TENSION (director: John Berry; screenwriters: based on a story by John Klorer/Alan Rivkin; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Albert Akst; music: Andre Previn; cast: Richard Basehart (Warren Quimby), Audrey Totter (Claire Quimby), Cyd Charisse (Mary Chanler), Lloyd Gough (Barney Deager), Barry Sullivan (Lt. Collier Bonnabel), Tom D’Andrea (Freddie), William Conrad (Lt. Edgar Gonsales), Tito Renaldo (Naroo), Virginia Brissac (Landlady); Runtime: 95; MGM; 1949)
“The tension seemed real.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A solid suspense melodrama set in California, ably directed by John Berry who was a victim of the blacklist and left Hollywood for France in the 1950s.
Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a quiet, nice guy, who is the hard-working manager of an all-night pharmacy. He is pushed to his limits by his sexy unfaithful wife Claire (Audrey Totter), who is someone he’s crazy about and would do anything for. But he discovers she ran away to the Malibu beach house of her lover, a shady businessman, Barney Deager (Gough). Confronting them at the beach, he’s humiliated when Barney beats him up in front of Claire and humiliates him further by treating him with disdain and personal insults.
Warren plans the perfect crime as he takes a new identity as Paul Sothern, changes his appearance with some flashier clothes, goes from wearing glasses to contact lenses and moves into a different apartment complex; but, he still keeps his married apartment above the drug-store. He makes a threatening phone call to Barney that is answered by the servant Naroo, as he muffles his voice with a handkerchief and warns his boss that Paul Sothern is after him. He becomes a different person, using the alter ego of Paul Sothern to get up enough nerve to kill the man he detests.
At the new apartment complex Paul meets an attractive amateur photographer, Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse), and tells her he’s a cosmetic salesman on the road all week. The two become romantically involved during the weekends.
At last Paul decides to go through with the murder, but when he breaks into Barney’s beach house he sees his wife is not there and he feels sorry that Barney is also being two-timed by her. He leaves without killing him, thinking she’s his problem now.
Paul goes to see Mary but she’s not there, so he tells their landlord that he’ll come back to live in the apartment complex to marry Mary. But back in his apartment, Claire returns and tells him she’s staying because Barney was shot dead.
The police investigating the murder case are Lt. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) and his partner Lt. Gonsales (William Conrad). They focus their attention on the mystery caller Paul Sothern as the prime suspect. Collier spouts his police philosophy: I work on the suspects by pressing or ignoring them, but I don’t yield as I keep stretching them like a rubber band until I reach their breaking point.
The cops get lucky when Mary reports Paul Sothern as a missing person and she brings along his photo. Collier puts the squeeze on Warren as he recognizes him from the photo, but can’t get him to snap. So he reverses strategy and puts the squeeze play on Claire, and by not playing by the book and romancing her so that she would let her guard down he begins to crack the case.
Not all of the plot seemed feasible but the acting was quite good, the dark nighttime mood scenes were appropriate, and the tension seemed real. A taut thriller and a B-film noir that reflects the scary mood of post-WW11, where Americans were looking for material comforts and to escape the dark city for the green lawns of the suburbs. Basehart was such a protagonist dreaming of a better future; but, he unfortunately was hooked up with the cold femme fatale, Audrey Totter, and therefore was trapped by his lust for her.
REVIEWED ON 12/29/2001 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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