Young and Innocent?

Loretta Young stars in THE ACCUSED, as a repressed psychology professor who beats a student to death with a steel half-spring when he tries to rape her. William Dieterle directs, Ketti Frings scripted. Frings (great name) supplied the story for HOLD BACK THE DAWN, a favourite of mine, and also wrote on THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN, DARK CITY, GUEST IN THE HOUSE… noir with a strong female side.

Young’s job allows her to psycho-analyze herself, her assailant/victim, and even the cop (Wendell Corey) who’s trying to prove her guilty. Meanwhile she’s in fallen love with her victim’s guardian, Robert Cummings (from here on known by his REIGN OF TERROR alias, the Butcher of Strasburg). This results in some dollar-book Freud, ably delivered by Loretta, who has acquired some gravitas since her days of pre-code flouncing. Although the nonsense about a doppelganger syndrome would be a stretch to put over on an audience, even for Lew Ayres or Herbert Lom.

At times, the desire to find symbols or pop-psych explanations for everything can be a bit much, as is the Victor Young (no relation) score. A mouse running into a cage summarises Loretta’s situation nicely, but a good composition does better. When she imagines detective Corey and forensics boffin Sam Jaffe as ghoulish persecutors, Dieterle puts the concept over with heavy hands — but it’s still fun.

What’s fascinating about this movie, besides Dieterle’s superb blocking and framing, is how it’s hard to know sometimes if Frings is trashing the patriarchy, or so enmeshed in it herself that she’s uncritically reproducing its sexism. I figure that when Loretta jettisons her prim look in order to less closely resemble the description the police have, and the Butcher of S reacts to her new glamour by panting, “Your brains don’t show a bit,” we have to take this as satire. But who really knows?

The one really jarring note is the assault itself, where everybody seems to have become really confused. The assailant is a psychotically grinning kid, and everything about the story would seem to indicate that Loretta is repulsed and lashes out in self-defense, her emotions causing her to rather overdo things. But for a moment before that, Dieterle and Young seem to have decided that she’s starting to enjoy his attentions, and it’s her own sexual repression which causes her to strike him down. This seems a lot more unpleasant and reactionary, and makes one wonder how exactly a woman is supposed to qualify as “healthy” in a Hollywood film. If she’d yielded, the movie would have condemned her. By resisting, and successfully, she gets tarred as frigid. The best solution is to simply ignore that eggy moment and follow the script’s suggestion, which has it that Young overcomes her modesty only later, under the gentle guidance of the Butcher of Strasburg.

Oh, and did I mention that Wendell Corey is very nearly the best thing in this movie? He falls for Young himself, and is even hitting on her as he attempts to get her prosecuted for murder, and his self-loathing as he nearly succeeds is skillfully portrayed, the most subtle emotion in the movie.

Amusingly, Douglas Dick, the psychopathic psychology student bludgeoned by Loretta (and isn’t it reassuring that it only takes the death of one trust fund brat to unleash her latent sexuality: a price worth paying, says I) retired from acting and became a psychologist himself. Did I say “amusingly”? Maybe “unnervingly” would be better.

22 Responses to “Young and Innocent?”

  1. If anyone is fit to unveil Loretta’s latent sexuality, it would have to be someone called ‘Douglas Dick’.

    That man missed out on a great career as a porn star!

  2. Leave us not forget his role in Rope.

    As for The Accused while Dieterle streers it with great elan this is a star vehicle all the way, featuring LORETTA IN DISTRESS! (all caps and exclamations being entirely necessary in light of the iconographic circumstances.)

    See also Cause For Alarm and of course The Loretta Young Show

  3. Who was he in ROPE? The dead body in the box?

  4. I presume he was the nice young man who gets the girl. He’s more interesting here, although he does overplay the grinning maniac bit.

    “Dick” is a good Scottish surname, as in Philip K Dick. (Dick fans are proud to be known as Dickheads.)

  5. david wingrove Says:

    Yes, but Hollywood was usually so careful about names. Jack Lemmon nearly got his surname changed because the studio thought it might connote ‘lemon’ as in ‘bad movie.’

    They contemplated changing it to ‘Lennon’ but then decided it sounded too much like ‘Lenin’. A risky name to have in the McCarthyite 1950s!

  6. “I presume he was the nice young man who gets the girl.”

    Yes — if you stretch your definition of “nice” to include smarmy social-climbers and replace “girl” with “Fag Hag.”

  7. So, in The Loretta Young Show, was she attacked by a different guest star each week, whom she then murdered with a steel half-spring? This week, Dick Van Dyke! Next week, Dick Powell! The week after, Yvonne Dick-Arlo!

