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The Tattered Dress

Posted by martinteller on April 1, 2012

A wealthy man guns down the fella who was fooling around with his wife, and hires a hotshot New York lawyer with a reputation for getting the guilty off the hook.  When the lawyer makes a fool of the local sheriff on the witness stand, he ends up the target of an elaborate frame-up.  This movie touches on two themes that always resonate strongly with me: the provincialism of small towns, and law enforcement abusing their power.  The big city evil corrupting the small town is a common noir motif, it’s refreshing to see the tables turned.  Of course the attorney (a good if slightly wooden performance by Jeff Chandler) is far from a saint, but the bigoted treatment of him by the locals is unwarranted, and one senses that any stranger in town gets the same chilly, suspicious reception. 

And then there’s the sheriff.  Jack Carson is really great here, with his convivial persona masking his sinister intentions… driven by humiliation and still trying to bask in the glory of his college football days.  It’s Carson’s scenes and actions that are some of the most memorable in the film (besides its wonderfully trashy opening).  A lot of decent-to-good supporting performances as well, including Jeanne Crain, George Tobias, Elaine Stewart and one of the ultimate “Hey, it’s that guy” actors, Edward Platt.  The courtroom drama itself is a mixed bag… some of it sparkles, but the second trial in the film doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Chandler’s closing statement is an odd bit of soapboxing and the jury’s verdict doesn’t add up given what we’ve seen of the trial.

I wish I could comment on the cinematography.  Unfortunately, my copy was pretty rough… and pan n’ scanned.  I guess I’m spoiled by the age of DVD, but few things are more disheartening than watching a Cinemascope film where all the compositions have been cropped to death.  Some scenes looked quite well done, though, even if I had to imagine what the framing would have been.  The score starts out good with some sleazy jazz, but later in the movie it’s mostly syrupy strings.

Overall it’s an enjoyable watch with more good scenes than bad.  I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, if it ever gets a proper presentation.  Rating: Good

IMDb
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