THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN (Robert Siodmak, 1949)

Spinning off some of our sacred secular memories of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), including certain plot details and a snapshot of Thelma Jordan—like Phyllis Dietrichson, played by Barbara Stanwyck—as a blonde, Robert Siodmak’s absorbing, suspenseful, increasingly magnificent The File on Thelma Jordan, however, differs in two substantial ways: the action isn’t filtered through the warped, misogynistic mind of Walter Neff; the genuine, heartbreaking mutual love of Thelma Jordan and L.A. A.D.A. Cleve Marshall replaces the lovelessness of Wilder’s domain. Be forewarned: the script by Ketti Frings, from a story by Marty Holland, lacks the brilliant Wilder wit; but one is engrossed by the mystery all the same and, once again, the greatest U.S.-born film actress of all time gives a phenomenal performance.
     The plot is too elaborate to synopsize here; suffice it to say that someone in the dark shoots and kills Thelma Jordan’s elderly aunt (Gertrude Hoffman—the future Mrs. Odets on television’s My Little Margie), and Cleve Marshall helps Thelma rearrange the crime scene to what he thinks is her advantage. Thelma, as a result of her aunt’s new will, inherits her aunt’s fortune; she is arrested for murder. Cleve ends up prosecuting her.
     Make of this what you will: Thelma takes out an adversary’s eye with a cigarette lighter; two films later, Stanwyck’s Vance Jeffords takes out an adversary’s eye, with a pair of shears, in The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950)!
     Wendell Corey is good as Cleve; indeed, Corey was almost always good—and at his best in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), where he out-acts Jimmy Stewart. But don’t expect him or anyone else to out-act Stanwyck, whose final scene in Siodmak’s film, with its “two confessions,” moves to tears anyone with a beating heart.

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