It isn’t often that a confessional letter raises a gasp from an audience. But this twisty three-handkerchief noir manages the trick . . . and does it on a bluff. The oft-filmed Cornell Woolrich story is a classic assumed identity caper. Here, it’s Barbara Stanwyck, pregnant, penniless & unmarried, who takes on the name & persona of a young bride she’s just met on a train. The happy youngster is a little nervous, off to meet the in-laws for the very first time. Why, they don’t even know what she looks like! Cue Train Crash! The girl & her rich hubby are killed; Babs just happens to be trying on her new friend’s wedding band; and when the hospital assumes she’s this other girl, she’s just too weak to object. After all, she’s just given birth! With a combination of guilt, grit & desperation, Babs decides to play the part. She’s got a newborn son . . . er, scion to think of. And she just might have pulled it off, if only her new ‘brother-in-law' hadn’t fallen in love with her; and if the spineless bastard who knocked her up didn’t make a surprise appearance in town on the Blackmail Express. Helmer Mitchell Leisen was better known for lighter fare, but he handles this mixed genre smoothly, much helped by Daniel Fapp’s brooding chiaroscuro lensing for the heavier noir atmosphere of the last act. At 43, Stanwyck can still pull out all the stops, summoning some of the disturbing raw quality of her early films. And in her hospital bed, recovering from the train crash, she’s both deglamorized and more gorgeous than ever. Lyle Bettger brings a killer’s grin to his creepy villain, while the little remembered John Lund turns the slight stiffness that probably kept him from really breaking thru on screen into a tower of strength as the smitten brother. As noted above, the film is hardly without its share of melodramatic hooey, dark & stormy nights, etc. But it’s addictive entertainment, too little known.
NOTE: Here's an extra poster. Not sure if it's British or Australian, but they certainly gave it a blunt new title.
DOUBLE-BILL: Now that the early revelations in MAD MEN have helped to make assumed identities dramatically legit for a new generation, there’s less need to apologize for the gimmick. So enjoy NO MAN or one of the many official remakes: in French as J’AI ÉPOUSÉ UNE OMBRE/83) or as a Pop-Lite Hollywood remake, MRS. WINTERBOURNE/’96. No? Well, after the original there’s always the unofficial Rom-Com rethink of WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING/’95. Many others, too.