(director: Edwin L. Marin; screenwriter: Jonathan Latimer/from an unpublished story by Frank Fenton and Rowland Brown; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: Elmo Williams; music: Leigh Harline; cast: George Raft (Joe Warne), Lynn Bari (Frances Ransom), Virginia Huston (Carol Page), Joseph Pevney (Fingers), Myrna Dell (Susan Flaherty), Edward Ashley (Keith Vincent), Mabel Paige (Mrs. Warne), Bernard Hoffman (Erik Torp), Walter Sande (Lt. Halberson), Robert Malcolm (Chief Earn), John Banner (Shawn), Rudy Robles (Filipino Houseboy); Runtime: 87; RKO; 1946)
“A low rent version of the film noir Laura.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A low rent version of the film noir Laura. George Raft is compelling as the L. A. homicide detective with an obsession for tracking down the killer of a playboy piano composer.
The opening long tracking shot of the Hollywood Hills and the close-up window view of a luxury building where an unseen woman, except for her gams, is sitting in the apartment of the cad Keith Vincent (Ashley) while he’s composing a score and telling her stories about all the beautiful girlfriends he has photos of hanging on his wall. When he offers her some money to go away and end their relationship, a shot is fired and we see the pianist slumped over dead on the floor. Homicide detectives Lieutenants Halberson (Sande) and Joe Warne (Raft) investigate, and the lead detective Halberson declares it a suicide. Joe remains unconvinced, as he suspects one of Vincent’s rejected girlfriends killed him.
Joe is given two days by his chief to track down the numerous girls in the wall photos. But he draws a blank. The vic wrote the new tune “For Dolores,” but the detective finds that he calls all his broads Dolores. Joe’s reassigned to another case as this one is officially closed, but he compulsively works on his own to find the missing photo on the wall. At Shawn’s photo shop he finds that the missing photo is of Frances Ransom (Lynn Bari), a bit playing actress.
Joe is a hothead and his ruthless questioning tactics lead to several suspects reporting him for abuse. This results in his suspension. The lonely bachelor returns to Frances’s pad and is reluctantly attracted to the striking brunette, even though he believes she’s the murderess. Her alibi doesn’t check, and everything points to her except he doesn’t want to believe that. While taking Frances to the Keyboard Club to hear her sister Carol Page (Huston) sing, Joe has the club piano player, Fingers (Joseph Pevney), play the tune Vincent was composing before his death. Frances doesn’t recognize the tune, but Carol becomes emotional upon hearing it.
As Joe gets closer to solving the case Torp (Hoffman), Fingers’ heavyset muscleman assistant and piano mover at the club, tails Joe and beats him up. Also, the police chief wants Joe arrested for interfering with a closed case after receiving further complaints. But Joe manages to elude the cops.
In Frances’ apartment, when she’s had enough of him grilling her, she comes up with the best (or the lamest) line in the flick as she tells Joe: “Hop on your scooter and blow, I’ve got to emote.”
When Joe discovers the photo store owner Shawn is hanged in his studio, he closes in on the murderer with the help of his mother (Mabel Paige). She’s a daffy senior citizen, who shares a small house with him. While demonstrating with a friend how the murder took place she accidently has a blank go off, and this gives Joe the idea on how the murderer made it look like a suicide. The viewer knows it was murder from the opening shot, but for the first time Joe is now positive and this gives him enough conviction to go full-blast after the killer.
It seems like the victim is living out the fantasy Raft would like but he’s stuck in a low paying job, living with his mother in a modest house, and unable to mingle with the Hollywood type of glamor gal he could only dream about. There appears to be no regular girl in his mundane life until Lynn Bari gets his undivided attention.
It was a snappy film that makes the most of its murder investigation with insightful looks at the lives of those on the fringe associated with Hollywood. The viewer is taken on a tour of 1940s styled nightclubs, different income styles of living quarters, and into the RKO studio lot, as the tough guy Raft lives on the job vicariously through others. It’s a film with many ironies. It was scripted by Jonathan Latimer and directed by Edwin Marin, and it was produced by longtime Alfred Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison.
REVIEWED ON 3/12/2002 GRADE: B