Tarnished (1950)

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The war between small-town hypocrisy and a reformed sinner’s integrity!
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US / 64 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Harry Keller Scr: John K. Butler Story: Turn Home (1945) by Eleanor R. Mayo Cine: John MacBurnie Cast: Dorothy Patrick, Arthur Franz, Barbra Fuller, James Lydon, Harry Shannon, Don Beddoe, Byron Barr, Alex Gerry, Hal Price, Stephen Chase, Esther Somers, Paul E. Burns, Ethel Wales, Michael Vallon, Everett Glass.

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On their way home to the small town of Harbor, Maine, after a night out, the dangerous driving of Joe Pettigrew (Barr) terrifies his girlfriend, Lou Jellison (Patrick). Once they’ve lost a pursuing speed cop, she seizes the keys and insists on driving the rest of the way. During the changeover a hitchhiker, Bud Dolliver (Franz), begs a lift.

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Joe (Byron Barr) appalls Lou (Dorothy Patrick) with his crazy driving.

Bud has been absent from Harbor for seven years, seven years during which the locals have assumed he was in jail—after all, he’d been a wild one before his departure. Just about no one wants him back, a major exception being his old girlfriend Nina (Fuller). He encounters Nina at Barron’s Beer Parlor in town, and she immediately dumps her escort, Junior Bunker (Lydon), in favor of Bud; she makes it absolutely clear she’d like it if she and Bud could pick up where they left off, and reminisces about how they were once hellions together:

“Do you remember the night we tried to make gin out of rubbing alcohol? We got sick as pups and we sure tore this town apart. . . . That was the night we stole the school bus and smashed it on the rocks near Freehold. [sighs] What happened to us afterwards wasn’t so funny.”

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Nina (Barbra Fuller) is on a date with Junior Bunker (James Lydon) when she spots Bud at Barron’s Beer Parlor.

Having passed up the opportunity of a night with Nina, he sets out next morning to search for a job, only to find that nobody’s interested in hiring him. At Coastal Sardine Canneries Inc. he meets Lou once more; she’s the receptionist/secretary there. All hopes of a job with the company are doomed because the personnel manager is that flaky boyfriend of hers, Joe.

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Bud (Arthur Franz) is pleased to see Lou again.

Down at the dock, Kelsey Bunker (Shannon)—father of the dumped Junior—hires Bud for a quick task. There’s an accident and, in tending Bud, Kelsey discovers he has a Semper Fi tattoo and a mass of scar tissue on his chest: where he’s been these past seven years isn’t in jail but fighting for his country in the Marines. “Gotta set of silver ribs,” says Bud. “They bother me sometimes.” Kelsey promptly hires him full-time.

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Some while later, Bud and Lou run into each other at a diner, and the mutual attraction is obvious to both. Despite bitter opposition from Lou’s father, Curtis (Beddoe), they go out on a date that night, and are spotted by Junior—who, hating Bud because of Nina, eagerly reports to Joe, who hates him because of Lou: “He’s taken her to the movies. Got balcony seats, too.”

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Lou (Dorothy Patrick) and Bud (Arthur Franz) realize they’re falling for each other.

When Bud finally gets home afterwards, it’s to discover Joe lying in wait for him:

Joe: “I came here to talk about something else. About making free with other people’s property.”
Bud: “You mean Lou Jellison?”
Joe: “I mean Lou Jellison.”
Bud: “Since when is she your personal property?”
Joe: “Since right now.”

They fight, and surprisingly—Bud being a trained marine an’ all—Joe gets the better of it.

Next morning, Harbor burgher Jake Peterson (Glass) discovers his store has been broken into, and that the thief must have cut his hand on the broken glass because there’s blood on the till. Bud has a cut hand from his fight with Joe, and so is the obvious prime suspect of Sheriff Hurst McBride (Chase), especially since Bud seems suddenly to have come into a little money—in fact, his military pension.

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Jake Peterson (Everett Glass) and Sheriff McBride (Stephen Chase, right) confront Bud.

