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Money Madness

Posted by martinteller on September 9, 2014

Steve Clark (Hugh Beaumont) has a new name, a new face and $200,000 in cash from a bank job.  But Steve’s smart… he knows if he starts spending money, he’s liable to draw attention.  He stashes the loot in a safe deposit box, holes up in a small town, and bides his time driving a cab.  One night, he picks up Julie Saunders (Frances Rafferty), trying to get home but her pushy date has other plans.  Steve kicks the jerk out of the cab, takes Julie home, and starts romancing her.  Not only is Steve falling for her, but he sees an opportunity.  Julie’s brow-beating aunt Cora (Cecil Weston) is just in the way, and the big trunk in her attic would make the perfect place for $200,000 to be “discovered”… after her death, and after Steve binds Julie to him via marriage.  As Steve’s plan unfolds, Julie is trapped in his psychotic web of murder.

This is one of several teamings of Beaumont with director Sam Newfield.  I had previously seen The Lady Confesses in which Beaumont plays the nice guy.  It’s interesting to see him play the creep here, and a real creep he is.  He speech about aunt Cora is reminiscent of Joseph Cotten’s similar monologue in Shadow of a Doubt.  And he caps it off with the line: “What I have I keep. That goes for the money, and it goes for you.”  Unexpected nastiness from the man most commonly known as Ward Cleaver, that paragon of the virtuous head of the suburban nuclear household.

The biggest stumbling block is Rafferty… or perhaps her character.  Julie is such a pushover, a shrinking violet who does what anyone tells her.  Aunt Cora pushes her around, the neighbor pushes her around, the doctor pushes her around.  Eventually it takes a hero to come to her rescue (in the form of a very bland Harlan Warde) and then he pushes her around.  Julie has only one brief moment of agency throughout the entire movie, when she makes an unsuccessful attempt to escape Steve’s clutches.  The rest of the time she’s a pathetic doormat.  It’s frustrating, but perhaps there’s a message.  The movie intriguingly kicks off with its unhappy ending before telling how it got there, a la Sunset Boulevard, as we see Julie sentenced to 10 years for being an accomplice.  I would like to think Newfield and writer Al Martin are trying to get the women of 1947 to stop letting people walk all over them and start standing up for themselves, start fighting back.  I’d like to think that, but I kind of doubt it.  So Julie comes off as just a pawn in everyone’s else game, easily swung by a kiss, or a threat, or the mildest social pressure.  Rafferty rarely gets to do more than whimper and look sad.

Nonetheless, the film is tight and compact, and builds tension at a satisfying clip.  Newfield doesn’t waste any time on superfluous business, which is good for the story although the atmosphere could use a little more attention.  But by the second half it starts feeling like a proper noir, as Steve becomes more and more menacing… and more complex.  There is a nice little hint, not lingered on, that he’s not just a Bad Guy, but mentally disturbed.  One of the few places where Newfield pauses the plot for a minute is to give him a bit of backstory.  It ends up being some pat explanation for his disturbed psyche, but the effort is appreciated.

An enjoyable thriller with a few stimulating elements, despite some frustration with Rafferty’s character.  Rating: Good (73)


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