*. I’ll lead off with some thoughts on the cast.
*. Lucille Ball receives top billing. Before she was “Lucy,” after which audiences wouldn’t be able to imagine her in a role like this. According to the DVD commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini she “hated the movie and hated being in it.” She was a professional though and I don’t get any sense of that distaste on screen.
*. Clifton Webb just a couple of years after Laura, and playing the exact same role of Waldo Lydecker. Except here he goes by the name of Hardy Cathcart. Another snobbish and jealous conoisseur with a penchant for collecting beautiful young women, but without as many good lines (the only memorable one here being “How I detest the dawn. The grass always looks like it’s been left out all night.”). And Hitchcock had wanted him to play another similar part, Alexander Sebastian in Notorious (also 1946). The typecast was in.
*. Mark Stevens. My initial notes just say “lightweight.” According to Silver and Ursini he was trying to ditch his pretty-boy reputation and change his image into that of a tough guy. It doesn’t work, but to be fair it’s not all his fault. Bradford Galt isn’t a tough guy. Or, as the commentators put it, “the toughness is very thin in this character, very thin.” Despite being a private dick with a criminal record and a bottle of booze in the top drawer of his desk he doesn’t scare anyone. Even William Bendix (an actor at this time probably best known for comedy radio work), playing a professional heavy, has to pretend to be soft with him. But when Galt smears him with ink it seems less tough than bitchy.
*. What mainly undercuts Galt’s toughness is the way he falls apart, so that his secretary (Ball) has to carry him over the finish line. He is totally dominated by a woman who embodies the new independence of the postwar American female. She is the one who plays baseball at the fair while he watches. She also watches girly shows with him at the peep-show machines. And at the end she proposes to him, while allowing him to save a bit of face.
*. This is not entirely new. The sad sack loser is as much a traditional noir hero as the hard-bitten tough guy. In fact most noir heroes are weak in some important way. But here it reflects a broader failing of American masculinity. Isn’t Cathcart a wimp, hiring out the dirty work: first using Galt to get rid of Jardine and then Stauffer to get rid of Galt, before finally dispatching Stauffer in a sneaky way. And doesn’t Mari handle Cathcart in the end? It’s the women who get things done.
*. It’s a smart movie, full of artfully-arranged mirrors and shadows, and clues being dropped that will be picked up later. The ink on the jacket, the key chain, the girl with the pennywhistle. And I like the way Kathleen and Brad (to get them in the right order) put things together at the end. It’s far-fetched, but not outside the realm of all possibility.
*. That said, I also find it a bit dull. I don’t think many people rank this among their favourite noirs. Almost everything in it feels second-rate. But that’s still pretty good, and not even much of a criticism for an avowedly B genre.