Friday, June 10, 2011


We first meet well-heeled married couple James Mason and Barbara Stanwyck having dinner with Stanwyck's widowed mother, Gale Sondergaard, a retired actress. The two seem happy although past troubles are hinted at--Mason was a philanderer but has apparently reformed. Mason is called away for a business meeting, and afterward, he goes out to a nightclub where he dances with sexy Cyd Charisse before he runs into the incendiary Ava Gardner, an ex-mistress of his. She's back in town and available, and Mason is like a recovering alcoholic who has had a drink placed in his hand. Mason gets into an altercation with Gardner's date and, with tabloid photographers all around, gets punched out. Charisse takes him to her apartment to recover. The next morning, Stanwyck sees the headlines and seeks out Charisse, who explains what happened (leaving out any mention of Gardner). The two women become friendly, and run into each other again at a book party for former cop Van Heflin, who is an old flame of Charisse's. The set-up is now complete: Gardner tries to steal Mason away from Stanwyck, who finds herself attracted to Heflin, and he to her. Suddenly, Gardner is found dead in her apartment and, Stanwyck, who had argued with her that afternoon, is a potential suspect.

At heart, this is a romantic melodrama, and a fairly adult one for its era, with people acting in relatively realistic ways. The murder mystery aspect feels tacked on for a little extra sensationalism, which the movie doesn't really need, since Gardner (pictured above with Mason) gives the movie plenty of sensation. She's a knockout and she gives a very good performance as a wicked femme fatale. The acting is first-rate all around: Stanwyck holds her own against Gardner, and Mason and Heflin are fine. Sondergaard doesn't have much to do, but she’s crucial to the plot at the end and has a nice confrontation scene with Mason. The real surprise is how good Cyd Charisse is--I know she was a hell of a dancer, but I was never impressed with the little bits of acting she got to do in her MGM musicals. She pulls out a solid performance here, even though her character is not terribly important to the overall story. Nancy Davis (better known as First Lady Nancy Reagan) has a small role as Stanwyck's friend, and William Frawley appears as a bartender. Recommended for fans of glossy melodramas and Ava Gardner. [TCM]

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