THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME (Irving Pichel, 1947)

A generally okay actor, Robert Young is superb, giving his finest performance, as self-centered married stockbroker Larry Ballentine, who is on trial for murdering girlfriend Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward, vivid), who was killed and incinerated in a road accident of theirs that wasn’t even his fault. Meanwhile, his rich wife, Greta (Rita Johnson, good and tight), has coincidentally met her end; presuming I got this straight, it is Greta’s unidentifiable corpse that is mistaken by the police for Verna’s, although Greta’s horse, its both legs broken, haunts the spot. On the stand as the only witness for the defense, Larry tells his story of reality’s unpredictability, which we “see” as flashback. Listening to this story, Larry is convinced that the jury won’t believe him. He is shot dead by the police attempting to flee the courtroom just before the jury’s “not guilty” verdict is read aloud. Somehow, the fact that Larry isn’t idealized or sentimentalized makes this finish all the more heart-walloping.
     From a story by Gordon McDonell, who penned the story that became Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), written by Jonathan Latimer and directed by Irving Pichel, They Won’t Believe Me is a minor noir, with too few shadows to show and too much tale to tell, and with too many characters. (Adulterous Larry rang Janice Bell before starting in with Verna.) Yet it unfolds as a gentle noose loosely circling the audience’s neck before suddenly tightening to the limit in the last few seconds. Everyone who has seen this film remembers having seen this film. Moreover, its postwar predicament, with people busily working when not floundering in their moral malaise, suggests increasingly bad things for America. The lives we see are dry and going nowhere down a sunny road.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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