Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1950. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Robert Thoeren, based on the novel by Martha Albrand. Cinematography by John F. Seitz. Produced by Richard Maibaum. Music by Hugo Friedhofer. Production Design by Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier. Costume Design by Mary Kay Dodson. Film Editing by Alma Macrorie.
A group of American spies working for the O.S.S. during the war have their secret lair in the basement of an aristocratic villa in a tiny Italian town. When they are discovered by the Nazis who break in and open fire, Alan Ladd is one of the few survivors, losing his friends and his lady love thanks to someone’s betrayal. Years later, he is in America and haunted by the experience but, seeing a painting in a store window, recognizes it as being one that was stored in his makeshift headquarters during the war. Believing that he can figure out who his betrayer was by tracing the source of the painting, he heads back to Italy where he revisits the village and interrogates the locals one by one on his quest to find the answers he is looking for. Mitchell Leisen’s stylish direction lets a movie with a healthy budget feel as mysterious and exciting as a B-level noir, combining romantic melodrama with the cynicism of wartime potboilers to superb effect thanks to sharp writing and performances. Ladd is as efficient and underplayed as the cinematography, even the inclusion of the Oscar-winning theme song “Mona Lisa” doesn’t tip this one’s perfect blend of elements despite being busted out at every possible occasion. You might figure the ending out before it happens, but getting there is far too good a time for this to be a real problem.
Academy Award: Best Original Song (“Mona Lisa”)