Director Otto Preminger Stars Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman USA 1952 Language English 1hr 31 mins Black & white
Beware the spoilt kid
Let’s talk about the good girl for once. Because what could be more thankless than the part of the woman in a film noir destined to lose her man to the femme fatale? Are the writers going to bother to make her interesting, will the director care, will the actress have anything to get her teeth into?
So a bit of credit to the writers and actress Mona Freeman for putting some life into the crisp, sensible Mary Wilton, described thus by the man about to cheat on her, ‘She’s a receptionist at the hospital. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, she weighs 105lb, stripped, she sleeps in pyjamas, she’s an excellent cook and she doesn’t ask questions.’
The key fact there might be the pyjamas – not racy, prudent but modern, and – crucially – her boyfriend knows what she wears in bed (of course he does: he’s played by Robert Mitchum, he’s definitely sleeping with her even in a 1952 movie).
Later on, a friend offers her solace with, ‘A times like this a guy can offer a girl a handkerchief or a double Old Fashioned – what will it be?’
She answers, ‘Both.’
She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s not a fool and the film leaves her confident and strong. It’s a good move.
So what about the bad girl? That’s Diane (Jean Simmons) – not quite 20, more a fille fatale than a femme fatale. She meets ambulance driver Frank (Mitchum) when her wealthy stepmother suffers the effects of a supposedly accidental gas leak in her room. Diane makes a play for Frank instantly and with no subtlety. He responds – more to her offer of financial assistance towards his dream of a garage for sports cars than the promise of sex (as he’s hinted, he’s not struggling on that front). Soon he’s caught up in her struggle with her (actually not at all wicked) stepmother and it looks likely that this will all end badly.
Frank is a sucker, but he’s not a total sucker – he knows that Diane is spoilt and scheming from the start. And he’s not outrageously greedy – he’s not after riches, just the chance to be a small businessmen. It’s enough, though, to make him hesitate at the wrong moments.
Mitchum and Simmons make a good pairing – he’s big, American, slow-moving; she’s bird-like, English, full of nervous energy. The dialogue crackles, the plot isn’t over-busy or too predictable, and director Otto Preminger already had a fine track record when it came to film noir (Laura, Where The Sidewalk Ends). It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a good one.