Written by Catherine Terney from a novel by Clare Jaynes
1946/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Jessica Drummond: You know, it’s amazing how I can learn to like martinis. It’s an acquired taste like anchovies.

Taking over a role that might otherwise gone to Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck is absolutely terrific in a glossy Warner Brothers “woman’s picture” that manages to stay clear of melodrama.

The year is 1942 and the city is Chicago.  As the story begins Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck) has just lost her husband after two years of illness.  She has two adolescent boys.  Her mother (Lucille Watson) is the model of turn-of-the century manners and is aghast that Jessica refuses to wear black.  A friend of the family is helping Jessica manage the estate.  After a decent interval has passed, the mother urges Jessica to marry him.  In the meantime, Jessica, while keeping up a brave front, is going nearly crazy with loneliness.  This gets worse when the boys return to boarding school.  Best friend Ginna (Eve Arden) urges Jessica to join her and her husband at their cabin at Lake Tahoe instead of going South with her mother as planned.  Jessica takes Ginna up on the offer.

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At Lake Tahoe, Jessica meets cute with Maj. Scott Landis (George Brent) when she breaks a ski.  They spend most of the remaining days together but Jessica energetically rejects Scott’s advances and they part abruptly.  Jessica can’t get him out of her mind when she returns home, however, and when Ginna spots him at a Chicago restaurant Jessica rushes there to “accidentally” run into him.

Before long, Jessica is in love and ready to throw caution to the wind.  She even persists with the relationship after Scott makes clear that he is not the marrying kind.  But does Jessica have the strength to carry on with the affair over the objections of her mother and children and the ugly gossip in her social set?

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The plot is quite reminiscent of All That Heaven Allows but Stanwyck’s character has more backbone from the get go than Jane Wyman’s ever mustered.  She is absolutely radiant here and the part lets her explore a broad range of emotions.  The staid George Brent does not really convince as a free spirit but does not detract from the film either.  Both Eve Arden and Lucille Watson are their usual enjoyable selves.  The film was sumptuously shot by cinematographer James Wong Howe and looks beautiful.  The film has been described as a melodrama but I really didn’t see that.  At no point does Stanwyck play the victim of anybody.  Recommended.

The film was made in 1943 but was not released to the general public until 1946.

Trailer

 

Night Editor (1946)

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Directed by Henry Levin
Written by Harold Jacob Smith from a story by Scott Littleton and a radio program by Hal Burdick
1946/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Jill Merrill: I don’t need you, I can buy and sell you. I don’t know why I bother seeing you.

Tony Cochrane: You don’t know why? I’ll tell you. You’re rotten through and through. Like something they serve at the Ritz,only its been laying out in the sun too long.

This was a fun pulpy film noir but what was it with the ending?

A reporter stumbles into his office, late, drunk and unable to go home.  The editor and some other reporters are playing poker.  The editor takes up the cautionary tale of homicide detective Tony Cochrane.

It seems that Cochrane (William Gargan) was a crack detective and devoted family man, especially close to his little son.  That all changed when he fell prey to socialite Jill Merrill (Janis Carter) and began an adulterous affair, from which he seems powerless to extricate himself.  While Cochrane and Jill are smooching on an isolated lover’s lane, they witness a man beating a girl to death in a car with a tire iron.  Cochrane is prevented by Jill, who fears publicity, and his own cowardice re his wife from going to the victim’s aid or investigating.  Jill opines that the girl probably deserved what she got anyway.  Naturally, Cochrane is assigned to the homicide investigation.

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Unfortunately, Cochrane’s car left a tire print at the scene of the crime which he feels compelled to destroy, further implicating him in the crime.  But he doggedly pursues his leads even when they take him deep into Jill’s social circle.  There is really only one possible outcome.  I will leave it to viewers to see how the film gets there.

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OK, so we know that under the Hayes Code adultery cannot pay.  I was not prepared for the sheer audaciousness of the ending though!  Another given of the period is that in any adulterous relationship the woman must be evil personified and the man her hapless dupe. Janis Carter may not be the world’s greatest actress but she does make a really wicked femme fatale.

