Archive for The Big Clock

The Schlub What Sends Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by dcairns

Guest Shadowplayer Chris Schneider weighs in on an obscure but fascinating semi-noir —

Once upon a time I was a teenager who learned about films from his paperback copy of AGEE ON FILM. One title I learned of was ISLE OF THE DEAD, the Val Lewton supernatural mood-piece. Another was THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME is a melodrama concerned with cash and adultery and death, one that’s very much a part of noir territory. You might even say, specifically, OUT OF THE PAST territory, since BELIEVE ME is 1947 and RKO and there’s music by Roy Webb as well as the presence of actress Jane Greer. All overlapping with OUT OF THE PAST, as the cognoscenti will tell you. Hell, one of the posters even employs the phrase “out of the past.”

My primary reaction has always been “Good … but not of a level with OUT OF THE PAST.” That’s still the case, but a recent TCM viewing has provoked some rethinking.

One poster for THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME shows the head of Robert Young (male protagonist) surrounded by the heads of Susan Hayward (second girlfriend), Jane Greer (first girlfriend), and Rita Johnson (wife). Young plays a no-better-than-he-oughta-be guy, an architect, who tries to hold onto both his wealthy wife and a girl or two on the side. We learn of this via courtroom testimony. Johnson finds out about Greer, and she buys Young a new job on the opposite coast. She learns of Hayward, who works in the same office, and his employment is threatened again. What Is To Be Done?

The whole screenplay, which was written by Jonathan Latimer of THE BIG CLOCK and THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, is structured around Young messing up and some female — Johnson, Hayward — stepping in to take care of the situation.

The film’s producer is Joan Harrison, associate of Hitchcock and Robert Siodmak, and there’s a case to be made that THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME is a noir shaped by a female perspective, one where (for once) an *homme* is fatal rather than a *femme*. Young certainly is bad news. Unlike my favorite example of *homme fatal* noir, though — BORN TO KILL — Young’s character is not dynamically bad. He’s no Lawrence Tierney. He’s just a guy who shoulda known better yet keeps getting in trouble. And yet women are still drawn to him. My nickname for the film became “The Schlub What Sends Me.”

The primary influence here, outside of generalized ‘40s zeitgeist, is James M. Cain. I forget if Agee was the first to cite Cain. But (SPOILERS AHEAD) Young gets into an auto accident with Hayward and her charred corpse is mistaken for that of Johnson, which he goes along with — very much in the POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE style of ironic fatalism. The original screen treatment, we learn from TCM, was narrated from a jail cell (POSTMAN again). And there’s stuff about water as uncontrollable fate, stuff that’s justified by Johnson’s corpse being found next to a river and accentuated by Young and Hayward doing some deep-water swimming much like POSTMAN’s Lana Turner and John Garfield.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME has Irving Pichel as director, alas, which means that it lacks the visual flourish Tourneur brought to OUT OF THE PAST. It also lacks the epigrammatic dialogue which Frank Fenton (probably) gave PAST. But it looks good and is compelling and has some fine performances. Did I mention that Robert Boyle is a production designer? Among those performances would be Rita Johnson, a good actress with an unlucky career, and Susan Hayward, who’s fresher here than in her later Stalwart Woman Warrior persona. It’s the film that gave me a taste for Hayward.

Historic note: the print of THEY WON’T BELIEVE that gets seen, these days, is usually a rerelease version that’s missing 15 minutes. That’s a lot in movie time. I gather that the missing material involves Young and Johnson at a concert running into Hayward, ending up with Hayward and Young canoodling behind a curtain. Also something about a blackmail threat to Young.

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME ends suddenly, with a flourish of violence, a bit like the end of Verdi’s TROVATORE. One expects someone — perhaps Greer? — to clutch their forehead and exclaim “ … e vivo ancor!”

I saw THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME when I was young and I liked it. I watch it now and I like it. And I live on.

Lost in Space

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by dcairns



I think this one is a pretty good example of the merits of watching minor, or even bad films. THE GLASS WEB is a Jack Arnold noir made right after IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and featuring Kathleen Hughes, who had played a telephone repairman’s slutty girlfriend in that film (“George always has a healthy appetite,”), as a blackmailing vixen.

The plot is a retread of THE BIG CLOCK, mixed up in various ways that don’t constitute improvements, but might just about pass muster, and the whole thing is set in the world of TV.  Edward G Robinson kills Hughes and tries to frame everybody in sight, while also producing a TV play for his Crime of the Week show, recreating the murder. None of it’s exactly inspired, and the moment I lost faith was when William John Forsythe, having gone over his relationship with Hughes as she puts the bite on him, has a flashback in which he revisits all the events we’ve just heard about, learning nothing new…

But then there’s this scene. Forsythe goes for a walk, panic-stricken after discovering Hughes dead. Arnold, who has restrained himself on the 3D shock effects, suddenly cuts loose and throws object after object into our faces, like an angry chimpanzee operating a tennis serve machine. It’s goofy and fun, but also effective at showing Forsythe’s sudden disorientation and vulnerability. And it’s the only time I’ve seen a filmmaker hold back on the 3D all through a film, and then go NUTS.

Too bad the film’s not better. Hughes, completely venal and without sympathetic traits, nevertheless emerges as the most appealing character because she shows signs of life. Robinson’s activities as an office sneak, maneuvering against Forsythe to boost his own career, are more compelling than his actions as murderer, suggesting that the film might have made a good NETWORK-style assault on television culture and the workplace, rather than a pallid noir imitation. Weirdly, it’s more shocking to see Robinson hinting darkly that his colleague is having marital problems, undercutting his boss’s confidence in the guy, than it is to see him dispose of his mistress (because let’s face it, Eddie was ALWAYS doing THAT).