The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)


director: Felix E. Feist; screenwriters: Philip MacDonald/Seton Miller/from an unpublished story by Seton Miller; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: David Weisbart; music: Louis Forbes; cast: Lee J. Cobb (Lt. Ed Cullen), John Dall (Andy Cullen), Jane Wyatt (Lois Frazer), Lisa Howard (Janet), Alan Wells (Nito), Harlan Warde (Howard Frazer), Charles Arnt (Mr. Quimby), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Quimby), Bud Wolfe (Officer Blair); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack M. Warner; 20th Century Fox; 1950)
“An engaging film noir efficiently directed by Felix E. Feist.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

In an engaging film noir efficiently directed by Felix E. Feist from an unpublished story by Seton Miller and a screenplay by Philip MacDonald and Seton Miller, Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) is a playboy bachelor San Francisco police lieutenant involved in a secret romance with married wealthy socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt). After two years of a miserable marriage to a fortune-hunter, Lois announces to hubby number two, Howard, that she’s filing for a divorce and boots him out of her luxurious house. Worried that she has found Howard’s gun in the house and thinking that he plans to kill her, she has Ed come over. Howard, who left early to catch a flight to Seattle, returns to rob her house after setting up an alibi. In a panic, Lois uses his gun to put two bullets in him. Ed decides to cover up her murder by dumping Howard’s body in the airport’s parking lot. But all doesn’t go well, a Mr. and Mrs. Quimbly notice his car and come forth as witnesses–though giving a vague description of him and the wrong color of his car. Also, when Ed throws the murder weapon off the toll bridge, Officer Blair spots him and engages him in a casual conversation–which will later be used to show he was inexplicably near the crime scene.

As a coincidence, Ed’s gung-ho brother Andy, newly married and promoted to the rank of homicide detective, helps Ed in the investigation. Wanting to prove to his brother that he’s up to the job, Andy on his first case throws himself fully into the investigation. As a result, he eventually suspects his brother because of his efforts to mislead him. After catching Ed with Lois and lying about it, and later rechecking the witness’s stories, Andy confronts his brother with the damaging evidence. But Ed knocks him out and flees with Lois to the airport, but when realizing Andy notified the police and they have closed off all the exits out of the city–they flee instead to an abandoned building site near the Golden Gate Bridge. Andy guesses his brother will hideout there, recalling how they played there as children, and heads there by himself. But the police follow Andy and arrest the two fugitives. At the onset of the trial, Ed doesn’t seem to be surprised that Lois has turned her affections over to her lawyer.

The Man Who Cheated Himself is the perfect film for the beginning of the bland Eisenhower years. Cobb’s problems are laid to his unstable lifestyle, uncontrollable sex drive and failure to settle down and raise a family, something his more “normal” brother seems committed on doing. Living a safe life is tantamount to living a good life to those caught in the trappings of the mindset of the 1950s in America, a time when the Cold War was heating up and many Americans were suspicious of those who strayed from the mainstream. Though Dall can’t be bought off, not even to save his brother’s neck, he doesn’t object when he gets off without a speeding ticket when a fellow cop recognizes him and leaves him with a smile and a wink. The filmmaker seems to be saying that there are acceptable perks that go along with conforming to the system, but helping a lady friend get away with murder because she gets under your skin is not one of the acceptable perks.