SECOND WOMAN, THE (director/writer: James Kern; screenwriters: Mort Briskin/Robert Smith; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Walter Thompson; music: Nathaniel W. Finston; cast: Robert Young (Jeff Cohalan), Betsy Drake (Ellen Foster), Florence Bates (Amelia Foster), Morris Carnovsky (Dr. Hartley), Henry O’Neill (Ben Sheppard), Jean Rogers (Dodo Ferris), John Sutton (Keith Ferris), Raymond Largay (Maj. Badger); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mort Briskin/Robert Smith; United Artists; 1951)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
James V. Kern directs this romantic mystery that reminds me of Spellbound and Rebecca. Jeff Cohalan (Robert Young) is a successful California architect who works for wealthy landowner Ben Sheppard (Henry O’Neill), who treats him like a son. The young architect was engaged to Ben’s only daughter, Vivian, who died in an auto accident the night before their wedding.
The film opens with Jeff’s attempted suicide by carbon monoxide poison in Amelia Foster’s house. She’s the aunt of Jeff’s girlfriend Ellen Foster (Betsy Drake), an insurance investigator who is visiting from Minnesota. The film goes back a short time in flashback when Jeff met Ellen on the train and it was love at first sight. Jeff at the time was suffering from blackouts, depressions and memory losses. He lives alone at the beautiful cliff-top house, he built for his bride-to-be, overlooking the ocean, but it mysteriously burns down. There are more mysterious things that happen such as his rosebush is destroyed, his dog poisoned and his horse has to be put down after an accident in the stall. At work, Jeff’s accused of losing valuable blueprints for his latest project.
Jeff’s friend, a shrink named Dr. Hartley (Morris Carnovsky), believes his friend is so overwhelmed with guilt that he caused the fire and all the other incidents because he feels responsible for Vivian’s death. Even Ellen feels there’s something wrong with him. But Ellen wishes to get to the bottom of the mysteries and starts her own investigation. She discovers that one of Jeff’s employees, Keith Ferris (John Sutton), was seeing Vivian but couldn’t marry her at the time because he was still married. Ellen’s discoveries lead to uncovering the mystery behind Vivian’s traffic accident and Jeff’s attempted suicide.
Robert Young gives a subdued performance that is somewhat credible but not all that endearing. The film’s ultimate villain is the real estate industry that is spoiling the natural beauty in its need to make lots of money. But the brooding melodrama, thought of by many as film noir, never seemed vibrant as a thriller.
REVIEWED ON 10/3/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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