Friday, July 26, 2013


David Cummins is bedraggled, injured, and stuck at the bottom of an abandoned cistern on the Taylor estate, desperate to escape, and his story plays out in flashback. Just two weeks ago, he was a homeless man sentenced to 30 days in jail for vagrancy when out of the blue a lawyer named Cagle pays his fine and frees him, with one condition: Cagle thinks Cummins is a dead ringer for a rich man named Malcolm Taylor who has been missing for almost seven years, and he wants Cummins to impersonate him with his family. Malcolm is about to be declared dead, and Cagle thinks the wrong people will get the estate if that happens, so Cummins is to show up, claim he's Malcolm, and stick around long enough so Cagle can fix the estate inheritance. At Sans Souci, the Taylor mansion on a cliff, Cummins manages to fool the three relatives there: Malcom's weak-willed brother Calder, Calder’s sexy wife Nadine (with whom Malcolm has had an affair), and Malcolm's wife Evelyn, who seems to have been ignored by Malcolm. He gets a chilly reception as none of them are particularly happy to see him back, but soon Nadine realizes that David is missing a distinctive scar of Malcolm's and she threatens to expose him unless she can get in on the fix. When David tells Cagle, the lawyer arranges a meeting with Nadine and a series of machinations begin which wind up with Cummins in the cistern, one family member dead, and the others threatened by Cagle.

Despite a number of plot holes and a couple of bland performances,  this is a good little B-gothic noir; it takes a little while to get going, but the last 20 minutes are fun. Kent Smith (as David/Malcolm) and Robert Douglas (as Cagle) are on the bland side—the part of the lawyer would have been perfect for someone like George Zucco to sink his teeth into. But Viveca Lindfors is fine as Evelyn, John Alvin is appropriately slimy as Calder, and best of all is Janis Paige who steals the movie as Nadine. One can argue about whether or not she fits the criteria for a noir femme fatale, but she is a strong presence and you wish to see more of her. Smith isn't bad, especially in the last half, but he doesn’t play a conflicted noir hero/anti-hero like John Garfield (FORCE OF EVIL) or even Tom Neal (DETOUR). The atmospheric camerawork helps, and the Warner Archive print is gorgeous. [DVD]

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