Friday, October 16, 2015

THE FAKE (1953)

Tepid, run-of-the-mill crime drama with a weak screenplay and phoned-in acting, made palatable only by some film noir visual style, though thematically this is not noir. A staged fight breaks out in the Tate Gallery in London, diverting attention from the men who are stealing the Da Vinci painting Madonna and Child as it's being delivered. But, ah ha! American insurance investigator Dennis O'Keefe has been on the case; the real painting is safe and the crooks just got an empty crate. But O'Keefe is still puzzled over the identity of the big shot who was behind this attempt, who had already stolen two other Da Vincis in Florence and New York. Later, someone sneaks into the Tate after hours and takes Madonna and Child, replacing it with an almost perfect forgery, and O'Keefe is back on the case. Among the suspects: an aging, impoverished and embittered artist (John Laurie) who can in fact do nearly perfect copies of masterworks; his daughter (Coleen Gray, pictured with O'Keefe) who works for the gallery; a high-class private collector (Hugh Williams); and even the gallery director. The film moves rather sluggishly until the final third when it becomes a relatively tense cat-and-mouse game. I generally like O'Keefe but he and Gray are bland here, leaving Laurie and Williams to take acting honors. The gallery interiors were actually shot in the Tate, adding some novelty value. The background score is taken from Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition." [TCM]

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