Review: The Unfaithful

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.

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1947 Blogathon! Review: Born to Kill

Born to Kill is a classic film noir from 1947 directed by Robert Wise based on the book Deadlier than the Male by James Gunn.

This was a staring vehicle for Lawrence Tierney who came to prominence in Dillinger a few years earlier. The public ate up Tierney as the bad boy, all the women loved and all the men wanted to be, he’s just a little more bad than most. This also stars Claire Trevor as our femme fatale.

Born to Kill has almost every film noir trope you can think of, a crime of passion, loose women, murder, star-crossed lovers, unreliable characters, a private eye, black mail, friends loyal enough to kill for, crazy circumstances involving our main characters, not many truly good people and more.

This film starts with Helen played by Trevor getting out of court with her divorce finally official. She has been in Reno 6 weeks to get this done and now it is her last night in town. She goes home where she meets two women drinking in her rooming house. Laury Palmer played by Isabel Jewell, who lives next door to the rooming house and Mrs. Kraft played by Esther Howard who owns the rooming house. Palmer mentions she is using one man to make another man jealous as the girl talk continues. They are drinking beer and ask Helen to join them to celebrate her divorce. She declines and goes to the casino for one last night on the town. Helen is at the craps table when she sees Sam, played by Tierney, throwing the dice. We see the instant attraction between the two. Palmer and one of her dates runs into Helen at the craps table and Sam does not look happy. Palmer and her boyfriend go back to her place and run into a furious Sam.

Sam is the boyfriend Palmer is trying to make jealous and boy did she do a good job! Sam murders the two and in his getaway lets Palmer’s dog out. Helen comes along and sees the dog and brings him back to the house to find the two dead bodies. She doesn’t say anything and gets on the train to go back to San Francisco. Sam goes back to his place where his friend, played by Elisha Cook Jr., tells Sam to get on the next train to San Francisco. Soon Sam and Helen get on the train at the same time and our story gets more complex and interesting in San Francisco. We soon meet Helen’s sister played by Audrey Long and a hard-boiled private detective played by Walter Slezak for good measure.

So as you can see from my brief introduction to this movie that a lot of the film relies on a crazy amount of coincidences. That aside this is a very dark film with Sam being a man who women cannot resist and Helen being a woman that will do anything to get what she wants. This film had to really push the limits of what could be in a film in 1947. This is Robert Wise’s first film noir and he went on to make many more great ones. Strange to think of a director who could make such dark films is probably better known for his musicals later in his career.

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This is a very high level film noir and should be checked out by everybody who loves classic film. You could write a book on this film, but I’m going to stop writing now and let you go out and experience this film for yourself.

 

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