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Three Strangers (1946)

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Directed by Jean Negulesco
John Huston and Howard Koch
1946/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

David Shackleford: [to Crystal] You only want what you can’t have as long as you can’t have it.

This is a fun John Huston-penned thriller about his favorite topic, greed.  It contains dynamite performances by Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

Crystal Shackleford (Geraldine Fitzgerald, also fantastic) is in the possession of the idol of Chinese goddess Kwan Yin.  She believes that the goddess will grant one wish by three strangers at midnight on Chinese New Year.  So Crystal picks up lawyer Jerome Arbuthny (Greenstreet) and dipso Johnny West (Lorre) on the street, being careful not to learn their names, and takes them home.  Johnny is intrigued but Arbuthny scoffs at the whole project.  The three have different problems but money will help solve all of them and Crystal gets the men to agree to wish that an Irish Sweepstakes ticket will win and to pledge not to sell the ticket before the race.

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After making the wish at midnight, the three exchange names and go on their merry way. We learn that the truly wicked Crystal’s real wish is to get her estranged husband back, apparently so she can make him suffer some more.  Arbuthny’s wish is to be admitted into a select lawyer’s club but he has been speculating with a client’s trust fund money and fears for his reputation if found out.  Johnny, besides drinking himself to death, has been an unwitting dupe in a robbery that ended in murder.  He is hiding out with his girlfriend Icey (Joan Lorring) and a gangster during the trial of the actual murderer.  Then the murderer decides to admit to the robbery and finger his associates for the murder and Johnny is in real trouble.

I won’t spoil the next developments.  Anyone who has seen Treasure of the Sierra Madre and can transpose the situation into this kind of story will have a pretty good guess.

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Where to start?  Lorre is really the the hero if this film has one.  It’s so nice to see him without the usual tics and with a girlfriend who adores him.  You just have to love him. Greenstreet gets to shine in the third act with a truly manic and scary turn.  The multiple subplots did not detract from the story arc.  It’s amazing what strong writing can do.  Recommended.

Trailer

Morning for the Osone Family (1946)

Morning for the Osone Family (Ôsone-ke no ashita)morning for the osone family poster
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Eijirô Hisaita
1946/Japan
Shochiku Company
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

Taiji Osone: ‘Bushido is the way of dying.” I wish things were that simple.

Director Kinoshita moves seamlessly from pro-war propaganda to anti-war propoganda. Fortunately, he is also an artist and this is a very moving film with a wonderful central performance by Haruko Sugimura, who later played the selfish daughter in Tokyo Story.

The story follows the Osone family from 1943 to 1945.  We know it is Westernized when we see the family celebrating Christmas by singing “Silent Night” while mother accompanies on the piano.  The father, a professor, is deceased and a picture of grandfather in his military uniform hangs on the wall.  The Osone’s celebration is marred by the fact that they are also bidding Yukie’s fiance farewell as he goes off to join the army. Things get worse when eldest son Ichiru is picked up by the police for writing an article critiquing the war.  He remains a political prisoner until war’s end.

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Unfortunately, the nominal head of the family is “Uncle”, the father’s brother, who is a fat cat colonel at Japanese military headquarters.  He immediately breaks off Yukie’s engagement since he can’t allow the fiance’s family to dishonorably unite itself with the sister of a “subversive”.  Afterwards, Uncle and his wife move in with the family when their house is damaged by bombing.  Uncle gets the best of everything and manages to wangle Yukie a job in the accounting department instead of going on to war factory work as ordered.

Mrs. Osone (Sugimura) is throughly intiminated by Uncle,  Middle son Taiji, a painter, is drafted.  He needs to get drunk to work up the courage to go.  Finally, in the darkest days of the war, the youngest son, a junior in high school enlists with the encouragement of Uncle.  Mrs. Osone is drafted into hard labor digging an air raid shelter but collapses due to malnutrition.  She develops some backbone after the surrender but by this time in looks like she may have literally or figuratively have lost all her children in the process.

