2 July 2009 | secondtake
True Fast Noir: "Yes, for one thing, a dame."
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)
"Yes, for one thing, a dame."
A fast, curious, edgy crime film that depends on a fabulous, simple twist, which you learn right at the start and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The clash of two cops who are brothers begins innocently, and turns and builds in a very believable way, as the details of a murder are revealed. By the end, with a fabulous scene below the Golden Gate Bridge, it's a chase scene of pure suspense.
Lee J. Cobb (more usually a brilliant secondary character) takes the lead as a cop who does his job with steady weariness, and yet when faced with a woman he loves too much, puts everything in danger. He's just perfect in his role, right to the last scene when you see him look down the hall with the same feeling he has at the beginning of the film. His kid brother played by the slightly quirky John Dall ("Gun Crazy") is all virtue, almost to the point of sweet sadness. And the two main women play believable supporting roles (especially Cobb's love-interest, who is selfish and panicky to just the right degree).
This Jack M. Warner production was released by Fox but by the looks of it, it can't be quite a full budget feature movie, and because of that it is relentless and edgy, with no time for polish or emotional depth. Cameraman Russell Harlan ("Blackboard Jungle" and much later "To Kill a Mockingbird") does a brilliant job with great angles and framing. It isn't elegant, but it's visually sharp. Throw in a talented but little known director, Felix Feist, and some top shelf editing (by David Weisbart, one of absolute best) and you have just the mix you need for a small film much larger than life.
This is a film noir in the usual sense of style, but also in substance--a lead male who is alienated and casting about for meaning in life, and a lead female who leads him astray.
But in the end, what's it about? Crime? No. Love? Yes. The only subject that matters.
Cobb: "Do you think I'd throw that away on a sucker play like this?"
Dall: "Yes, for one thing, a dame."