(director: Irving Pichel; screenwriter: Jonathan Latimer/from an unpublished story by Gordan McDonell; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: Elmo Williams; music: Roy Webb; cast: Robert Young (Larry Ballentine), Susan Hayward (Verna Carlson), Jane Greer (Janice Bell), Rita Johnson (Gretta), Tom Powers (Trenton), Frank Ferguson (Cahill), George Tyne (Lt. Carr), Don Beddoe (Thomason); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joan Harrison; RKO; 1947)
“An outstanding film noir melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An outstanding film noir melodrama whose adultery tale is much in the same nature as a Hitchcock mystery or James M. Cain’s gritty Double Indemnity. Philandering playboy Larry Ballentine is on trial for murdering his girlfriend Verna Carlson. His lawyer, Cahill, excuses him as a man of poor character, but tells the court that when Larry tells his story they will see that he’s not a murderer.

Larry’s true confession starts on a hot NYC June afternoon, where the married man is meeting the attractive magazine writer Janice Bell for lunch the last 11 weeks and is planning to leave his rich wife for her. But his society wife, Gretta, has found out about the restaurant rendezvous and buys him a limited partnership in a Beverly Hills stock brokerage firm with Mr. Trenton. The spineless Larry dumps the nice girl Janice for the money. The scorned Janice now detests him. In LA Larry meets his soul mate, a sexy and cunning office worker in his firm, Verna Carlson. He has this great line upon meeting her: “She was a special kind of dynamite neatly wrapped in nylon and silk… But I was powder shy.”

Gretta finds out about his affair with Verna and she plans to keep him by selling his interest in the partnership and relocating to a remote ranch. Speaking about a heavy dose of symbolism, her only companion at the ranch is a palomino stallion with a sweet tooth for sugar.

Larry is not happy on the ranch feeling he’s kept by a jailer, and talks Verna into turning down Trenton’s marriage offer and running off with him to Reno, Las Vegas. He promises to get a divorce and start over with her. But their car is hit accidentally by a truck that explodes upon contact and Verna is burned to death. He’s hospitalized with a concussion. When the authorities believe that it was his wife who died, he goes along with that story and starts to make other plans.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

The film builds to a cleverly devised twisty ending. Larry comes home to the ranch and finds that Gretta committed suicide with his letter asking for a divorce by her side. He leaves her body by the canyon to decompose, but by a strange twist of fate the police show up on the request of Trenton. He’s worried about his missing girlfriend and thinks she’s blackmailing Larry. The police find an unrecognizable body and believe it’s Verna. The last twist is over the jury verdict and how the guilt-ridden Larry reacts before the verdict is announced.

Robert Young is fun to watch for a change playing a scoundrel. Susan Hayworth gives a solid femme fatale performance. Jane Greer is a good contrast to Rita Johnson, as both are prepared to do what they can to keep their man. Jane’s best virtue is her looks, while Rita’s is the obsessive love she has for the Robert Young character. There were too many contrivances, especially the too clever of a twist at the end, but overall it was effective as a suspenseful tale laced with sweet and sour touches. It was directed with deft skill by Irving Pichel, something he rarely achieves. It was adapted from a story by Gordan McDonell and the screenplay was by Jonathan Latimer.