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Although this movie is obviously a propaganda effort to show the Japanese public the error of their government’s militaristic ways, more broadly its theme is the post-war dissolution of the Japanese family, a subject which Ozu would explore in many of his less broadly melodramatic masterpieces.  Despite all this, I was genuinely touched by the story.  It was effective propaganda, I think.  By the end I wanted the authorities to round up Uncle and try him as a war criminal.  Even better would have been if someone had just slapped him hard.  Recommended.

Clip – I saw a very interesting connection to The Best Years of Our Lives here – remember the Japanese flag taken from the body of a dead soldier that Al tries to give his son?  Here we see one of the children writing a message on a flag that a soldier will take off to war.

Decoy (1946)

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Directed by Jack Bernhard
Written by Nedrick Young from a story by Stanley Rubin
1946/USA
Bernhard/Brandt Productions
First viewing/Film Noir Classics Vol. 4 DVD

 

Sergeant Joe Portugal: People who use pretty faces like you use yours don’t live very long anyway.

This poverty-row film noir was thought to be lost for years and now enjoys a kind of cult status.  The movie is all over the place, but it is easy to see why fans longed to see it for all that time.

The story is told in flashback to policeman Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) by dying femme fatale Margo (Jean Gillie).  Margo’s boyfriend Frankie Olin (Robert Armstrong) had been on death row for several years having killed a security guard during a bank robbery. Margo’s one aim in life is to get her hands on the $400,000 Frankie hid away before being arrested.  Frankie is obsessed with Margo and is unwilling to part with the money’s location until he is released from prison and they can spend it together.  The fickle Margo has already convinced her gangster lover to finance Frankie’s appeals with promises that he will share in the proceeds.

When all the appeals fail, Margo learns of a drug that is an antidote for cyanide poisoning, such as that used in California’s gas chamber.  She sets about seducing altruistic free clinic doctor Lloyd Craig, who officiates at executions to bolster his meager income.  The doctor, despite his Hippocratic Oath, is putty in her hands.

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Craig just happens to be well equipped with the necessary stuff to revive the dead.  The spoilers will stop here but I can let you know that we get a lab scene vaguely reminiscent  of the one in Frankenstein (I’m ALIVE … I’m ALIVE!!!) and multiple violent murders and double crosses.

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One can overlook quite a lot of bad acting when a story is as fun as this one.  The dead spots and poor pacing – not so much.

Five-minute documentary on the film

Deadline at Dawn (1946)

Deadline at Dawn
Directed by Howard Ce8_116034_0_DeadlineatDawnlurman
Written by Clifford Odets based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich
1946/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5 DVD

 

June Goth: This is New York, where hello means goodbye.

This entertaining film noir seems to rely on wildly improbable coincidences.  Only some of these are explained by the twist ending.

The camera focuses on a fly crawling on the face of a sleeping woman.  We are instantly plunged into the seedy side of life in nighttime New York City.  The drunken woman is a “bad girl” who evidently owes her gentleman caller $1400.  When she looks for it, it is nowhere to be found.  But she says she knows where to find it.  It must have been taken by a sailor she invited there earlier.

We start to follow the naive young sailor, Alex Winkley (Bill Williams), who comes to from his alcoholic blackout with $1400 in his pocket.  He knows he will be the first place the woman and her gangster brother (Joseph Calleia) will look for the dough.  He runs into a world-weary dance hall girl named June (“rhymes with moon”) (Susan Hayward) who reluctantly agrees to help the boy return the money.  But the two only find the woman’s strangled body.

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The sailor is due to be back to his ship by dawn and the pair begin a desperate effort to find the real culprit.  Some amazingly slim clues lead them to a soda fountain.  Outside the place, they get their lucky break when they are picked up by a kindly cabbie (Paul Lukas) who earlier picked up a mystery blonde they are looking for.  He can tell by one look at the sailor’s face that the boy is incapable of murder and agrees to help them.

