Thursday, May 21, 2009
They Won't Believe Me (1947)
“They Won’t Believe Me” (1947) is film noir without too many shadows, but with an interesting understated performance by Robert Young as a self-serving man who ultimately becomes more victim than victimizer in the ironic film noir jaws of fate.
Mr. Young, with his authoritative, yet soft-spoken low voice, is remarkably believable and natural. At times a surly cad, his jaded delivery is not forced or showy. A lot of other actors would play this heavy with a much less natural quality, but Young does no scenery chewing. I’m not sure if the ugly ties he wears in this film are meant to give us a clue to the rapacious and uncontrolled opportunism of the character, but Young needs no showiness to color this man a cad. He does all right in his own intriguingly quiet way.
Robert Young is a Wall Street broker we first see in a pleasant cozy lunch for two with Jane Greer, an elegant young professional woman. They are intelligent and charming, and the obvious pleasure they take in each other might indicate this film is to be a lighthearted romantic comedy. Mr. Young seems a good natured, decent chap so far, but soon we learn that he is married, and these are stolen moments with a young woman who has decided that being his mistress is not for her. She breaks off the relationship, but he insists that he will leave his wife for her.
However, once we follow him home to his ritzy apartment and meet his society wife, we learn that she is the one with the money, and though she cavalierly allows him to leave their marriage, she cleverly dangles a carrot. She will buy him a partnership in a west coast brokerage and a swell new apartment away from her busybody relatives.
Even by the expression in Robert Young’s face and the change in his tone of voice, we realize as he mulls this over that he’s not going anywhere. True love is swell and all, but money is what he really likes to cuddle up with. Off they go, marriage intact, to Los Angeles. Nice train ride here, with the passing scenery shown projected out their compartment window. (Have a look here for a previous blog post about some favorite train scenes.)
Another subtle mood change occurs as we see Mr. Young at work in the brokerage house in which he is now a partner. He is surly. He is bored. Enter party girl Susan Hayward who goes after him with everything but a harpoon.
As Mr. Young describes her, “She looked like a very special kind of dynamite neatly wrapped in nylon and silk.”
Typical of film noir, most of the story is told in flashback, with occasional narration from Young.
When, despite being the girlfriend of his partner, Miss Hayward propositions him, Mr. Young replies, “I thought Trent had the franchise.”
Hayward, whose performance is much less subtle than Young’s, is brazen, while he is utterly uninterested in consequences. A perfect match.
Miss Hayward shares an apartment with a professional woman who is a dietician. When Young asks her if the roomie is even prettier, Hayward responds sarcastically, “She looks like a dietician.” Thus, evidently dieticians joint the ranks of librarians in old movies as unmarriageable.
But Young’s cool, super-organized society wife played by Rita Johnson has caught on to his latest extramarital shenanigans, and relocates them to an isolated desert ranch, with no phone so he can’t call his girlfriends, and sells his brokerage partnership out from under him. She does not demand he stay with her. But if he leaves, he goes without her money.
This is Robert Young’s weakness, and he agrees once more to be put on a short leash. But Susan Hayward doesn’t go quietly. Both his wife and his mistress display more moxie than Young, but he is never played as a weak or even cleverly conniving man. Just a very lazy man who wants his various comforts without having to work for them.
There are some interesting twists in the plot involving a check made to cash he gives to Susan Hayward to entice her back, and a car accident and another separate freak accident which leaves both ladies dead. Young had been prepared, after the death of Hayward in which she was mistaken for his wife, to actually kill his wife. His motives, interestingly, having noting to do with hatred for her, only so that he can control her money himself and be free with what uncannically seem like a spoiled teenager’s desire to be free of parental rules.
But this is film noir, and the hand of fate, though uncredited, has a major role in this movie. His ex-brokerage partner is searching for the missing Susan Hayward, who though she had no family to mourn her demise, is owed $72 for almost two weeks pay and he hunts for information on her. Her dietician roomie, who we see indeed looks not unlike an unmarriageable librarian, shows up because Hayward owes her $84 for a month and a half rent.
His first mistress, the nice girl Jane Greer, who he “coincidentally” meets in the Caribbean where she is on a working girl’s $270 16-day holiday tour, is also part of the plot to uncover Robert Young’s responsibility in the death of Susan Hayward.
The cops get involved, and Robert Young tells us the entire plot of the movie in flashback from the witness stand at his trial, in rambling prose that would never be allowed in a real trial. The wonderful irony is that though Young is actually innocent, a surprise O. Henry ending seals his fate. Fate has decided he couldn’t be more guilty.