This Otto Preminger film noir has seen its rep rise over time, but it probably carries too many shopworn story & character elements for its own good. Preminger runs the narrative like an actor who needs to ‘indicate’ to get his points across; it works, but the labor shows. Jean Simmons is a spoiled heir, too close to her father, stifled novelist Herbert Marshall, and too distant from rich step-mom Barbara O’Neil. This already dangerous triangle gets thrown completely out of whack when Robert Mitchum’s ambulance driver shows up after an ‘accidental’ gas leak in O’Neil’s bedroom. He’s already in a relationship, but that doesn’t slow down Simmons . . . or Mitchum. In fact, all the couplings are more than a little ‘off’ here: cue big romantic piano theme from Dmitri Tiomkin and lensing from Harry Stradling that’s more darkly glamorous than stark noir. Under Preminger, the perfs & production are unusually smooth, with a couple of real jolts to the system, but he seems to lose interest in the third-act trial scenes. A pity since Leon Ames’ defense attorney might be an urban sketch for the sort of pragmatic attorney Preminger would be drawn to, with far more ambiguity, in ANATOMY OF A MURDER/’59.
DOUBLE-BILL: Just about any noir with a scary/murderous dame at its center and a juicy murder trial would pair up nicely (too nicely, it’s the film’s weakness). But instead of the usual suspects (DOUBLE INDEMNITY/’44; LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN/’45; POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE/'46), try the cheap, twisty illogic of IMPACT/’49.