Thursday, April 14, 2011

HIGH WALL (1947)

Dorothy Patrick works for Herbert Marshall, a publisher of religious books, and is also his mistress, even though she has a husband (Robert Taylor) who hasn't yet returned from the war (an injury required brain surgery and he still isn't fully recovered). However, Taylor comes home unexpectedly and catches Patrick at Marshall's apartment. He goes into a rage, blacks out, and wakes up with his wife's dead body next to him. After he drives himself and her body off the road and into a creek, he confesses to murder, even though he doesn't actually remember what happened. At a psychiatric hospital, his doctor (Audrey Totter) discovers his current problems are due to a blood clot, so he has another operation. Totter takes a personal interest in his case, even temporarily adopting Taylor's son to keep him out of state care. She talks him into undergoing "narcosynthesis," in which he is given sodium pentothol (a "truth serum") to uncover his memories of what happened during his blackout. Soon they discover what we figured out a long time ago: Marshall killed her and framed Taylor. Taylor breaks out of the hospital, with some help from Totter, and goes after Marshall in an archetypal film noir manhunt through rainy night streets.

This is a fairly solid film noir in the tradition of THE BIG CLOCK or PHANTOM LADY in which a man has to clear his own name by hunting down a killer. The noir visuals are nice, especially an atmospheric scene in a church late in the film. The wooden Taylor is the weak link, but luckily the other actors compensate. Marshall (reminiscent of the Charles Laughton character in THE BIG CLOCK) is good as the respectable bad guy who is desperately trying to cover this tracks; the best scene in the movie involves his startlingly sudden murder of a janitor who has figured out the score and is trying to blackmail him. Totter (pictured above), whom I liked so well as a femme fatale in TENSION, is also fine, though she's more fun when she's bad. Some familiar faces in the background include John Ridgely, Warner Anderson, and H. B. Warner. [TCM]

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