3 Unreliable Narrator Noir Films
I recently watched 3 old noir movies that opened up with people in a pickle. The person in the pickle then proceeds to tell you how they got there. You realize real quick that you are only getting their version of what happened and it becomes a question of do you want to believe them?
All 3 films were on TCM but only 2 were being featured on Noir Alley. I happened to record “Detour” (1945) even though I have seen it before, because I thought it was the Noir Alley selection and I wanted to see what Eddie Muller had to say about it. “Possessed” (1947) was the actual Noir Alley choice that week and “They Won’t Believe Me” (1947) was the next one that featured an intro by the Czar of Noir. Here they are in order in the order I liked them:
“Detour” starred Tom Neal as Al Roberts, a pianist in a NYC club who decides to hitchhike out to Los Angeles to reunite with his fiancée when “fate sticks out a foot to trip” him. Al’s girl, Sue (Claudia Drake), sang in the club until she headed out to Hollywood for a shot at stardom. Al gets a ride from Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), “a big blowhard” in Al’s words, who inconveniently drops dead while Al is driving. Afraid the police will think he killed Haskell, he switches clothes and IDs with the dead man and continues on to L.A., planning to ditch Haskell’s car. He picks up Vera (Ann Savage), a female hitchhiker. Incredibly, she knows he’s not Haskell from her own encounter with the big blowhard. Vera quickly jumps on the chance to get money from the sale of the car, bullying Al with threats of turning him into the cops. I believed Al’s version of what happened to Haskell, at least when it happened, but I didn’t believe his version of what happened with Vera. Let’s face it, Vicious Vera would have driven a saint to murder, but it made you wonder– if Al was lying about Vera, he might have been lying about Haskell too. Fate stuck a foot out to trip up Tom Neal in real life, too.
“Possessed” starred Joan Crawford as Louise Howell, a woman who took it real hard when David Sutton (Van Heflin), the engineer lover, broke up with her. You meet her stumbling around town in a daze, walking up to complete strangers, addressing them as “David.” Louise is taken to the hospital where she refuses to tell the doctor anything until he gives her an injection that changes her mind about talking. What was that? Truth serum? Even if it was, she’s crazy so “her truth” isn’t necessarily “the truth.” In her story, she was taking care of the invalid wife of a rich businessman, Dean Graham (Raymond Massey). The wife thought Dean was fooling around with Louise and Louise was going to quit, but Dean talked her into staying. Either he was very grateful or he had designs on Louise all along. After his wife fell off a rock into the lake, he married Louise. Dean’s daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks) was against the marriage but Louise overcame her objections. The family moved to Washington, D.C., and David came to visit Dean, reigniting Louise’s obsession with him. He takes a job from Dean and goes off to Canada. Louise struggles to maintain her sanity but it’s a losing battle, particularly when David returns and takes up with her stepdaughter. David was a real jerk, taunting Louise when he already knew she was unbalanced as hell. He should have got the hell out of there when she showed up at his place with a gun but he was a wise guy to the last. Dean Graham apparently had a thing for crazy women with shoulder pads because he chose to stick by Louise, and that part wasn’t being told through Louise’s eyes.
In 1947’s “They Won’t Believe Me,” Robert Young played Larry Ballentine, described by Eddie Muller as “a cad” who ruined the lives of 3 women. Not in Larry’s version, though. He was genuinely in love with Janice (Jane Greer). His wife, Greta (Rita Johnson) knew of his infidelity but manipulated him into staying with her anyway. He took up with Verna (Susan Hayward) next and decided to run off with her but, first, they executed a plan to relieve their employer of 25 grand. Verna died in a fiery car crash. Larry was thrown free and when he woke up in the hospital, he thought it was a good idea to let people think that his wife, Greta, died in the car crash. Larry’s credibility goes completely down the toilet at this point and the whole film goes downhill from there. For me, anyway. According to Noir of the Week.com, “it fits nicely with ‘A’ pictures like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice,” but people don’t get that because TCM cuts out parts that would leave no doubt that Larry is a rotten bounder. I’m no connoisseur, that’s for sure, but I’ve seen both “Double Indemnity and “Postman” a couple of times. I wouldn’t watch this one again even if it included the cut out parts. I spent most of the film wondering why all these beautiful women found Robert Young so irresistible to begin with. He did look cute in the swimming scene with Susan Hayward though.