Monday, April 08, 2013


It’s Christmastime in California.  Joan Bennett, a middle-class wife and mother who lives in Balboa and whose husband is overseas on business, heads in to Los Angeles one day to confront Shepperd Strudwick, the lover of her teenage daughter (Geraldine Brooks), a first-year student in art school. Strudwick is a slimy thuggish guy, considerably older than the daughter and he tells Bennett he'll leave Brooks alone in exchange for money. Bennett refuses and tells Brooks what happened; she doesn't believe her mother and arranges to meet Strudwick that night in their boathouse. He admits to asking for a pay-off, she hits him and storms off. He loses his balance and falls to the beach below, impaled on an anchor. The next morning Bennett finds the body and, thinking that her daughter killed him, takes it out and disposes of it in the sea. Strudwick's body is found but there appears to be no connection to Bennett's family until a blackmailer (James Mason, pictured with Bennett) arrives with love letters written by Brooks to Strudwick. Mason and his boss (Roy Roberts) want $5,000 for them, but Bennett has a hard time getting that amount of money. The lower-class Mason falls for Bennett and tries to get Roberts to lay off, but to no avail. How far will Mason go to protect Bennett, the love object he can never possess?

This Max Ophuls film noir has nighttime scenes and a few of his trademark long-take camera moves (with occasional snatches of overheard dialogue here and there) and is generally a good-looking film with good performances all around. The tentative relationship that grows between Bennett and Mason actually seems real, which gives the ending some tragic weight. Strudwick is especially good in a relatively small role. Henry O'Neill is Bennett's well-meaning father-in-law. There's a strange running joke about Bennett's teenaged son (David Bair) never having enough clothes on—no shirt, bare feet, shorts at night. Brooks is a weak link, but that’s partly due to the underwritten role. This, based on a short story, was remade a few years ago as THE DEEP END with Tilda Swinton; the updated twist is that the child she's trying to protect is her gay son. Both versions are worth seeing. [TCM]

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