Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Ann Todd is on a ship headed to England; her husband, a missionary, died in Jamaica of malaria. Ray Milland, a man whom we know is on the run from police, is also on board and suffering with the same illness. Todd nurses him during the trip and once both are in England, he searches her out and rents a room from her. She starts to fall for him, thinking he's a starving artist, but we know that he's actually a thief, art forger, and murderer. When his latest heist fails and he runs out of money, he tells Todd he's broke and will have to leave the country. She goes to an old friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who married well and asks to borrow some cash. Here's where things get a bit tangled.  Fitzgerald is an alcoholic; her husband (Raymond Huntley) is a jerk; Todd gets a job as a companion to Fitzgerald, and, prodded by Milland, considers blackmailing Fitzgerald with some indiscreet letters from her youth. Soon, Todd begins to enjoy the shady life and becomes just as calculating as Milland. There are dueling blackmail attempts—Todd & Milland vs. Huntley, then Huntley vs. Milland—and a poisoning before the return of Milland's mistress brings things to a nasty climax.

This is a subgenre of film noir, the Victorian noir (GASLIGHT, UNCLE SILAS) closely related to the Gothic melodrama. The atmosphere is as dark and grim as any modern urban noir. What I like best about this film is that by the middle of the movie, there is no one to root for—everyone is amoral. Of course, that also means we don't really care what happens to anyone, and since it was made under the Production Code, we know everyone will get punished one way or another. Still, it's fun watching things fall apart. for all concerned. The acting is top-notch across the board, with Todd (pictured, with a blurry Milland behind her) giving the best performance as she goes from relatively innocent widow to scheming lover.  [TCM]

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