8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm another one delighted to see this film finally appear on DVD. Both the critical and the positive reviews make good points, but there are 3 big things that are terrific about this movie. Just understand going in that, largely because of production codes of the time, a fairly dark noir novel became pretty much a chick flick.
Main character Helen is, as some have pointed out, too inclined to let men use her, and to beg, but the character has lived a hard-knock life with hints of emotional deprivation. She's plausible, if not exactly a feminist role model.
First big plus is the well-dressed set, a wealthy yet cozy middle American home. It has to evoke prosperity, without ostentation or the comedic coolness of, say, the `My Man Godfrey' kind of set. It's a house built by the Harkness family with good hardworking American values, via Harkness Textiles. At first sight I wanted to move in myself.
Stanwyck brings tense, conflicted dignity to a role that has to stay afloat among waves of melodrama without getting swamped. Try to imagine any other actress in this role. There aren't many! The plot is well-paced and tight, but some bits where she repeats a phrase over and over in inner torment ("It isn't too late, I can still back out!" 5 times!) are quite grating and Stanwyck makes them only just bearable. Co-screenwriter Sally Benson, better known for lighter work, shows there a weakness in her ability to translate noir from novel to screenplay, though the director bears some responsibility for the way these passages are overplayed. But the vital scenes following each suspect during the commission of the crime are beautifully put together, clear yet subtle enough that you have to pay attention.
And another perfect note, really, the linchpin of the movie, is struck by too-little-known actress Jane Cowl as matriarch Grace Harkness. A wonderful, wonderful performance, as a grieving, loving, warm woman who indeed becomes the only real mother Helen has ever known.
The first glimpse these 2 women have of each other seals the plot. Helen, at first, assumes Patrice's identity for her child's sake, but quickly finds that she absolutely cannot break her "mother-in-law's" heart, which would happen if Helen revealed that she isn't the real Patrice and that Grace has lost not only her son but his unborn child.
Helen is one of the worst identity-thieves ever, showing that she's too innately honest to pull it off, and her brother-in-law has her number almost immediately. But affection for and desire to protect his mother stops him from exposing Helen's deception, which in turn gives him time to begin falling for Helen himself. So Cowl, as Grace, pretty much drives the story. If the rest of it is too, as Maltin called it, "turgid" for you, you can watch the film for Cowl alone.
Woolrich's original plot was complex, full of darkness and ambiguity. In simplifying the story for the film morals code of the day, it loses a lot, but the suspense is well-crafted and the contrast between Helen's lousy previous relationship and this new, loving home makes it plausible that she'd want to embrace it and rationalize doing so.
But read the book too. (Cornell Woolrich's `I Married a Dead Man`, written under his William Irish pseudonym). Used copies are readily available, and a reprint is coming in 2013. Despite its same (up to a point) plot and many passages put straight into the screenplay unchanged, it's still a whole different experience.