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FILE ON THELMA JORDON, THE (director: Robert Siodmak; screenwriters: from the story by Marty Holland/Ketti Frings; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Warren Low; music: Victor Young; cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Thelma Jordon), Wendell Corey (Cleve Marshall), Paul Kelly (Miles Scott), Joan Tetzel (Pamela Marshall), Stanley Ridges (Kingsley Willis), Richard Rober (Tony Laredo), Barry Kelley (District Attorney Pierce), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Aunt Vera Edwards), Basil Ruysdael (Judge Hancock), Harry Antrim (Sidney); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Paramount; 1950)
“The performances by both Stanwyck and Corey are strong.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Siodmak smartly directs a film noir that is similar in many ways to Billy Wilder’s masterpiece of Double Indemnity, yet it is also significantly different. The marvelous Barbara Stanwyck plays the femme fatale role as Thelma Jordon, a woman who ensnares a married man with children to fall in love with her and then persuades him to help her criminal plan succeed. The only difference in the roles was that Stanwyck in “Indemnity” is a cold-hearted selfish bitch and doesn’t fall for the patsy until she plugs him at the conclusion, while Stanwyck in “Thelma” falls for the patsy at the onset of their affair and gets her comeuppance through her own designs rather than through the hands of the man she deceived. The other major differences are that the fall guy in this film is an innocent and the plot is not as well developed as in “Indemnity”.

Late one evening, in an undisclosed small-town in California, Thelma Jordon enters the office of DA Miles Scott (Paul Kelly) wishing to report a string of attempted burglaries on her wealthy elderly Aunt Vera Edwards’ mansion, where Thelma also lives. The only one in the office is a nondescript, drunk, assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who makes a pass at the beautiful woman. The two begin a secret love affair even though both are married. Cleve is in a troubled marriage with a woman (Joan Tetzel) who loves him immensely and desperately is trying to hold on to him, while Thelma tells Cleve she no longer wishes to see her suspicious looking husband Tony Laredo who was seen lurking around the shadows but who has returned to Chicago.

Thelma’s aunt is killed and her valuable emerald necklace is stolen from her home safe. DA Scott suspects something fishy when he learns that the victim recently changed her will to leave everything to Thelma, and this circumstantial evidence and a background check that proves revealing is enough to get her indicted on a murder charge. Cleve, beforehand, was invited over by Thelma at the time just after the murder and helped her discard clues that would implicate her in the crime, while Thelma tells the love-sick Cleve that Tony was the killer. As the case goes to trial, the experienced District Attorney Pierce is removed as prosecutor because Thelma’s lawyer, Kingsley Willis, hired Pierce’s brother on his staff and that created a conflict of interest. Cleve is then chosen to prosecute the case and does his best to make sure Thelma is found not guilty.

Siodmak directs with a special feel for the characters romantic desperation and the dark lighting by cinematographer George Barnes is well-utilized to create a bleak setting. The performances by both Stanwyck and Corey are strong, but as the film tends to center more on him as the big loser– he takes full-advantage of that by making us feel sorry for someone so blinded by love that he gives up so much for such a disreputable woman.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”