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Noir-vember 2013: Open Secret

Posted by martinteller on November 26, 2013

“Tell you what?  How for the last five years he hasn’t drawn a sober breath?  How he beats me to prove that he’s better than I am?  He’s a man.  How he throws out the few flowers I pick, says they stink up the house.  How he can’t keep a job?  Always blames it on to the kikes and the wops… never on to himself.  How he’s broken me.  Torn me to pieces.  Is that what you want me to tell you?”

Paul Lester (John Ireland) has just arrived in town with his new bride Nancy (Jane Randolph).  They make arrangements to stay with Paul’s war buddy, fellow photographer Ed Stevens (Charles Waldron Jr.).  But when they get to his apartment, Ed isn’t there… and he doesn’t come back.  There are signs of something sinister going on: hate-filled pamphlets in Ed’s apartment, a man named Fisher who was run down by a truck, anti-Semitic chatter at the local watering hole… and a number of people who seem interested in something Ed had.  When Ed’s corpse shows up, Detective Mike Frontelli (Sheldon Leonard) gets involved.  But Paul feels he’ll get better results investigating on his own, and dives into a den of hoods (Roman Bohnen, Morgan Farley, Arthur O’Connell, Rory Mallinson, Bert Conway, John Alvin) to find answers.

That’s actually most of the plot of this movie, but it’s only 67 minutes long.  And even at that feels a bit repetitive.  However, the handling of the subject matter (also covered the previous year in Crossfire and Gentleman’s Agreement) is quite deft.  The script doesn’t dance around the problem of anti-Semitism with innuendo.  There is some at first, but eventually characters are voicing their hate openly.  The film shows how it infects the minds of the young, how it preys on those who need someone to blame, how it can sadly unite a community under the guise of a common enemy.  While I wouldn’t call it an especially hard-hitting film on the issue, it does deal with it plainly.  One of the more interesting nuances is how the hate group votes on whether or not to kill their targets, in a mock jury (the verdicts are always unanimously “guilty”).

The cast is kind of a letdown.  Ireland doesn’t put much into his performance, and Randolph is predictably saddled with a subservient role that does little to exploit any talents she may have.  Leonard’s Brooklyn dialect is always a joy (I can’t watch him without thinking about “Out you two pixies go, troo da door or out da window!”) and he shines in his few brief scenes.  George Tyne is quite good as a beleaguered Jewish shopkeeper, but the gang of anti-Semites doesn’t have a strong character among them.  However, the grand performance of the entire film is Ellen Lowe as Bohnen’s world-weary wife.  Her monologue (quoted above) is heartbreaking, an exceptional bit of pathos.

As I said, there’s not a lot of plot here and it takes the Lesters far too long to catch on to what’s going on, but it’s a reasonably gripping film with its heart in the right place, and a few instances of fine noir photography.  John Reinhardt’s Chicago Calling and The Guilty are much better, but this one is worth a look too.  Rating: Good (73)


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