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SLIGHTLY SCARLET (director: Allan Dwan; screenwriter: from a story by James M. Cain “Love’s Lovely Counterfeit”/Robert Blees; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: James Leicester; cast: John Payne (Ben Grace), Ted de Corsia (Sol Caspar), Arlene Dahl (Dorothy Lyons), Rhonda Fleming (June Lyons), Kent Taylor (Frank Jansen), Lance Fuller (Gauss), Buddy Baer (Lenhardt), Frank Gerstle (Dave Dietz), Roy Gordon (Norman Marlowe); Runtime: 99; RKO; 1956)
“A minor film noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A minor film noir. Its main distinction is that it is one of the few in color from the 1950s. It’s about two redheaded sisters: one an honest secretary, June Lyons (Fleming), and the other a kleptomaniac, Dorothy (Dahl). Both of whom get involved with a petty criminal, Ben Grace (Payne), who takes over as a crime boss in an unnamed California city. The story is slight and implausible. The melodramatic action is gratuitously violent. It’s loosely based on a novel by James M. Cain “Love’s Lovely Counterfeit,” which covers corruption in a big-city.

The millionaire reform candidate Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor) is trying to unseat the current corrupt mayor, who is controlled by the ruthless mob boss Sol Caspar (Ted de Corsia). June is Frank’s secretary. He’s asked her to marry him. She thinks he’s a kind man, but turns him down because she’s not in love and puts him off with the excuse that her mentally unbalanced and immoral sister, Dorothy, has just been released from prison and is under her care.

Ben does some spy work for Solly by using his camera, but he can’t get any dope on June to smear Jansen. This leads to an argument between the two where Solly verbally insults him calling him ‘Bright Boy,’ someone who went to college but has no guts to be a big operator. Solly then slaps Ben in front of the other mobsters, and embarrasses him for not wanting to take part in going after a TV reporter, Marlowe (Gordon), who is a Jansen supporter.

June receives an anonymous call from Ben, warning her that Marlowe will get it tonight. But she fails to tell Jansen. Solly kills Marlowe and his boys dump the reporter’s body out the window. The corrupt police chief and DA refuse to investigate, but Ben comes over to June and gives her an incriminating tape involving Solly and two of his boys in the killing. This is enough to get Jansen elected and make Solly flee to Mexico to avoid prosecution.

Ben is now running the syndicate. He gets the mayor to choose a police chief he thinks he can control, David Dietz (Gerstle). He has also stirred up some romantic passion in both sisters. But Dorothy is as nutty as a fruit cake, so he sticks with June. When Dorothy gets bagged for stealing a necklace from a department store, it’s Ben who gets her sprung. But the mayor reverses that and Ben, realizing the game is up, steals all of Solly’s money and tries to talk June into running away with him.

The finale takes place in Solly’s beach house, where a shootout between Solly and Ben takes place as the sisters cling to each other. The batty Dorothy is a prime candidate for the crazy house, while June is caught between a man who has both a rotten and soft side and a sister whom she feels compelled to protect no matter what.

The most interesting thing about this flick, was the cinematography of John Alton. He managed to make the SuperScope color have noirish shadows even though it is filmed in a hideous shade of garish colors.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”