The Unfaithful is a classic film noir from 1947 directed by Vincent Sherman. The writing team on this film is the real story here. We have David Goodis teaming up with James Gunn for the screenplay. This is loosely based on the novel, The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham. Yes, that’s right, this is based on the same material as The Letter starring Bette Davis,which came out just 7 years earlier. Maugham was not given a writing credit for this film and the setting is moved from a rubber plantation to the urban setting of Los Angeles.
This film revolves around Ann Sheridan, who plays Chris Hunter. Chris is married to Bob Hunter, played by Zachary Scott, who is a war veteran and is now a business man in the housing business. He is out-of-town as our film starts, showing Chris on the phone with Bob as they make plans for the next morning when Bob comes home from Portland. Chris tells Bob she will be going to a divorce party for Bob’s cousin, Paula, played by Eve Arden. The party highlights Paula being proud of her new-found freedom, and everybody seems to be having a great time. Chris heads home in the middle of the night and as she opens her front door a shadowy character grabs her and shoves her in the house. As the viewer we witness the struggle through curtained windows and cannot tell exactly what is happening. Bob flies home and is confused when his wife is not at the airport to meet him. He calls home and soon grabs a taxi to rush to his house. He finds the police are there as well as his friend and lawyer, played by Lew Ayres. The dead body still sits on the floor of the home as the investigation continues. Chris is obviously distressed as she tells her story of self-defense. As our story continues we learn more about the victim and why he may have been there. Was this self-defense? Will Chris and Bob’s marriage survive this?
It seemed to me that this film is more than a mystery noir, but a real look at Post-War marriage. This shows a woman who was living by herself for two years while her husband was in the Pacific. The question this film asks is, can what happens in those two years be forgivable? Should the couple even tell each other what happened in those two years? Can a good marriage survive anything? We see one divorce at the beginning of the film showing a strong woman willing to go on in life by herself. I took Eve Arden’s character as a strong feminist, especially for the 1940’s, I would be interested in learning if the writers intended this or if she was to be perceived as something else.
The other thing that stood out to me is another great performance from Ann Sheridan. She really is hard to read in this film as our loyalty to her shifts from the poor victim to murderer and back again a number of times. In the end do we really learn the truth? Is she just another evil femme fatale or is she the victim of circumstance?
This film is a must see for fans of Ann Sheridan and would make for an interesting double feature with The Letter from 1940. I have not seen The Letter in a while, so I will not try to comment of the similarities and differences at this time.