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The best thing about this picture is Susan Hayward, who is dynamite with the hard-boiled Odets dialogue while somehow being softer than she usually is.  The story is too unlikely and complicated to be completely engaging but the movie is enjoyable in its pulpy way nonetheless.

Clip – cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Livesthe-best-years-of-our-lives
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Robert E. Sherwood from a novel by MacKinlay Kantor
1946/USA
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Repeat viewing; DVD in collection
#194 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Fred Derry: How long since you been home?

Al Stephenson: Oh, a couple-a centuries.

I have seen this coming home story so often it seems like an old friend — one that it is always a pleasure to catch up with.  I can’t think of a single thing I would change about the  film.

By chance, de-mobilized service men Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Homer Parrish (Harold Russel), and Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) hitch a ride on the same military plane to their home town of Boone City.  The men could not be more different.  The highest ranking of the three is Fred, who is a captain and ex-Air Force gunner.  Al was a sergeant in the infantry and Homer is a lowly seaman returning home from the hospital after having lost his hands during the bombing of his ship.  They are all united by their war experience and their common anxiety about what awaits them at home.

As the men return to their homes we learn that they are as different by class as they are by rank.  Derry comes from the wrong side of the tracks and was a soda jerk before the war put him in a fancy uniform and allowed him to win his blonde bombshell wife (Virginia Mayo).  Homer is solidly middle class and all-American returning to his family who live in a house with a white picket fence.  Al is an ex-banker who is dropped off at a swanky apartment to reunite with Milly (Myrna Loy), his wife of twenty years, and two children, Peggy (Theresa Wright) and Rob.

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All three men are troubled by their reception the very first day.  Al gets a lecture from his son, who is sympathetic with the Japanese after the atom bomb, and he has trouble breaking the ice with the women folk.  Fred finds his wife has moved out of his parents home and gone back to work at a nightclub.  Homer can’t bear the pity of his family.  All of the men end up drinking away their sorrows at the bar owned by Homer’s uncle Butch (Hoagy Carmichael).  Al has dragged Milly and Peggy along and Peggy and Fred are drawn to each other.

The men’s readjustment is slow and painful.  Al develops quite the drinking problem as he tries to get used to being a conservative banker.  Homer has trouble opening up to anybody and it looks like he will let his engagement to Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) slip by the wayside.  Fred, lacking any applicable skills, is forced to take a job working under the man who formerly assisted him at the drugstore.  His wife has little use for him without his uniform or money and Al puts the kabosh on a budding extramarital relationship with Peggy.  We follow the men until each gradually comes to terms with civilian live.

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I have absolutely no complaints about anything in this movie and I love it as well so I guess I can call it perfect.  It is amazing how fast the three hours flies.  It seems to just take that long for us to get to know the characters well enough for their fates to matter.  I always cry at different points.  It usually begins with the scene where Milly is serving Al his breakfast in bed, carries on through Wilma putting Homer to bed, and culminates in a big way when Fred is sitting in the war surplus bomber.

Myrna Loy amazingly was never even nominated for an Oscar.  She is the equal to the Oscar-winning Fredric March in this film and was robbed.  There was never anyone better at playing a well-loved wife and she exceeded all expectations here.

The Best Years of Our Lives won Academy Awards for:  Best Picture; Best Actor (March); Best Supporting Actor (Russell); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Hugo Friedhofer).  It was nominated for Best Sound, Recording.  Harold Russell won an Honorary Award for: “For bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives.”  I agree with all these awards, though it would have been nice if the Academy could have been satisfied with giving Russell the Honorary Award and saved the Supporting Actor statuette for Claude Rains in Notorious.

Trailer

Canyon Passage (1946)

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Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Ernest Pascal from the novel by Ernest Haycox
1946/USA
Universal Pictures
First viewing/Netflix video

 

Logan Stuart: A man can choose his own gods, Cornelius. What are your gods?

