28 June 2004 | bmacv
Offbeat Poverty Row programmer's a little bit better than it seems
Even by the bottom-shelf standards of postwar Poverty Row crime programmers (it's a Republic release), Jealousy appears primitive. Its sets look ugly and thrown together, its meandering plot line needs plenty more back-story, and its acting is more often awkward than not. But slowly maybe by dint of its very cheesiness the movie starts to work on you. It's the work, both as writer and director, of Gustav Machaty, whose most notorious film was the 1933 Extase, where Hedy Lamarr swam in the nude. But that notoriety notwithstanding, Machaty didn't make much of a mark in America; before Jealousy, he hadn't directed a movie since 1939, and afterward would wait another decade before his last film, made in Europe.
To get a bead on where Jealousy is heading takes a while. We first encounter Jane Randolph wearing a visored cap and driving a hack in Los Angeles. One of her fares is debonair doctor John Loder, who takes a very English fancy to her. But she's supporting depressive Nils Asther, a displaced person from the shambles of Eastern Europe who was a noted novelist in his native tongue; in America, he's unemployable. He pawns his cigarette case to buy a gun and end it all. Randolph stops him, which proves to be a mistake.
When Asther grows more jealous and abusive, Randolph warms to Loder and becomes chummy with his devoted colleague Karen Morley. (They lunch together, go shopping together, confide in one another.) But out of false pride Asther, who nurses his unhappiness like a sore tooth, spurns a job as translator at a movie studio, an opportunity arranged by his best friend Hugo Haas (yes, that Hugo Haas, another Poverty Row auteur of vanity pictures). Asther gives the restless Randolph an ultimatum: If she leaves him, he'll use the gun, but not on himself. But that damn gun sure gets around....
Jealousy boils down to a romantic trapezoid. Even at an economical 71 minutes, it moves slowly. But move it does, with an occasional nice touch along the way (a Christmas ornament dropped back into its box after a grim marital spat, a wide-eyed Siamese cat taking in a climactic scene). And as it turns out, it's just a little bit better than it seems.