Friday, May 20, 2016

THE 13TH LETTER (1951)

In a small Canadian town, young Dr. Pearson (Michael Rennie) is a new arrival and he has stirred up quite a bit of talk. Some patients like him for his no-nonsense manner, others think he's too brusque and cold, and many of the women think he's quite handsome and would make a nice catch as a husband or lover. Denise (Linda Darnell) fakes illnesses to get his attention; Cora (Constance Smith), the wife of older doctor Paul Laurent (Charles Boyer), boldly makes advances in his office. Pearson rebuffs them both, but Cora's sister Marie is quite put-out by Cora's behavior—even though Paul himself seems unworried. Soon, anonymous poison-pen letters which accuse people of affairs and other questionable behaviors start arriving and the stated purpose of the letters is to get Dr. Pearson, who may have a distasteful secret buried in his past, to leave town. Paul advises Pearson not to take them seriously, and soon enough Marie is held and charged with sending the letters—in addition to her anger at Cora, she holds a grudge against Dr. Pearson for his reprimanding of her care of a patient. But even after Cora is jailed, the letters continue. This is a remake of a fine French film, LE CORBEAU. The original is darker and more psychologically complex, but this version stands fairly well on its own, with an atmosphere of noir light (if that makes sense). Boyer and Rennie are the standouts; Smith is fine, but Darnell is rather bland as the primary love interest. Judith Evelyn, who I know as the deaf woman in THE TINGLER, gives a solid performance as the unlikable Marie. The best moment is when one of the letters floats down from the choir balcony during a church service. Pictured are Darnell and Rennie. [Streaming]

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