Saturday, October 3, 2020

Noir Watch: They Won't Believe Me (1947)

Watched:  10/02/2020
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Irving Pichel

An interesting noir with a series of curious twists and a solid cast.  Presented on TCM's Noir Alley, host Eddie Muller brought in author Christina Lane who recently released a book on the film's producer Joan Harrison, Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock (which would make a welcome Christmas gift for us at Signal Watch HQ).  Harrison is worth discussing for her path into the film business, sensibility she brought to Hitchcock's story-telling, and... frankly, some of the other movies she's produced - including Phantom Lady* and Ride the Pink Horse - are fantastic and owe a lot of their story strength and sensibility to Harrison.

They Won't Believe Me (1947) is framed with a murder trial. Young is the defendant, and he's telling his tale/ spilling his guts from the witness stand, trying to explain what really happened, and which looks, honestly, really, really bad for him.

I really liked this movie, and - coming off Danger Signal, I had expected something a bit more along the lines of a shady-casual-murderer like Zach Scott's character in Danger Signal.  Instead - and this is where I'd point to Harrison as knowing what's novel AND works well as a movie - Robert Young plays a mid-grade cad who doesn't mind stepping out on his wealthy (and, frankly, attractive and seemingly cool) wife when given a chance with Jane Greer (which, I mean... it's Jane Greer, so.).  His wife (Rita Johnson) is on to him, reconciles and they move to LA, where Robert Young meets Susan Hayward.  

So, really, this poor guy just has gorgeous women throwing themselves at him, the poor sonuvabitch.  Nothing is really his fault.  

But, in general, it's a guy who very much likes his wife's money, maybe less-so his wife, and definitely prefers brunettes, who has some wildly bad luck and is painted into a corner where it sure *looks* like he killed someone.  


I'd actually debate with Muller and Lane who discussed the ending as being a weird pivot and totally unexpected, and it is.  I've never seen anything like it in another movie.  But they mulled over the possible formula endings of a movie like this, and sort of suggested the ending didn't make sense, 100%.  But I sure saw it as premeditated "suicide by cop" or "suicide by hurling oneself out of a window", not an escape attempt, exactly.  Where is one going out a window from what appears to be several floors up?

No, we don't know the jury's decision, but what Young is choosing may be to have cleared his name of murder, but taking the punishment for the death of, at, least, his wife.  He's spent the third act in purgatory pondering what to do with himself, and with the realization his past is going to always be there - as Greer is double-agenting him - yeah. 

Frankly, choosing death gives Young more of a soul than we've suspected he had, that he's passed sentence on himself for the lives he's ruined.  And, most impressively, it doesn't give him a happy, un-earned ending with Jane Greer.   It's a solid, nuanced ending in any case.


Yeah, Robert Young isn't exactly - to me - the obvious choice for a guy who drives women wild, but I am not into dudes, so I'll need someone else to weigh in on the casting.  But he's actually more or less successful as the guy who can both pull some shenanigans on his wife and feel bad about it.  Maybe he's not the absolute best choice, but he's good.

But, man, Muller and Lane were right - the women in this film are what make it.  They're nuanced, uncategorizable, and all of them are strong characters.  Jane Greer, Susan Hayward and Rita Johnson could have been cast as boiler-plate eye candy and standard roles, but all of them get a chance to do a bit more.

And that poor @#$%ing horse, man.

*Phantom Lady is so damn good

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