Saturday, September 02, 2006


A decent Gothic-type melodrama with a topical twist (the lead character is a post-war refugee from Belsen); Fox Video is marketing this on DVD in their "film noir" line, but it's really not--a little more than shadows and the occasional city street scene is needed to make a noir--and I think die-hard noir fans will be disappointed. It's much more like REBECCA or GASLIGHT than DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Valentina Cortese is a Polish widow who has been thrown into a concentration camp. She befriends a woman named Karin who clearly does not have the resources for survival that Cortese does; despite Cortese's best efforts, Karin dies. Cortese, knowing that the dead woman had shipped her son off to live with wealthy relatives in San Francisco, impulsively takes her identity papers and, when the camp is liberated just a few days later, she passes herself off to the American solider in charge of repatriation (William Lundigan) as Karin. She finds out that the rich aunt is dead and, knowing that the son was just a baby when he was sent away and wouldn't recognize her, she decides to head to the States and make a home with the child. The issue of her motives is a little murky; after the kind of suffering she went through, and knowing she had no home or family left in Europe, it's hard to fault her for wanting a better life, but she is still guilty of working her way into money and motherhood under false pretenses. A more interesting movie might have examined this moral quandary a bit, but that doesn't happen here. At any rate, Cortese gets to the U.S. and meets up with the child's guardian (Richard Basehart), a distant relative of the dead aunt. They hit it off and by the time they get to the West Coast, they're married. The child takes to her and she to him, but the housekeeper (Fay Baker) is standoffish and a little creepy, and soon we suspect that there is more to Basehart than meets the eye. Coincidentally, Lundigan shows up again, as a lawyer friend of Basehart's, and when Cortese suspects that Basehart and Baker are in league against her, she turns to him for help, not knowing that Basehart has told Lundigan that she's going nuts. There is a suspicious car accident, a near-fatality in a mysterious playhouse, and some possibly poisoned drinks on a tray (a la Hitchcock's SUSPICION) before all is resolved. Basehart, who I only really know from his starring role in the 60's TV show "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," is quite good at maintaining moral ambiguity (is he good or is he bad?) for most of the movie, better than Cary Grant was in SUSPICION--though I suspect that was more the fault of the script than the actor. Baker, who went on to do mostly supporting TV parts, is also very good, nicely understated in the Mrs. Danvers-like role. Though shot mostly in a studio, there is some nice location footage of San Francisco. I can't recommend this as a film noir, but for a Friday night Gothic thriller, it will fit the bill. [DVD]

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