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STREET OF CHANCE(director: Jack Hively; screenwriters: from the book The Black Curtain by Cornell Woolrich/Garrett Elsden Fort; cinematographer: Theodor Sparkuhl; editor: Arthur P. Schmidt; music: David Buttolph; cast: Burgess Meredith (Frank Thompson), Claire Trevor (Ruth Dillon), Sheldon Leonard (Detective Joe Marucci), Jerome Cowan (Bill Diedrich), Frieda Inescort (Alma Diedrich), Adeline Reynolds (Grandma Diedrich), Arthur Loft (Sheriff Lew Stebbins); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Paramount; 1942)
“Most of the film left me in the dark.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jack Hively efficiently directs an early film noir that establishes a number of conventions that helped define noir. It’s the first adaptation based on a Cornell Woolrich book — The Black Curtain. The film is penned by Garrett Elsden Fort while the cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl, specializing in German Expressionism, provides the intense shadowy black-and-white photography that captures Woolrich’s foreboding dark crime situation. The film’s faults are linked to the plodding story and its many coincidences, which give it a muddled and superficial look.

A well-dressed man has a falling beam from a construction site graze him as he’s walking along NYC’s Tillary Street. Not seriously hurt he gives the patrol officer the name Frank Thompson (Burgess Meredith), but discovers his hat and cigarette lighter have the initials D. N.. Returning home, he learns from the landlady his wife moved some time ago. Getting her new address from her, he tracks her down living under her maiden name Virginia Morrison (Platt). She tells him he disappeared about a year ago in the winter and it’s now spring, when he tries to get his bearings and can’t remember what happened in all that time. He soon realizes he has amnesia. Virginia told his office, where he was the head accountant, that he had a nervous breakdown to avoid the embarrassment of strangers knowing her personal business. Hired back, he’s tailed as he leaves the office by a suspicious stranger. That night three men come to his door and he escapes down the fire escape, leaving his wife at her mother’s house until he learns about his blackout and why he’s being sought.

Returning to the neighborhood of the accident, he is recognized in the street by Ruth Dillon (Claire Trevor). She keeps him hid in her pad, saying that was Detective Joe Marucci after him because he’s a suspect in the murder of a wealthy Long Island Jericho man named Mr. Harry Diedrich. Ruth works for the family as a maid and Frank or as she knows him Danny Nearing, are engaged and she’s trying to protect him from the police. He’s been gone a week from her, the time of the murder. Believing that he’s not capable of murder, he convinces Ruth to take him on her day off to the estate of Diedrich to look for clues.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

At the mansion, Frank believes the invalid and uncommunicative Grandma Diedrich can help. He initiates a way of communicating by blinking and sadly learns from Ruth that she accidentally knifed Harry to death when caught in the act of robbery, and led on that Danny did it. Other suspects are Harry’s wife Alma (Inescort) and his brother Bill (Cowan), who are lovers. The problem I had with all the explanations is that nothing made sense, including Frank having two episodes of amnesia. This seemed too odd to swallow whole. Most of the film left me in the dark. Though the murderer was too obvious by the halfway point, the film still had many disturbing moments that kept me interested.

REVIEWED ON 12/15/2003 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”