Twelve Shorts for the Shortest Month #6: The Lie (1955 TVM)

US / 25 minutes / bw / Four Star, First Run Syndication Dir: Alvin Ganzer Pr: Warren Lewis Scr: Frederic Brady Story: Kathleen Norris Cine: George E. Diskant Cast: Dan Duryea, Beverly Garland, Jo Gilbert, Mack Williams, Ted Bliss, Salvador Baguez, Nancy Matthews

Beverly Garland as Laura

This was shown as Season 1 Episode 3 of the relatively short-lived (two seasons) syndicated TV show The Star and the Story (32 episodes, 1955–6). Each episode was hosted by Henry Fonda, but otherwise they were standalones—in effect, short TV movies. A few actors appeared in more than one episode. This was the only episode to feature noir great Dan Duryea but one of three to feature another noir great, Beverly Garland.

A long time has passed since Kane Madison was beaten to death, a long time during which Jim Ripley (Duryea) spent fifteen years of a twenty-year sentence in the penitentiary for the murder, only to find himself now, under the nom de guerre Huggins, eking out an existence in the state sanitarium.

At last, though, he has a visitor. Young widow Laura Kent (Garland) has tracked him down to apologize for what she did to him. As the twelve-year-old Laura Ames (Matthews), seeking attention and the recognition of her peers, she took it into her head to lie that she’d seen young ne’er-do-well Jim Ripley running away from the Madison place.

Dan Duryea as Jim

She’s rich, the older Laura tells him. She can take him away from all this. She agrees she can never repay him the “trunkful of years” she stole from him, but she can make some restitution—and thereby, too, she admits, relieve herself of some of the guilt she’s been feeling all these years.

So out to her ranch in California they go. She’s even divided the house into two, so he can have as independent an existence as he chooses.

But the ranch house is remote, her servant Pancho (Baguez) is there only during the day, and Jim still does not find it in himself to forgive. And now he gets her to write what could very easily be mistaken for a suicide note . . .

Throughout, the tale plays with our understanding of the true situation. I’m still uncertain how well the big final twist before the resolution worked for me: emotionally it did so, and very well indeed, but I saw it coming a fair distance ahead.

I watched The Lie because of the presence of Duryea; the discovery that Garland was in it too was a pleasant surprise. (Yes, I know I should have done a bit of basic research beforehand, but I didn’t. So sue me.) In the first half, as Duryea plays the surly, nihilistic sanitarium inmate, I began to build myself up for a disappointment: he seemed to be phoning the part in. But he more than makes up for this later on. I was bowled over for the umpteenth time by how good an actress Garland was, how expertly she could grab our sympathy even though her character has truly done a dreadful thing. Talking of excellent performances, Nancy Matthews was splendid in her rendition of the unscrupulous pre-teen.

Nancy Matthews as the young Laura

Many of the episodes of The Star and the Story have fallen into the public domain, including this one, so generally speaking there are copies of The Lie to be found in all the usual places, such as YouTube and the Internet Archive. It’s a movie worth tracking down.

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