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Posted by martinteller on October 15, 2012

Ann Walton (Mala Powers) seems to have everything going for her.  She’s young, healthy, and enjoys her office job in a factory.  She’s engaged to be married to a nice fella (Robert Clarke).  And then her world comes crashing down.  Walking home from work one night, she is pursued by a man, who catches her and rapes her.  Overcome with fear, shame, hate and rage, she flees her home town and creates a new identity for herself in a small burg outside Los Angeles.  But although she appears to be slowly adjusting, a kindly reverend (Tod Andrews) who has taken an interest in her senses that something is off with Ann.  It’s only a matter of time before those repressed feelings explode.

Ida Lupino — the only female ever to direct a film noir — is to be commended for tackling the subject of rape in a time when it was rarely spoken of.  By all accounts, this is the first Hollywood picture to deal with the topic.  The word “rape” is never uttered (the tame euphemism “attack” pops up a lot) and the act is tastefully done offscreen but there is no doubt that rape is what has occurred.  For the first half of the movie, it’s an admirably honest and forthright look at what a victim might endure, the psychological and emotional trauma.  It’s also a condemnation of the dark underbelly of quiet, polite society, where evil still lurks.  The crucial scene is also an exceptional work of tension and dread.  Ann is often shot overhead, a small figure alone in a dark, stark landscape, frightened and uncertain.  Later, the sound of a co-worker stamping some papers eerily echoes the pounding footsteps of her attacker, tormenting her.

The film does lose much of its emotional intensity once she leaves home, but I’m not sure this is such a bad thing.  Ann settles into a routine and finds peace, but the psychological damage is still there, waiting for the right trigger.  At a town picnic, we see her circling uncertainly around a dance, and the moments that follow tell us that Ann’s apparent “recovery” is not complete.  I have a couple of issues with this scene, which seems to forgive a certain character’s dated, sexist attitude, but the point is made.  The movie does not tell us that Ann will be okay, that her friend has cured her.  It may appear sentimental, but it really isn’t.  And despite the Andrews character being a reverend, it’s pretty light on religion, and doesn’t suggest faith as salvation.

Powers, in her first starring role, is quite good.  It’s not a showy performance, you could even call it bland.  But something like Joan Crawford in Possessed would be totally inappropriate.  The rest of the cast mostly leaves something to be desired.  They really are bland, although Andrews has a few nice parts.

Not as cutting and bold as one might hope for, but fairly groundbreaking for its time.  Despite some flaws (there’s a few terrible lines) Lupino does an admirable job with a sensitive and complex subject.  Rating: Good (77)


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