I was expecting a bit more from this Jacques Tourneur-helmed Western. It’s perfectly serviceable, though.

Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) is a business man in frontier Oregon.  His loyalty to friend George Camrose (Brian Donlevy) seemingly knows no bounds.  It extends even to covering the compulsive gambler’s debts for him.  It is obvious that Camrose’s girlfriend Lucy (Susan Hayward) is actually carrying a torch for Logan.  Logan, however, opts to propose to another, more conventional, farm girl.

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The story is composed of elements that did not exactly hang together well for me.  Along with the love triangle, we get an epic brawl with bad guy Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), an Indian attack, and a lynch mob organized by townsman Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges) against George Camrose.  With Hoagy Carmichael providing homespun wisdom and a song or two.

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I don’t have much to say about this movie.  It was nothing remarkable but Western lovers could certainly do much worse.

Hoagy Carmichael and Jack Brooks were nominated for Best Music, Original Song for “Ole Buttermilk Sky”.

Clip – Final scene with “Ole Buttermilk Sky”

The Locket (1946)

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Directed by John Brahm
Written by Sheridan Gibney
1946/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Norman Clyde: I really didn’t mean to be offensive.

Nancy Monks Blair Patton: That hardly seems possible.

Laraine Day makes for an overly wholesome femme fatale in this film noir but Robert Mitchum and Brian Aherne are sufficiently doomed to make up for it.

This film uses the flashback within a flashback within a flashback technique.  It is less confusing than it sounds.

The story begins on the day Nancy (Day) is to wed John Willis (Gene Raymond). Psychiatrist Dr. Blair (Aherne) asks for a rush audience with the groom right before the ceremony.  Blair tells Willis that his intended has already wrecked the lives of at least three men until now.  Blair says he should know because he was one of them, having been married to Nancy for five years.  This is the first that Willis has heard of Nancy’s marital history.  He has a hard time believing his ever-smiling bride-to-be could lie to him.

Blair begins to tell the whole story.  Here we flashback into Blair’s meeting with Nancy’s ex-boyfriend Norman Clyde (Mitchum).  As Clyde tells Blair his own sad story, we segue into another flashback with voice-over narration by Clyde.  It seems that he caught Nancy with a very valuable diamond necklace in her handbag after a party during which the jewels went missing.  Nancy admits to stealing the gems and begins to explain the roots of her kleptomaniac tendencies to Clyde.

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Segue into still another flashback.  As a child, Nancy lived in a wealthy household where her mother was housekeeper.  She became friends with the daughter of the family.  On the daughters birthday, she gave little Nancy her own gift, a locket,  in compensation for being left out of the girl’s  party.  The girl’s mother abruptly snatches the locket, a valuable family heirloom, back.  Nancy reacts badly to losing her prize to say the least.  Then the locket goes missing.  Nancy is the prime suspect.  Even though Nancy’s mother eventually finds the locket in the folds of the daughter’s dress, her boss forces Nancy to confess to stealing it.  Clyde buys this tale of childhood trauma, mails the necklace Nancy took back and says no more about it.

There is another jewel theft at a party Nancy attends, this time under circumstances Clyde cannot so easily overlook.  Nancy cannot deal with Clyde’s suspicions and the pair breaks up.  Blair, who buys the childhood trauma story hook line and sinker, refuses to believe his wife erred a second time.  I will spoil no more.  Suffice it to say that Nancy eventually drags Blair through hell.  With Lillian Fontaine, mother of Joan Fontaine and Olivia DeHavilland, as a British countess.photo-Le-Medaillon-The-Locket-1946-2

It would be hard for anyone not to be fooled by Day’s all-American good looks and Junior League manners.  In that regard, I suppose she suited the part nicely.  I would have liked a few glimpses of evil in her personality along with her wicked actions, however.  Everybody else in the film is just fine and it is an entertaining mystery.  RKO’s resident noir greats Nicholas Musuraca and Roy Webb did the cinematography and music.

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