Monday, September 29, 2003

WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944--aka BETRAYED)

A Poverty Row B-noir that can hold its own up against most any 40's B-film from Warners or RKO. In the opening, Dick Elliott plays a drunken conventioneer in a papier-mache lion's mask who carelessly throws around a lot of money at a hotel bar in Philadelphia. We see a man (from behind) chat up the drunk. Next morning, Elliott is found dead (in the lion mask) by the maid. Meanwhile, Kim Hunter, a young newlywed from Ohio, has arrived in New York City to meet her husband (Dean Jagger), a salesman who was supposed to show up there from Philadelphia. They married in a hurry, after only three dates, and when he doesn't show up, she confides in an old boyfriend (Robert Mitchum) who is coincidentally staying in the same hotel she's in. Jagger eventually shows up but is acting strange, like he's hiding something. The plot takes a few twists from there, some predictable, some not, to a satisfying ending.

For such a cheap and quickly made film, it looks pretty good, making the best of limited sets and a small cast. The single best set is of a Harlem dance club populated with many extras and a joyous dancing couple who get the spotlight for a minute, in a scene that really doesn't have much to do with the plot, but does add some interesting atmosphere. Noir conventions like jazzy music, dark streets, and blinking neon signs are present. The climax involves a Hitchcockian scene of a crucial letter stuck in a mail drop. The actors (who all went on to bigger things) are good, though the characterizations, especially of the two men, leave much to be desired, a problem of writing, not acting. In a nifty in-joke scene, Hunter uses a photo of the movie's director, William Castle, as a decoy for the cops. Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on TV's "Batman") plays a cop; Elliott, the dead man, played the mayor of Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show." Not necessarily one to hunt down, but a pleasant surprise if you run across it on cable (as I did, on Encore Mystery).

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