25 September 2009 | dougdoepke
Half of a Good Noir
Putting glasses on the very versatile Richard Basehart and sticking him with a drugstore and a faithless trophy wife (Totter) is almost inspired. His Warren Quimby is such a timid, dependent little guy, and when wife Claire thrusts out her ample chest at any well-dressed man who walks by, we feel for the put-upon pharmacist. He's working day and night trying to please her, but she could care less, especially when she hooks up with the flashy Barney Deager (Gough) and rubs Warren's nose in it. Or rather it's Deager who does the nose-rubbing in the sands of his Malibu beach house. Now Warren may be no Clark Kent, but he's finally had enough humiliation, and there is an alter-ego waiting to break out of that timid soul. The alter-ego is named Paul Southern. He doesn't wear a red cape, but he does sport a very unWarren-like checked jacket and no glasses. More importantly, he's got a plan, a nifty plan for revenge on his two tormentors. In the meantime, he's picked up a new girl (Charisse) who admires the forceful Southern style. So now Quimby-Southern is ready for a new life with his new girl once his nifty revenge plan succeeds.
I just wish the second half succeeded as well as this riveting first half. But the focus shifts abruptly over to wise-guy cop Bonnabel (Sullivan) and we lose the compelling thread of humiliation and revenge. It's almost like the script didn't know what to do with Basehart following the Malibu showdown. The remainder of the film plays out in kind of fuzzy, not very believable fashion. It's like a screenplay in two very unequal chapters. The movie is another of Dore Schary's attempts to bring sunny MGM into the post-war world of noir. Like many of the others, the effort here only partially succeeds. There's some good location photography and an excellent cast. However, director Berry adds little to the erratic script, and I'm tempted to say that neither he nor the studio had a feel for this kind of RKO material. Nonetheless, that compelling first half remains.