(director/writer: Ken Hughes; screenwriter: from the novel Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger; cinematographer: Basil Emmott; editor: Max Benedict; music: Malcolm Arnold; cast: Arlene Dahl (Kathleen ‘Kathy’ Allen, nee Alanborg), Philip Carey (Tim O’Bannion), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Collins), Michael Goodliffe (Larry Buckham), David Kossoff (Sam Lewis), Sid James (Frank Allenborg), Patrick Allen (Willie), Faith Brook (Virginia Collins), Jacques B. Brunius (Inspector Caron), Ralph Truman (John Dowling); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: M.J. Frankovich/Maxwell Setton; Columbia Pictures; 1956-UK)

“A lethargic and unaffecting minor film noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lethargic and unaffecting minor film noir by writer-director Ken Hughes (“Joe Macbeth”/”Cromwell”/”Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”) that’s similar to Stanwyck’s Baby Face but much flatter. It’s based on the novel Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger and stars Arlene Dahl as a femme fatale, in a more meaty part than she usually got while at MGM.

Kathy Allen (Arlene Dahl) is a slum-dwelling poor working-class gal raised by an abusive stepfather (Sid James) she hates. That’s given as the reason she hates all men and only desires to use them to climb the social ladder. She’s a gold digger who sets her sights on getting a better life no matter how. She deems the Stylewear Beauty Contest as her ticket out of the slums and uses her feminine charms on Sam Lewis (David Kossoff), the elderly head of Stylewear magazine, to get him to rig the contest and choose her as the pageant winner. Kathy then reneges on her promises of sexual favors, and rushes off to jump start her career. She meets Tim O’Bannion (Philip Carey), a struggling television producer employed by the European-based Dowling’s advertising firm, but turns down his advances because he’s not rich. While staying at London’s Mayfair Hotel, she soon has an affair with the hot-tempered wealthy photographer Larry Buckham (Michael Goodliffe), only to jilt him after running up a big tab charged to him at Marshall’s Department Store on expensive jewelry, furs and evening clothes. Then she wangles her way into being a secretary for the married Stephen Collins (Herbert Marshall), CEO of the big Dowling advertising firm. After an affair with the foolish Collins, she threatens to stop giving him the good stuff unless he dumps his wife Virginia and marries her. On a Paris business trip, she accidentally meets with Virginia and learns her elderly father is John Dowling (Ralph Truman), who owns the agency. Realizing that Virginia controls the purse strings and she would undoubtedly leave Stephen in a financial mess if they split, Kathy bargains with Virginia that she will leave Stephen only if she gets a transfer to the firm’s Paris office. This is where the big boss John Dowling is located; Kathy then sets her sights on the gullible Dowling and marries him. She accidently plugs him and is sent to jail, but is released for lack of evidence. Her ‘knight in shining armor’ turns out to be O’Bannion, who has been smitten with her all this time and hooks up with her after helping to secure her release; it concludes on a rosy note, with O’Bannion helping Kathy solve her deeply rooted psychological problem with TLC and romancing her with no strings attached.

The most wicked thing about the pic is that it’s a predicable and overwrought melodrama; but, at least, it was effectively shot on location in London and Paris and Dahl is chilly in her cold-hearted performance.

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