Thursday 13 September 2007

The Unsuspected (1947) Michael Curtiz

A young lady is murdered in neatly atmospheric noir shadows while she's on the phone. She's the secretary of Victor Grandison, a radio personality who presents a mystery series, The Unsuspected, in which he recounts tales of amateur detection. The voice is unmistakably that of Claude Rains, who of course made us aware of his voice before his face in The Invisible Man, and he as a good voice for radio as well as for film.

A week later a young man visits Grandison's house during his birthday party, and he claims to be the husband of Grandison's ward, Matilda Frazier, who apparently died only a month earlier at sea. It isn't surprising that nobody knows him, as they apparently married only three days before her death. It's more surprising that he doesn't want any of the large estate she left behind, only a large portrait of her that hangs above the fire. However what's most surprising is that when she reappears alive and well she apparently doesn't know him either.

The direction here is courtesy of Michael Curtiz, who was always capable and often great. It looks wonderful though sometimes the grand camera movements are, well, a little too grand and obvious. The noir elements are spot on though, and make us wonder why he didn't direct more films noir. There are some of note, like Mildred Pierce, lurking in his filmography, but precious few all told. The script is by Bess Meredyth, based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong, and I've never heard of either though IMDb lists a whole slew of films I've seen with Meredyth's name on. She was even one of the founders of the Academy, hardly a minor name.

It's the acting that shines brightest though, because while the story starts off stunning, it fades over the length of the film. It keeps us gripped until we realise just who's been doing what to who but then fails to keep us in suspense as the story plays out. Rains is great, but I've never seen him otherwise, being one of the most consistently watchable actors Hollywood ever gave us. He has been better though.

However the lead is Joan Caulfield, apparently Joss Whedon's favourite actress. She's certainly notable as Grandison's ward, the obvious centerpiece of all the schemes, but reading up on her suggests that this is her most notable role and it doesn't stand out quite as much as I'd expect it to. Audrey Totter is outstanding as Grandison's bitchy niece and she gets some great costumes to wear, and Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield and Ted North live up to their parts, if they don't breathe as much life into them as they could have done.

Many of the films I've been seeing lately have given me the impression that they would improve over time and further viewings. This one wasn't bad but it certainly isn't going to get any better and I have the feeling that a second time through would lessen the good points and expose the bad.

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