Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I loved this wicked noir, one of Robert Wise‘s early directorial efforts. I won’t bother trying to summarize the plot other than to say amorality, rage, and murder abound as Claire Trevor‘s scheming San Francisco socialite and Lawrence Tierney‘s menacing thug are caught in the throes of sexual obsession. While the film lacks the Expressionist visuals that Europeans directors brought to this kind of material, there’s so much story packed into the screenplay that you hardly notice. Also unlike most noirs (but like the one I previously wrote about here), this one centers on a female protagonist. As the early poster art below shows, it was based on a book called Deadlier Than the Male. Trevor sinks her teeth into the role’s depravity and she’s equally matched by Tierney, who virtually gives a master class in Game. Was Tierney’s lunkheaded bully one of the models for Sin City’s Marv?
The film is currently available from Netflix on DVD and I also highly recommended the accompanying commentary track by noir historian Eddie Muller, who fleshes out the movie’s context as well as providing some wonderful insights. It was from him I learned that, at the time noirs were either called murder dramas or crime thrillers — “murder dramas” when the protagonists were amateurs (e.g. wife trying to kill husband) and “crime thrillers” when they were professionals (cops and gangsters). The film has a connection with Orange County, CA history too. Muller notes that Trevor married Milton Bren, a Sunset Strip developer who became rich when he bought significant real estate holdings in Irvine and Newport Beach. UC Irvine’s arts school is named after Trevor.
Sax is the one who tipped me off to the film, so I asked him to share his thoughts.
Sax von Stroheim writes:
I like what Bosley Crowther has to say about this: “Surely, discriminating people are not likely to be attracted to this film. But it is precisely because it is designed to pander to the lower levels of taste that it is reprehensible.” That, of course, makes it sound really great, though I think I like it a little less than some of the other noirs from the period that aren’t quite as consistently nasty. At times, it seems a bit like an early Coen Bros. film: the characters are either completely amoral, out-for-themselves scoundrels or naive fools. Just about every character is a grotesque. Tierney is a soulless version of a Bob Mitchum character; Trevor’s take on the femme fatale is pretty unsettling, partly because she seems to be operating from instinct rather than any kind of long term calculations. The heart of the movie, though, seems to be in the (symbolic) conflict between two supporting characters: Esther Howard’s silly but vital and vulgar and generous old woman, who, despite showing courage at first, is ultimately defeated by a growing sense of helplessness, and Walter Slezak’s grubby little private eye — a more sinister version of J. Wellington Wimpy: he has few expectations, sets his sights lower than any of the other characters, but he’s the only one who comes out (at all) ahead.