The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947)

US / 83 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Henry Levin Pr: Helen Deutsch, Virginia Van Upp Scr: Louella MacFarlane, Allen Rivkin, Devery Freeman Story: Lenore Coffee Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Melvyn Douglas, Sid Caesar, Betsy Blair, Nina Foch, Charles Cane, Harry Von Zell, Bruce Harper (i.e., Coulter Irwin), Arthur Space, Richard Benedict, Frank Orth, Victoria Horne, Hugh Beaumont, Doreen McCann.

Although sometimes listed as a film noir, The Guilt of Janet Ames is really a philosophical piece ruminating on guilt, morality, the selfishness of grief, redemption; there are some noirish tropes if you care to look for them, but then you could also find parallels with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) dir Frank Capra if you were desperate enough. (You might, for example, point to the fact that both are Christmas movies, even though they have a completely different feel.)

Rosalind Russell as Janet Ames

But before making any such claims it’s worth noting that The Guilt of Janet Ames is upfront and center concerning the inspiration it owes to George du Maurier’s 1891 novel Peter Ibbetson and in particular the Continue reading

A Quartet of Shorties

Although I’ve been charged with including too many borderline noirs in the Encyclopedia  (odd for an encyclopedia to be accused of encompassing too much rather than too little!), in fact quite a few of the entries I wrote I decided later to reject. Some of those then got stuck back in again. In the absence of the usual collegial team you expect to be able to draw on when constructing an encyclopedia of this size, I had to be, as it were, my own collegiate: I conducted many internal debates over what to keep in and what to kick out, and often there were second thoughts.

The entries here on Noirish are in general far longer than I had space for in the encyclopedia. Here, just for interest, are my original entries for a few movies that got thrown out and stayed out; all the entries are very short because, of course, I already regarded the movies as borderline. That’s not to say these movies, especially The Velvet Touch, may not get fuller coverage here in due course.

The movies concerned are:

Sweet Revenge (1976; vt Dandy, the All American Girl)

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

The Unsaid (2001)

The Velvet Touch (1948)

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Sweet Revenge (1976)

vt Dandy, the All American Girl

US / 89 minutes / color / MGM Dir & Pr: Jerry Schatzberg Scr: Marilyn Goldin, B.J. Perla, Jor [sic] Van Kline Story: B.J. Perla Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond Cast: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock.

Vurrla Kowsky (Channing) is a career car thief whose primary motive is to make enough money to buy herself a Ferrari. Lawyer Le Clerq (Waterston) believes he’s saving her from herself, but so do the other men in her life and she’s running rings round all of them. Although the movie’s determinedly comedic, its portrayal of the addiction that auto theft can become is (reportedly) very authentic.

On Amazon.com: Sweet Revenge

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alexander Hall Pr: William Perlberg Scr: Gladys Lehman Based on: story by Wilson Collison Cine: Henry Freulich Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Rita Hayworth (uncredited).

Of strictly ancillary interest, There’s Always a Woman (1938) was intended by Columbia as first in a series to rival The THIN MAN. Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas star as husband-and-wife sleuths solving a society crime, she trying—and succeeding despite her husband’s sexism—to be a PI, while he acts for the DA’s office. It’s easy to see why the series never took off: while Blondell does wonders for an ordinary script, Douglas is insipid and, among the rest, only an uncredited Tom Dugan as a knucklehead cop stands out.

On Amazon.com: There’s Always a Woman (currently unavailable, but with luck might return soon)

Unsaid, The (2001)

Canada, US / 111 minutes / color / New Legend, Mind’s Eye, CineSon, Eagle Dir: Tom McLoughlin Pr: Tom Berry, Matt Hastings, Kelley Reynolds Scr: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Scott Williams Story: Christopher Murphey Cine: Lloyd Ahern II Cast: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Chelsea Field, Teri Polo, Sam Bottoms, Trevor Blumas.

Psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) treats troubled teenager Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) while haunted by memories of his own teenaged son’s suicide. The son, Kyle (Blumas), killed himself after sexual abuse by a therapist; Tommy was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother and then saw his father, Joseph (Bottoms), beat her to death. When Tommy hooks up with Michael’s daughter Shelly (Cardellini) he learns from her which of Michael’s buttons to press in order to exploit the similarities between the two cases. A trite ending undermines an otherwise interesting, thought-provoking piece.

On Amazon.com: The Unsaid

Velvet Touch, The (1948)

US / 97 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Gage Pr: Frederick Brisson Scr: Leo Rosten, Walter Reilly Story: Annabel Ross Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Genn, Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames.

Broadway comedienne Valerie Stanton (Russell), during a tussle with producer and dumped lover Gordon Dunning (Ames)—over her desire to take the lead in a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and over her new boyfriend, Michael Morrell (Genn)—hits him with a statuette and inadvertently kills him; the body’s discovered by fellow-actress Marian Webster (Trevor). While the latter’s hospitalized with shock, cop Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) concludes Marian must be the killer, ignoring Valerie as even a suspect; she has, unwittingly, committed the perfect crime. A witty screenplay and fine performances raise this mystery above the average level of the pack.

On Amazon.com: The Velvet Touch [VHS] and The Velvet Touch [Region 2]

Evelyn Prentice (1934)

US / 79 minutes / bw / Cosmopolitan, MGM Dir: William K. Howard Pr: John W. Considine Jr. Scr: Lenore Coffee Story: Evelyn Prentice (1933) by W.E. Woodward Cine: Charles G. Clarke Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Una Merkel, Rosalind Russell, Isabel Jewell, Harvey Stephens, Edward Brophy, Henry Wadsworth, Cora Sue Collins, Frank Conroy, Jessie Ralph, Isabelle Keith, Jack Mulhall.

Released just a few months after the epochal Powell–Loy team-up The Thin Man (1934), this is a curious mixture of psychological thriller with Thin Man-style comedy crime, plus some noirish elements such as the innocent woman wrongly accused, the (different) innocent woman falling prey to a blackmailer, and the vampish femme fatale—in this instance, Rosalind Russell in her first big-screen role as widow Nancy Harrison, cleared of manslaughter thanks to the efforts of high-flying defense attorney John Prentice (Powell).

Immediately after the acquittal, John has to travel to Boston; Nancy books herself on his train and does her best to “express her gratitude” to him. Thwarted in this, she plants in his onboard drawing room a watch with an incriminating inscription, which watch the pullman company believes belongs to Mrs. Prentice and so forwards on to John’s wife Evelyn (Loy). Not unnaturally, Evelyn believes this is proof that husband John, who consistently neglects her for his law practice, has been having shenanigans with the lovely widow.

Evelyn Prentice (1934) - a telgram lets the cat out of the bag about John's carryings-on

A telegram lets the cat out of the bag about John’s supposed carryings-on.

But Evelyn’s own conscience is hardly clear: during John’s absence she’s been carrying on a flirtatious relationship with supposed poet and definite lounge lizard/serial blackmailer Lawrence “Larry” Kennard (Stephens). When Larry tries to blackmail Evelyn over innocent-yet-guilty-seeming letters she sent to him, she picks up his gun and . . . and . . . and then we don’t quite know what happens. Certainly Evelyn believes she killed Larry; she says as much to sassy, multiply divorced family friend Amy Drexel (Merkel). Yet the cops pick up Larry’s long-suffering mistress Judith Wilson (Jewell). Ravaged by guilt, Evelyn persuades John to defend Judith . . .

The climax takes the form of a fairly gripping courtroom drama, which comports well enough with the earlier psychological thriller/noirish mode but clashes quite a lot with the comedy-crime mode. There are obvious attempts to link Powell’s character to The Thin Man‘s Nick, notably his love of a cocktail or three; but here he has more gravitas than in the series. Loy, too, for the most part plays her role straight, leaving the comic relief in the quite capable hands of Merkel. Collins, as the Prentices’ daughter Dorothy, exhibits the kind of old-fashioned infant cutery that sends grown men (and women) rushing for the exits.

This was remade as Stronger than Desire (1939).

On Amazon.com: Evelyn Prentice