    Amazing what went on in the early sixties!

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    I can see this thread being full of Douglas Dick jokes before it ends. I saw the film on TV years ago. Certainly, “Mr. Dick” must have wanted to avoid the fate of Sonny Tufts who turned to drink after Joseph Cotten razzed his name on a radio program. He obviously changed his profession to show that Freud was right in his statement, “Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe” and wanted to choose patients who were Scottish.

    As for name changes note that Dana Andrews’s Joe Lilac in Hawks’s BALL OF FIRE (1941) has a different surname when played by Steve Cochrain in the remake A SONG IS BORN (1948). Perhaps this reflects Cold War homophobia?

  9. More like Danny Kaye covering his tracks.

  10. I don’t recall Dana’s character being typed as gay in any way, so it would be only the name they were worried about, right? Maybe they were just more conscious of the possibility of that name being misinterpreted? Or maybe Cochran was concerned. With a name like Cochran, I suppose he was right.

    I think “Douglas Dick” sounds funny because somehow the double-D emphasizes the surname. Richard Dix never provoked that kind of humour, after all.

  11. Been maybe ten years since I last watched this. I’ll have to dig it out of VHS storage and revisit. Didn’t realize that Dieterle’s hand was involved, and totally forgot about Jaffe and Corey. I’m thinking that Young was well-cast as the female lead, who better than her to play someone prim and uptight? Certainly not Shelley Winters or Gloria Grahame.

  12. I’m surprised that Hal B. Wallis, the producer of “The Accused,” not to mention “Strange Love of Martha Ivers” and “Desert Fury,” hasn’t been named here. Last time that I saw “The Accused” (on television), that was one of the things I was pondering: Hal Wallis As Auteur: In this case, as a manufacturer of *noir*-inflected women’s melodramas in which the heroine flaunted her distress and actors like Wendell Corey showed up in the supporting roles. All for Paramount, of course.

    Victor Young could be an inspired songwriter, but also wrote a *lot* of boilerplate material — often in connection with Paramount pictures. Often his scores produced hit songs like “My Foolish Heart” and “Love Letters” (the latter from a Wallis-produced picture). The two pertinent Wallis/Wendell Corey pictures for which he wrote music were “I Walk Alone” and “File on Thelma Jordan.” He also, for the record, wrote song-connected scores for “Gun Crazy” and “Johnny Guitar.”

  13. Tony Williams Says:

    David E, I’ve heard that. Was it true that Danny and Sir Laurence Olivier were a twosome?

    David C., Yes, it would be the surname but Dick has so may associations that Dix has not in the American vein.

    One eleven year-old wants to see CARRY ON DICK for the wrong reasons, none of them to do with Dick Turpin.

  14. Hal Wallis was an incredibly significant producer, and his relationship with Dieterle goes back to their Warners days. But I guess I don’t appreciate producers as much as directors…

    Eccentric biographer Roger Lewis heaped scorn on the Olivier-Kaye theory, claiming that it all stemmed from the “passionate letters” Olivier wrote. As he pointed out, “my dearest darling” is just British theatre-speak for “Dear sir or madam.” But I think there were suspicious hotel arrangements as well, or something.

    Alec Guinness even felt Olivier was somewhat homophobic (illustrated in his attitude to Gielgud), although sadly being homophobic and gay are not mutually exclusive.

  15. Why Mr. Cairns, surely you’re not suggesting that two notable theatrical celebrities can’t share a hotel suite without unsavory speculation proliferating as to their relationship.

  16. Well, especially two such paragons of machismo.

  17. david wingrove Says:

    I’ve heard that Olivier disliked both John Gielgud and Robert Helpmann because they were close pals with his wife Vivien Leigh – and he feared they might fill her in on his own not-purely-heterosexual past.

    Not that he was remotely good enough for her, anyway, whatever his sexuality may have been. Awful man!

  18. If we assume Larry’s interests were indeed of a same-sex inclination, it casts Leigh’s reputed nymphomania in a new and more sympathetic light. She was simply trying to get what her husband wouldn’t give her.

    Kenneth Tynan reports being a guest of the Oliviers, when Viv slipped into his bed. He felt he couldn’t, in all confidence, cuckold the Great Man under his own roof, so he sent her away, whereupon she consoled herself with his wife…

  19. Well done, Vivien! You go, gal!

  20. Steve Cochran was a legendary womanizer, but he had a sense of humor about himself. The name plate on his mail box read COCK RUN.

  21. And I guess when he was old and past it he amended it to the more name-accurate COCK RAN.

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