Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Fritz Lang
This film has a tremendous premise, a terrific cast, and is absolutely knee-capped by the Hayes Code in the final minutes. I wouldn't say it's not worth watching, but if you're squinting at the movie and aware of the rules of the road for a movie made in 1944, and wondering "holy heck, how is *this* going to resolve?" - you may be on to something.
That said, the movie is redeemed by casting three strong leads in Edward G. Robinson, Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett. Of course direction by Fritz Lang, well into his American film career at this point, is rock solid. There's some great stuff here with trick imagery, handling tense scenes, and creating and selling a somewhat absurd set-up. But this is just a heartbeat before the start of the noir movement and what may have been something a bit grittier in Lang's hands just three years later.
Robinson plays a well respected professor at "Gotham College" in New York who meets at a men's club with his pals, a police commissioner and a doctor, where they discuss crime and, most recently, a portrait of a fetching young woman displayed prominently in a nearby shop window. His wife goes off to the Catskills with the kids for the summer, leaving Robinson a bachelor (see: The Seven Year Itch) and his friends tease him about *not* going off to the burlesque show, and head off themselves. On his way out, Robinson pauses to look at the painting when the subject of same appears beside him and asks for a light.
With no intention toward shenanigans, at least not outwardly (or at first), but Robinson joins the woman (Bennett) for a drink - then makes the mistake of going back to her apartment to look at some etchings. A jealous suitor arrives and immediate tries to murder Robinson, who is forced to kill the man with a pair of scissors.
He's now caught with a woman he barely knows, a dead body of a man he's never scene before, and a surefire scandal that will ruin his career and marriage.
Duryea eventually enters as a cad who knows too much and is making it exceptionally hard on everyone.
I think every time I watch a Duryea movie I grouse about how he's not better known as a film star of yesteryear - people still at least basically recognize Richard Widmark - but Duryea has sort of been forgotten except outside of TCM circles, which is a shame. He plays one hell of a creep, and when he's a protagonist he's believable as a guy out of his depth trying to work a situation.
The movie winds up essentially as a morality play - Robinson the married man who strays and pays a terrible price. Now, Robinson is just as surprised as anyone that Bennett shows interest, and it's never really explained what she's up to or if she really *did* decide to have an evening with the guy, but that's less important than how good they actually are together in scenes where they're just absolutely out of their element and needing to figure out what to do.
Harder to buy are the mistakes Robinson makes as the movie starts to close in, but we'll allow it. The *idea* of the film is compelling enough that it genuinely does feel like a nightmare as both deal with a situation that simply shouldn't have happened.
The denouement of "it was all a dream" feels like a bit of malarkey. Especially as we leave Robinson's POV for a good stretch of the film. I'm sure there's a version of the script out there with a different ending, and frankly trimming some of the film to add in "how do they get out of this?" would have been interesting. But... that might have to wait for further into the noir movement.
And I'll forgive the Wizard of Oz-like "and you were there, and you were there" bit at the end, but there's no denying it undercuts what felt like a tight drama until those final moments. Still - given the Hayes Code and it's insistence that those who kill on screen unless for justice must pay - I am aware they were working within the strictures of the time.
This one is worth watching, but do proceed with caution. You're going in for performances, direction and cinematography, but you mileage is going to vary on the final minutes.