Tuesday, March 17, 2015

THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950)

In her San Francisco mansion, Jane Wyatt, a rich and nasty piece of work, has a scene with her miserable husband; she's seeing someone on the side and has decided to divorce him, leaving him without a penny. When he asks her how long she's had her new boyfriend, she says, "Three years of misery too late!" He claims he's flying out of town that night, but we saw him earlier loading a gun and making elaborate plans—he returns after his exit to pull off a staged robbery so he can get some loot out of her. But when he's caught by Wyatt, she shoots him dead. As it happens, her new boyfriend is present: a veteran police detective (Lee J. Cobb). Cobb and Wyatt conspire to hide her crime; he takes the dead body to the airport and dumps it, making it look like he was the victim of a robbery, and later dumps the gun over the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon, as this is a film noir, fate takes a hand: first, Cobb's car is seen by an elderly couple, though they're a bit vague on the description; second, Cobb's younger brother (John Dall) is put in charge of the case along with him. Cobb gets a lucky break when a young crook, implicated in a robbery, is tied to the gun; he found it under the bridge and used it to commit the robbery, so Cobb insists that the boy must have killed Wyatt's husband. But just when it seems like Cobb and Wyatt might get away with it, Dall gets nosy and starts digging things up.

This is a solid film noir with an interesting cast. Cobb, who would move from B-films to A-films soon (ON THE WATERFRONT, 12 ANGRY MEN), is very good; Dall (best known for Hitchcock's ROPE and the noir cult classic GUN CRAZY) is more problematic—he seems like a lightweight out of his element next to Cobb. Wyatt, best known as the perfect suburban mom on Father Knows Best, is cast against type as the femme fatale; the critical consensus is against her, but I thought she was completely believable, and even creates the sense of a fuller character than the typical noir bad girl. Many critics also note that Wyatt's husband was planning to kill her and make it look like a robbery, but I must have missed that plot point. This B-production is well-paced and benefits from some location shooting in San Francisco. There's a nice little twist in the last scene that gives Cobb a kick in the gut. Recommended, though the public domain prints available aren't in the best shape. Pictured above are, left to right, Wyatt, Cobb and Dall. [DVD]

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