Saturday, April 11, 2009


Van Heflin, a successful Broadway producer, sees his wife (Gene Tierney) off to visit her sick mother, then reluctantly attends a boring cocktail party given by Ginger Rogers, the star of his latest hit show. At the party, he befriends a depressed young lady (Peggy Ann Garner) who has been struggling to make a living as a writer--she's told by one editor that it's OK to write like Somerset Maugham or Truman Capote, but not like both at the same time. When she complains that her current living conditions down in the Village aren't conducive to her writing, he agrees to let her use his luxury apartment during the day while he's gone. This goes on for a few weeks without incident, but on the day that Tierney returns, Garner is found dead in the bathroom, an apparent suicide. Based on evidence provided by Garner's roommate (Virginia Leith), the assumption is made that she killed herself over an affair with Heflin which had gone wrong, but then the police find out that she was strangled (and pregnant) and Heflin, despite his insistence that he was not involved in her life, is the prime suspect. He spends the rest of the film trying to clear himself, and soon discovers that Garner was not quite the naïve innocent she seemed to be.

This film has been released as part of Fox's Noir series, and the basic plotline (an innocent man, in the wrong place and time accused of murder, and a potential femme fatale or two) is certainly a stalwart noir device. But stylistically, this is far from noir: this film is in bright color and Cinemascope, and though it's set in the big city, virtually none of the action takes place on city streets, but in well-appointed apartments in high-rise buildings (except for the atmospheric Village garret where a couple of scenes are set). Structurally, the film is a mess: it's narrated once in a while by Heflin, and an awkward flashback sequence is shoved in during the first half-hour to give some background about Garner. In the service of providing some red herrings, there are plot details tantalizingly presented then dropped or not developed, such as Garner's romance with Leith's brother (Skip Homeier), who seems to be living in the garret. The supporting cast includes Reginald Gardiner as Rogers' weak, older husband, Otto Kruger as Garner's uncle, and Cathleen Nesbit as Heflin's maid. Bea Benedaret and Mabel Albertson, both of whom you'll recognize from TV shows, have small roles. In addition to a problematic script, the acting is weak. Heflin is virtually the only one to escape unscathed. Rogers, trying for a bitchy diva like Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT EVE, can't quite cut it and gives a TV-scale performance in a widescreen film. Tierney has little to do in an underwritten part. Gardiner and Kruger are OK, though neither is a great fit for his role. It's worth seeing, especially if you're in the mood for a (predictable) mystery movie, but I think it would have worked better as a lower-budget, black & white noir. [DVD]