Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1944. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich. Cinematography by Elwood Bredell. Produced by Joan Harrison. Production Design by Robert Clatworthy, John B. Goodman. Costume Design by Vera West. Film Editing by Arthur Hilton.
This terrific example of classic noir has a plot that just won’t quit. After meeting and picking up a mysterious woman in a bar, a man takes her to the theatre and then drops her off only to return home and discover the police standing over the body of his dead wife. He’s the prime suspect for the kill and, inconveniently, his only alibi is a woman that he now has no way of getting in touch with. After being put in prison, his secretary (Ella Raines) becomes sleuth extraordinaire, chasing down clues and avoiding some pretty nasty personal warnings in order to free the man that, it turns out, she loves. She teams up with the accused’s friend, played by Franchot Tone, but is he on her side? Terrific high contrast photography, with shadows and slants of light used to the point of ridiculousness (something tells me that even in the forties, prison cells were not lit like an abandoned stable) only heighten the pleasure of this one. Raines’ character, a self-reliant woman who never actually steps out of the way to let a man close the deal in the nerve wracking climax, also makes the film a strong example of the independent ladies that the cinema was comfortable with during the war years.