26 August 2012 | AlsExGal
A good wartime mystery set on the home front...
... and though there are allusions made to the war such as references to losing ones ration book, this is really a story that could have been set anywhere anytime to get peoples' minds off the war and on to the kind of film they would have watched pre-war - a good murder mystery.
The opening scene shows nine girls posing for their college sorority picture. They are doing so on the front lawn of Paula Canfield's (Anita Louise) estate, with the girls all invited for a swim afterwards. Very quickly you figure out that Paula is bad news. She wants what she wants when she wants it and she doesn't care who she hurts along the way. Paula wants Alice (Nina Foch) to write her term paper for her. When Alice refuses Paula says she'll write her financially strapped family and demand the 100 dollars that Alice borrowed from her to buy an Encyclopedia. When Mary (Evelyn Keyes) overhears Paula trying to steal one of the girl's dates on the phone, she tells the girl who then tells off Paula. In revenge, Paula threatens to spread bad gossip about Mary's brother so that Mary's chances at a teaching job at an exclusive school after graduation will be ruined. All of the other girls have problems with Paula too, these are just the two arguments we see.
The girls are going on a weekend retreat in the mountains at their sorority lodge along with their chaperon Miss Thornton (Ann Harding). When they get there they hear on the radio that Paula is dead. Shortly thereafter they learn it is no accident - it's murder, because the police show up and tell the girls they prefer that they not go back home, as they were planning, and stay the weekend. Basically they are under house arrest.
There are any number of suspects. One girl - a medical student - arrived late to the lodge with a bandaged hand and blood on her suitcase. She claimed it was from changing a spare tire - was it? Mary drove separately from the other girls and was there when the others arrived. How did she spend the extra time? Alice is constantly bursting into hysterics, and then there are the other girls who seem too goofy to be anything but harmless, but are they? To keep this on the lighter side William Demarest plays a dim cop who is supposed to be keeping an eye on the group of girls but winds up being more trouble than he's worth.
At first blush this all seems like a very inventive premise - much like The Women, except you do see a few men. The fact is, necessity is the mother of invention, with that necessity being this: how do you make a film about young people in their early 20's when all of the able bodied men in their early 20's are in military service? Thus the concept of a murder mystery involving an almost entirely female cast, with the few men involved being too old for military duty anyways (the police, Paula's father).
Highly recommended as a wartime film that has absolutely nothing to do with the war and also happens to be one inventive little murder mystery that will keep you guessing as to what will happen next.