Claire Trevor’s unique brand of toughness/vulnerability makes her perfect for RAW DEAL’s good/bad girl, one of the few female leads in Mann’s work, and one of the few noir heroines to be granted a VO.
Mann doesn’t really have a particular type of woman he favours, although despite or because of the toughness and violence of his world, he finds plenty of room for strong female characters. But if his leading ladies vary a lot, one thing seems kind of consistent — Mann likes veils!
Flame-haired former cheesecake model Arlene Dahl is a million miles away from Trevor, but she gets a prominently featured veil in REIGN OF TERROR/THE BLACK BOOK. Mann even films her POV as she lifts the veil for a better look at Robert Cummings. Dahl could be a wishy-washy presence if her natural strengths were ignored — Mann emphasises her kittenish sex appeal to the max, and during the early interplay with ex-lover Cummings, real sparks fly.
In STRANGE IMPERSONATION, Brenda Marshall has a strong, plot-motivated reason for her veil, after a chemistry experiment goes wrong, disfiguring her. The crazy plot, probably the least satisfactory Mann ever had to work with, can be laid partially at the door of W. Lee Wilder, Billy’s less smart brother, and a man with a long history of lunatic storylines. Mann complained that his B-movie days were plagued by “actors who could not be made to act,” but Marshall does her best with the nonsense she’s given.
If Mann’s love of veils was influenced by another filmmaker, one supposes it would have to be Josef Von Sternberg. And, obvious differences aside, the master of sadistic violence and the master of tormented masochism would seem like suitable partners in crime.