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The Pretender

Posted by martinteller on November 11, 2012

“Korrin… how much would a real good accident cost?”

Kenneth Holden (Albert Dekker) is a financial advisor whose stocks are tanking.  To cover his losses, he siphons money from the account of Claire Worthington (Catherine Craig), a young, wealthy heiress whose trust fund he manages.  Deciding to go straight to the source, he proposes marriage to her.  But she’s already about to be engaged to someone else.  Holden turns to the gangster Victor Korrin (Alan Carney), a friend of a friend, and hires a hitman to take Claire’s fiancé out of the picture.  But then she breaks it off and decides to marry Holden.  And through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Holden now finds himself the target of his own hit… and no way to call it off.

Director W. Lee Wilder is forever doomed to be known as Billy’s older brother.  But while The Pretender is certainly no Double Indemnity, it’s not a bad little paranoid thriller.  Clocking in at just over an hour, the movie stays consistently entertaining.  Part of this is due to its clever premise.  The only thing I’ve seen like it that I can think of is Kaurismaki’s I Hired a Contract Killer (which might make a good revisit for Noir-vember, now that I think about it).  Another significant contributor to the movie’s success is John Alton.  I get excited every time I see Alton’s name in the credits, and he rarely disappoints.  He deepens the shadows further and further as Holden gets more desperate and paranoid, amping up the sense of claustrophobia.  He also uses the shadows nicely to hide the cheap production, for instance turning a bare prison set into an abstraction.  Paul Dessau’s use of the theremin on the soundtrack is a terrific touch as well, lending creepy dread to a story that could easily come off as silly with the wrong music.  The performances are nothing special, but Dekker does a fine job selling the increasing fear and paranoia.  Otherwise, the minor underworld characters are — as one would expect — the more interesting of the bunch… Carney, Linda Stirling, Tom Kennedy.

There are some iffy character motivations and the ending may be a little too ironic, but I enjoyed it.  A fun little slice of noir from the elder Wilder.  Rating: Good (75)


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