As obsessed as I am with Dieterle, Borzage, Vidor, Lynch, Capra, Fritz Lang, Dreyer, Cassavetes, Sternberg, Wyler, Powell and Pressburger, George Stevens, Sirk, Milestone, McCarey, LaCava, Preston Sturges, Ray, Goulding, Hitchcock, Preminger, Sofia Coppola, Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Dmytryk, Minnelli, Jacques Tourneur and many others, I am probably even more interested in star personae. So it was entirely in character for me to jump from A Matter of Life and Death to another Kim Hunter vehicle from the mid-1940s.
Thanks to the magic of avi files, I wound up screening When Strangers Marry–a pretty fascinating Monogram film (directed by a very young William Castle) from 1944. Fascinating in itself and in its intertextual ramifications. How to describe this movie? I’d say it’s about 20% Suspicion, 20% Shadow of a Doubt and 60% Lewton and Robson’s The Seventh Victim.
The first 40% of that equation makes perfect sense, of course, because we know that Poverty Row survived by ripping off the Majors on a systematic basis–but WSM‘s debt to the previous year’s Lewton entry is quite surprising. The movie is one of my absolute favourites–definitely in my personal Top 25 (my next entry will focus on The Seventh Victim proper)–but everything I’ve ever read indicates that it was a commercial (and even critical) failure. In fact, it still doesn’t appear to be nearly as well-regarded as it ought to be (I love pretty much all of the Lewton films–but, for me, Robson’s debut film represents the apex of the series). Anyway, since there can’t have been much cachet in ripping off Seventh Victim in 1944, I have to assume that Castle did it for the pure love of the thing! (Perhaps he deserves credit as the movie’s first critical champion?)
Of course, at least half of that 60% (I seem to be exuding faux-mathematical hubris this morning) is Kim Hunter’s developing persona (which didn’t actually develop very fully, since she spent most of her career on the stage, even before the blacklisting nonsense), which is quite unique (although it shares certain features with another of my favourites–Teresa Wright). 7V established the template by casting her as, basically, a low-key, intellectual Nancy Drew transplanted to the noir city, and unbeholden to any patriarchal authority. In both films, she begins as a somewhat naive and tentative young woman who quickly grows into a force to be reckoned with by soaking up the shadows that envelop her low-budget New York night sets–through a kind of photo(graphy)synthesis.
She also shares strangely lyrical scenes with Lou Lubin in both movies.
I love that little guy (and I wouldn’t even know his name without the IMDB)
Anyway, I won’t say too much more about When Strangers Marry, because I doubt that ANY of you have actually seen it–and I really do recommend it! It’s not on the level of any of the movies it borrows from, but it’s not too far off the mark either. Hunter is absolutely perfect; there are some very nice early noir montages; and Castle generates some top-notch suspense set pieces, particularly on the cab ride and at the mail chute. The movie also anticipates many noirs of the LATE 1940s by dropping in on a Harlem night club. And Dean Jagger contributes some very nice mystery man stuff.
Plus there’s Robert Mitchum (in what must be his first quasi-starring role in a decent film) and his excellent canine friend:
Next up–The Seventh Victim!!
Good afternoon friends!