I’m making a point of watching more Joseph Losey films, and I stumbled across this 1956 noir, filmed in England and starring both British and American actors. Losey is the director, though since he was blacklisted, he wasn’t credited when the picture first released. Once I’d seen the whole picture, I concluded that I enjoyed it, though it took quite a while to get going.
The noir elements include a non-chronological structure (aka extended flashback) in which our protagonist Reggie Wilson (Richard Baseheart), a studio producer in London married to the studio owner’s daughter, is having his eyes checked as part of a doctor visit recommended by his former lover, actress Kay (Constance Cummings), who may or may not wish him ill. He’s wondering whether he suffers from “split personality,” for he’s being tormented by a beautiful young woman named Evelyn (Mary Murphy), who convincingly argues that the two have had an affair. The dates of said affair correspond neatly to days Reggie has been away from his wife on out-of-town trips. (Somehow, no one thinks to check with hotels or people he may have seen on such trips.)
The bulk of the film then takes us through his suffering, as he receives a fourth letter from Evelyn begging him to let her be part of his life again, even a little part. Reggie wisely shares his troubles with his boss and father-in-law Ben (or “Big Ben” as Reggie not-terribly-wittily calls him). At first, Ben dismisses the letters as the ravings of some crazed fan (for Reggie was formerly an American film star until infidelity drove him from his first marriage and Hollywood for good). But the more the two look into the situation, the more it seems Reggie may be lying. Again wisely, Reggie does tell his wife what is going on, and her response mirrors her father’s: at first it’s just nonsense, but over time it seems increasingly plausible, especially after they meet Evelyn and she clings to her story with determined sincerity.
I’ll leave the rest of the plot for your own viewing pleasure (the film is easily found on YouTube), but suffice it to say the situation thickens to a confrontation and a few twists and turns that build to an unexpected (at least to me) climax.
Now for my review. As I noted above, the film was a bit slow-going at first, with a rather heavy-handed set-up and somewhat dull mise-en-scene. To this was added truly sickening music that better suited a drippy romance than a noirish thriller. The acting was satisfactory but not superlative, and I honestly didn’t feel a strong director’s hand either. Several key moments are clunky and implausible, including the “Oops, I left a microphone on” that betrays the villainy at the end and the absurd fight between Baseheart and another character that simply didn’t need to happen.
Attempts at style failed for me as well, such as the opening in which a doctor is looking into Reggie’s eye in the darkened office that is matched with Reggie holding the spotlight on another character to keep him from running away at the end. These are clearly meant to be parallel moments: one in which Reggie is the passive object of scrutiny; the other in which he is an active agent in control of his destiny. I didn’t find that it worked, though I knew what was intended. [By comparison, see the wonderfully effective use of the latter device in The Big Combo (1955), where Jean Wallace’s Susan holds the spotlight on her former mob boss lover Mr. Brown (Richard Conte), signifying her shift from powerless to powerful.]
All this said, I do like the setting within the film industry. It’s no Sunset Boulevard, but the combination of patriarchal dominance and competitiveness provided a solid backdrop for this story. Overall, the plot both follows a typical noir pattern of mystery and betrayal in which the protagonist can trust no one, not even himself. Ultimately, I definitely see how this film worked on paper, and I enjoyed it enough to write this review.