(director: Alfred Werker; screenwriter: from the book by William O’Farrell/Walter Bullock; cinematographer: Lew W. O’Connell; editor: Louis H. Sackin; music: George Antheil; cast: Joan Leslie (Sheila Page), Louis Hayward (Barney Page), Tom Conway (John Friday), Richard Basehart (William Williams), Virginia Field (Paula Costello), Natalie Schafer (Eloise Shaw), Benay Venuta (Bess Michaels), Ilka Gruning (Mattie); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aubrey Schenck; Eagle-Lion Films; 1947-B/W)

“Unique fantasy melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alfred Werker (“He Walked By Night”/”At Gunpoint”) ably directs this unique fantasy melodrama (with tinges of film noir) that’s based on the novel of crime writer William O’Farrell. The song-writer Walter Bullock, moonlighting as a screenwriter, reverses the roles of the villain from the book to the film, as the film makes the abusive husband the villain and his wife as the angelic heroine figure. It was done because the 21-year-old Joan Leslie, who took over the role from the veteran actress Sylvia Sydney, didn’t have the experience at the time to play such a debased character. The film also marks the great character actor Richard Basehart’s acting film debut, where he plays an effete, neurotic, madman poet.

The film offers a premise that gives a successful Broadway actress, Sheila Page (Joan Leslie), a new lease on life, after killing her cruel playwright husband Barney (Louis Hayward) on New Year’s Eve of 1947. Using a supernatural suspension of disbelief, the actress gets a chance to live 1946 over again and see if she can change her destiny by not killing her dreadful husband.

The black and white Poverty Row studio Eagle-Lion Films had been lost for many years and because of bitter court battles on its theater release only received a limited theater run before quickly removed from theaters. When the obscure and forgotten film was found, the UCLA Archive restored a damaged copy and the film has since been well-received in places like the 2013 Seattle Noir City festival. It has become recognized as a forerunner of the latter innovative sci-fi TV series of The Twilight Zone (1959-63).

The film was remade as the TV movie Turn Back the Clock (1989) with Connie Sellecca in the Joan Leslie role.

It opens with Sheila, on New Year’s Eve of 1947, killing her husband Barney with a smoking gun. All we know at this point is the gunshot brings people banging on her door and in a panic she flees into the crowded streets of Times Square dressed in a nightgown under a fur coat. With the help of her trusted sensitive poet friend William Williams (Basehart), she meets at a party, Sheila ends up in the apartment of her suave producer John Friday (Tom Conway) asking for help. When she mentions she wishes she could relive the year and undo what she has done, by movie invention this is done. When she tells Williams her foul deed, he remarks that he wishes he was the one who shot her self-pitying, cheating and alcoholic husband.

Revisiting 1946, we learn how Sheila’s insecure hubby, struggling to write another hit play after his Out of the Blue,” falls for the heartless London-based playwright Paula Costello (Virginia Field). She wrote the hit Broadway play Say Goodbye, the play Sheila stars in. The immoral Paula carries on an open affair with Barney, who ignores Sheila’s pleas to stay off the bottle and stay away from the blonde floozy. Even after the cheating hubby falls off a theater balcony and becomes unable to walk, he still loves the uncaring Paula instead of his caring wife who is nursing him.

Other characters include the obnoxious wealthy socialite Natalie Schafer, as a patron of the arts who uses her money to convert her proteges into boy toys (the poet Williams is one example).

The conceit has its tiresome moments and goes on for too long. It features a city that no longer resembles that period depicted and with characters who seem more like relics than living flesh and blood. But it has enough bluster to hold my interest as a novelty film, one that brings back a time when Broadway was supposedly Broadway. Even if the characters were skillfully developed as to their psychological makeup, the dramatic conceits were hard to believe and the gloomy nature of the story didn’t encourage me to put on a party hat and bring in the New Year.