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A WOMAN’S SECRET (director: Nicholas Ray; screenwriters: Herman J. Mankiewicz/based on the novel Mortgage on Life by Vicki Baum; cinematographer: George E. Diskant; editor: Sherman Todd; music: Frederick Hollander/Nacio Herb Brown; cast: Maureen O’Hara (Marian Washburn), Melvyn Douglas (Luke Jordan), Gloria Grahame (Susan Caldwell), Bill Williams (Lee), Victor Jory (Brook Matthews), Jay C. Flippen (Police Detective Fowler), Robert Warwick (Assistant District Attorney Roberts), Ellen Corby (Nurse), Ann Shoemaker (Mrs. Matthews, Brook’s Mother), Curt Conway (Doctor); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herman J. Mankiewicz; RKO; 1949)
“The tidied up gem of a mess still gives off an awful stink.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause”/”In a Lonely Place”/”Born to be Bad”) takes a routine “woman’s pic” and turns it into a somewhat oddly diverting noir film by using a few of his perverse touches to liven up the dry story. Though made before Ray’s “official” debut feature They Live by Night, A Woman’s Secret was released afterward (new RKO studio boss Howard Hughes held up the release date for no apparent reason, but when released the film lost money as it failed to capitilize on Gloria Grahame’s current career momentum which quickly faded). It’s told in flashback, as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz uses the same flashback technique he used in Citizen Kane to make his comeback from drinking and gambling problems (since the film bombed, his comeback never materialized). The film is based on the novel Mortgage on Life by Vicki Baum (“Grand Hotel”).

It opens with Broadway musical star singer Marian Washburn (Maureen O’Hara), who has retired after losing her voice, confessing to shooting her devious, selfish and trollop-like singer protégé Susan Caldwell (Gloria Grahame, Ray’s wife after the pic; later she falls in love with Ray’s son, Tony, whom she would marry in 1960), called onstage Estrellita, for disappointing her by quitting the business to marry a surly ex-soldier (Bill Williams) after she devoted all her energies to coach her to stardom. Marian’s piano-player friend, Luke Jordan (Melvyn Douglas), believes she’s innocent and so does police inspector Fowler (Jay C. Flippen). This brings about the flashback, as we retrace the events before the shooting. Luke hires attorney Brook Matthews (Victor Jory), who is still in love with Susan and is her ex-fiancé, to defend Marian.

In the end, things get untangled. But it’s resolved in such a half-hearted and unconvincing way, that the tidied up gem of a mess still gives off an awful stink.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”