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.

11 comments:

John Hayes said...

A fantastic review-- the line "the hand of fate, though uncredited, has a major role in this movie" is worth the price of admission by itself.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, John. I don't know what it is about film noir that makes one flippant. Watch enough film noir and you start talking like Jack Webb.

Moira Finnie said...

If you don't start talking like Jack Webb after watching several film noirs, you might start flipping your hair like Susan Hayward does in numerous movies when she is trying to make us believe that she has the world by the tail! (Actually, I think Hayward had everything but one crucial element to make her a more compelling actress--humor).

I love this movie, and felt as though I'd discovered a secret door into the real Robert Young when I first saw this film after growing up enjoying his lighter-veined paternal roles in such movies as Sitting Pretty and of course, the series, Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D. I don't think that They Won't Believe Me (1947) is a perfect movie, as you pointed out, but then, part of the pull here is Young's subversive acknowledgment that he doesn't want perfection in himself or anyone else. One of the problems I have with They Won't Believe Me tends to be the Rita Johnson character. Why she needs and wants him so is a mystery without many solid clues, don't you think?

There is another Robert Young movie that is generally overlooked by those who love noirs, the intriguing The Second Woman(1950). I suspect that it is less well known because the people in The Second Woman aren't thoroughly rotten as they sometimes became as the noir genre developed into its baroque and later rococo phases. They are just flawed people who are quite confused, psychologically and ethically. Other commentators I've come across have dismissed The Second Woman as "a weeper", which seems too simplistic a view to me.

I think I'll be posting briefly about the latter film soon. Thanks so much for reminding me of how good this actor could be when given a decent role.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Moira, you're spot-on, as usual, in your observations about the film, and I agree about Susan Hayward. I regret I've never seen "The Second Woman." I look forward to your post about it. One of the results of blogging about old movies is the appalling realization of how many good ones I have not seen.

panavia999 said...

Enjoyed your comments on the movie. I saw it on TCM recently. "The Second Woman" is pretty good too. Good ensemble cast.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Panavia999. Well, there seems to be a concensus here about "The Second Woman." I'd better see that pretty soon.

Rupert Alistair said...

I saw this movie for the first time several years ago and thought it was very good. I had never heard of it before I stumbled upon it then and haven't heard alot about it since. It is one of those underrated gems that more folks need to check out. Young, far from his Jim Anderson role in Father Knows Best, is great and shows his range and depth as an actor. Thanks for sharing and letting people know about this interesting film.

Rupert

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I'm so pleased "They Won't Believe Me" and Robert Young have so many fans. You're right, Rupert,it's an underrated gem.

Sample Invitation to attend an Exhibition Letter said...

No time to watch movies, after becoming a manager..but after reading the review..Hope for sure i will watch the movie this Saturday! thanks lol

missrhea said...

I remember first seeing this film years ago in my early twenties when my only exposure to Robert Young's work had been Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby,M.D.. It was such a shock to see him being a cad. I've just now finished looking at this film again as part of the collection of Robert Young movies I'm building and it was much better than I remembered it being. Thank you for this great review.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, missreha, thanks for stopping by. It is an intersting performance, isn't it? He was very good as a cad.