Lou proposes marriage to Bud, and he gleefully accepts. However, despite having learned about Bud’s wartime heroism, Curtis still adamantly refuses to give consent: “A leopard don’t change his spots, war or no war.” Bud leaves, goes drinking, runs into Nina and is en route to bed with her when she pulls back, correctly surmising that really he’s still head-over-heels in love with Lou.

Lou and Bud elope to the next state, where kindly Judge Oliver (Gerry) refuses to give them special dispensation. They return home the next day, reluctantly prepared to wait the necessary five days for the banns to be published, only to discover that now the town’s barber shop has been robbed. To save Lou’s reputation, Bud refuses to offer an alibi to Sheriff McBride; it’s she herself who defiantly declares where they were—pointing out that they could even produce a judge to back the story up.

At that moment, news arrives that there’s a fire raging in the warehouse of Jed Gillis (Price). Gillis, in the wake of the other burglaries, planted a bear trap, and it has trapped a robber. Bud fights his way through the flames to rescue the man, whose accomplice has meanwhile been arrested outside. With Bud revealed as the hero he is, the townsfolk love him and . . . well, you can guess the rest.

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Bud (Arthur Franz) battles through the flames at Gillis’s warehouse to save a man’s life.

This is a modest but extremely satisfying little movie. The screenplay is more than serviceable, and the plotting—presumably taken more or less intact from the novel—is first-rate. More than that, so are the performances, even though the actors concerned can only ever have been household names in a very few households—in fact, some of the support cast (Lydon, Shannon, Beddoe) are arguably better remembered than the leading players.

Dorothy Patrick appeared, usually in supporting roles, in a number of movies of noir/noirish interest, such as HIGH WALL (1947), FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950), 711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950) and LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955). Like her, Arthur Franz tended to have larger roles in lesser movies, bit parts in more prominent ones. His relevant filmography includes RED LIGHT (1949), The SNIPER (1952), NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED (1955), BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), The WILD PARTY (1956) and The UNHOLY WIFE (1957; vt The Lady and the Prowler).

They both are fine here, but the real revelation for me was Barbra Fuller, almost all of whose screen work after 1950 was for television. Her rendition of the free-spirited Nina has a nice air of Gloria Grahame to it; in fact, in the brief, poignant scene where Nina tells Lou that she’s relinquishing all claims on Bud, if you half-closed your eyes you might be able to persuade yourself it was Grahame on the screen.

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In one of the best scenes, Nina (Barbra Fuller) tells Lou (Dorothy Patrick, left) that it’s Lou whom Bud loves.

Another thing pleasing about Tarnished is its feminism. We’ve noted the contrasting views of Bud and Joe on the subject of property, but also worth noting is that it’s Lou who drives the relationship between Lou and Bud: she’s even the one who proposes marriage. When Bud at one point says that he “wouldn’t want her to work” after their marriage, you can see in her face what she thinks of that particular bit of male reasoning. Remember, too, that in the final event it’s Nina who makes the decision about the relationship between herself and Bud. In other words, despite outward appearances, the plot is really governed by the actions of the two leading women. We could take this further. Curtis Jellison may think he’s in charge of his family, but Lou defies him and it’s evident Lou’s mother, Edna (Somers), gives him the full weight of her opinion behind closed doors.

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Edna Jellison (Esther Somers) doesn’t welcome Bud’s interest in her
daughter . . .

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. . . and neither does husband Curtis (Don Beddoe).

These touches seem certainly to have come from the Eleanor Mayo novel upon which Tarnished was based, Turn Home (1945).

Mayo’s an interesting figure in her own right. She produced only four novels other than Turn Home, but she was active in Maine politics—rare for a woman in those days. Even rarer was that she and the better-known Maine novelist Ruth Moore seem never to have made any particular secret about their relationship; they met in 1940 and lived together until Mayo’s death in 1981. It’s not much of a surprise, in this context, that Lou and Nina live with the assumption that they control their own destinies. Their creator did exactly that.

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Lou (Dorothy Patrick) and Bud (Arthur Franz), united at last.

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8 thoughts on “Tarnished (1950)

  1. Like another reader above I have liked Arthur Franz in a number of other low budget films over the year, but though I know of this film I have never actually seen it. As always you bring a brace of good reasons for checking it out and support that with a fabulously penned assessment, which had me all the way.

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