Tension is a classic film noir from 1949, directed by John Berry based on a story by John D. Klorer. Both had great movie careers, but neither did much in the noir genre outside this film.
The film starts with a great monologue by Barry Sullivan as a homicide detective explaining Tension. This starts the movie out with a bang and sets the tone for the film.
The plot is about married couple Warren and Claire Quimby, played by Richard Basehart and Audrey Totter. Claire treats Warren horribly and everybody around him sees it. She is cheating on him to boot and this is the last straw for Warren. Warren gets the idea of changing his look and starts a new life as a traveling salesperson. Complete with a new apartment in a different part of town. His plan is to kill Claire’s new lover as his new identity and disappear, going back to his real life with his wife.
The problem with this plan is Warren falls in love with his new neighbor, Mary, played by Cyd Charisse. Will he just continue happily ever after with his new girlfriend? Will he go through with the murder? Will he be able to leave his wife?
Audrey Totter plays a great femme fatale in this picture. She is evil to the core and will do anything she thinks will make her life better or happier. I don’t think she could ever find happiness no matter what happens. Cyd Charisse plays the exact opposite to Totter. Charisse will do anything in her power to protect Warren, even though she doesn’t understand what is going on and what Warren has gotten himself into. Even their hair sets them apart as total opposites.
Richard Basehart’s Warren is the bumbling weakling as the real struggle comes down to two strong women, and these two steal the show here. Barry Sullivan is also very good as the detective that maybe smarter then he appears.
Tension is a bit of a hidden classic film noir gem. It is a good film worth your time, even if the plot sometimes doesn’t seem to be very logical. Totter is a great example of a femme fatale from this time period and is worth watching the film for her performance along.