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Noir-vember 2014: The Unfaithful

Posted by martinteller on November 20, 2014

“You’re no different than all the other cheating, conniving women who parade through my office. Except that you’re more of a hypocrite.”

Bob Hunter (Zachary Scott) has just returned to Los Angeles after a trip to Oregon, where he was working on a new housing development.  He expected his wife Chris (Ann Sheridan) to pick him up at the airport, but she isn’t there.  He comes home and finds his house swarming with cops… and a corpse on the living room floor.  Chris says the man was a stranger who confronted her last night after she came home from a party.  She claims he demanded her jewelry and attacked her, and she stabbed him in self-defense.  Friend and attorney Larry Hannaford believes her, but the dead man’s widow (Marta Mitrovich) is adamant that he would never do such a thing.  And then an opportunistic art dealer (Steven Geray) contacts Larry, with a damning piece of evidence that suggests a history between Chris and the victim.

The Macguffin is different, but this is a remake of The Letter (itself an adaptation of a W. Somerset Maughm play) from 7 years earlier.  That film had a better director (William Wyler) and star (Bette Davis).  Vincent Sherman doesn’t have much flair or directorial stamp to his work, and Sheridan — although sometimes a fine actress (see Woman on the Run) — can’t hold a candle to Bette’s screen presence.  Furthermore, this film isn’t nearly as noir as its predecessor.  But I still rate them equally… in fact, I’ll give this one a slight edge.  For one thing, The Letter didn’t leave a particularly strong impression on me, and for another, this is the best I’ve seen from Sherman yet.

It isn’t really a great film, but it has a few very good assets.  The use of Los Angeles locations is quite nice, including iconic places like the steep “Angels Flight” railway and the always photogenic Bradbury building.  While I like Sheridan and Scott and Ayres, the shining star of this picture is Eve Arden as Scott’s gossipy cousin.  She gets most of the best, funniest lines in the movie, and also a wonderful heart-to-heart with Scott late in the story.  The film doesn’t cram a “family values” message down your throat… at times it’s cynical about marriage and at times it’s cynical about divorce.  But in the end, it has a very sweet and understanding outlook on the institution of marriage, and a thoughtful take on infidelity… especially as it concerns women whose husbands went off to war, often after knowing them for mere days.  There is a warm humanist slant to it which you don’t often see in movies of this type… I was actually quite touched at times.

The movie needs more style in almost every aspect to stand out, from the photography to the dialogue to the performances.  But it doesn’t truly fail in any area either, and is a worthwhile watch.  Rating: Good (77)


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