Fascinating And Suspenseful Film Noir, With Many Neat Twists
Reviewed in the United States on 11 March 2022
This was a strange and gripping movie. It's also fairly dated in its attitudes and perspectives. But all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Without revealing too many spoilers, the basic plot concerns a college professor, played by Loretta Young, who defends herself from a violent assault by a male student. As a result, the attacker is accidentally (?) killed. The major part of the film deals with how she psychologically deals with this outcome, and also with the investigation into the death. That's the essence of the plot.
First of all, actress Loretta Young carries almost the entire movie on her capable shoulders. The whole film revolves around her character; she is basically in every scene. And I must say that she is simply amazing; her performance should have won an Oscar. She is very impressive, displaying an intense range of emotions and mental states ranging from panic, guilt, and desperation, all the way to survival, deception, and a remarkable mastery of her wits. As an actress, she must have been exhausted when filming was completed. She has to show her entire range, not just once, but again and again. Her performance is even stronger and more convincing here than it was in the excellent and suspenseful film, The Stranger (1946), directed by Orson Welles.
Supporting players Wendell Corey and Robert Cummings are strong, too. They provide effective suspense and dramatic depth. In fact, Robert Cummings is more believable and complex here than he was in Dial M For Murder (1954). There are also nice acting turns from the wonderful Sam Jaffe, and from Douglas Dick as the student assailant.
Now, I need to quickly add that many of the attitudes and themes in the film are very sexist. In fact, millennial viewers (and others) may very well be shocked by the pervasive sexism in this movie. It's ingrained into the narrative. There are frequent comments about how intelligent and talented women are unappealing and will "never attract a man". Then, when Loretta Young's character changes her clothing and hairstyle, she suddenly becomes a "lovely gal" -- just as long as her behavior is not too professional or intellectual. Yikes. It's really obvious how sexist attitudes and harsh judgments were totally commonplace back in 1949, when this movie was released.
Still, as a suspense film, this movie is exciting and tense. And there are many stand-out scenes, such as the prize-fight, where the boxer is replaced in Loretta Young's imagination by the young man she killed! The editing here is simply amazing, where they switch back and forth between the boxer and the student in a montage of bloody combat. Truly outstanding. And there is also the scene in the forensics lab, where the technicians are eerily portrayed as sinister fiends. It's just like something out of a horror movie. And there are several other moments of gruesome tension, as well as shadowy images of total fear.
In spite of the sexist elements, and the odd hostility of Wendell Corey's character, this is nonetheless a very exciting and potent movie. I was totally caught-up in the narrative, and my sympathy for Loretta Young's character (after all, she killed in self-defense) kept me completely engrossed. Kudos to director William Dieterle for his technical mastery, and his unique vision, in this powerful noir. It deserves five stars, no question.
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