Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Valerie (Martha Vickers) is a rich widow, still fairly young and attractive, with a heart condition that could kill her. Peter, her doctor (Robert Hutton), advises total rest and sends her off for a California vacation with her secretary and companion Marsha (Eve Miller). Marsha gets Peter to agree not to tell Valerie how sick she is, but once they're out West, Valerie finds herself attracted to Rick (John Bromfield, pictured); she thinks he's a hot-blooded stud but we know he's a rather slimy gigolo who is involved with Fritzie, a married nightclub singer whose jealous husband is constantly on the verge of finding out about their affair. It all seems harmless for a time, but soon Valerie is wearing herself out keeping late hours with Rick, and when she collapses one night, Peter and Valerie tell Rick the truth about her condition. He then plots to marry her, hoping that she'll die soon after and he'll inherit her money and live with Fritzie. Against Marsha's advice, Valerie does marry Rick, but instead of getting sicker, she gets healthier; Peter says her newfound will to live is strengthening her. Of course, this doesn't go over well with Rick who begins to substitute sugar pills for her medicine. When this has no effect, he decides to murder her using an elaborate scheme that gives him a foolproof alibi—all signs will point to him having been miles away at a motel with Fritzie. But this being a film noir, things don’t quite go as planned.

This is an underrated little gem, cheaply made and only available in murky public domain prints, but B-movie fans will love it. The situation and characters are stock film noir, though it's difficult to ever see Rick as much of an anti-hero, partly because we never get to know him. Interestingly, there really is no hero here—maybe we're supposed to see Marsha as one, as she always has Valerie's interests at heart, but the way she's played by Eve Miller, she's not especially likeable—and I kinda like that. Even Valerie isn't particularly sympathetic, which may be an acting problem (and I'll get back to that later). The sets and direction are adequate and the acting is all over the map. Some of the performances seem quite bad, but it's possible that the director, W. Lee Wilder (brother of Billy) got what he wanted. Bromfield is right on that edge between charming and seedy and given slightly stronger direction, he could have pulled off a classic noir performance; as it is, he's still the best thing in the movie. Vickers, memorable as the sultry little sister in THE BIG SLEEP, is a big zero here which may or may not be intended. Miller is bossy and unlikeable as the companion, though Hutton is energetic and believable as the doctor. I sound like I'm trashing the actors, but I must admit that the off-kilter acting may be what makes this movie interesting. That and the fun textbook-noir climax. [DVD]

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