Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.
Release Date: May 8th, 1946 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Henry Hathaway Actors: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, Mark Stevens, William Bendix, Kurt Kreuger, Cathy Downs, Reed Hadley, Constance Collier
Lieutenant Reeves (Reed Hadley) pays a visit to private investigator Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens), who happens to be away from his office. In his stead is icy secretary Kathleen Stewart (Lucille Ball), who refuses to divulge any information to the nosey policeman. “I’m playin’ this by the book,” insists Galt, who eventually confronts the cop – a throaty fellow intent on keeping the shamus in his place, chiefly after a damning incident back in San Francisco. That evening, Bradford takes Kathleen out on a date, spending some time at an arcade, where the two realize they’re being followed by a tall, bulky man in a white suit (William Bendix, a superb character actor, authentic here as always) – the first indication that Galt isn’t clear of his past transgressions.
The tail is Fred Foss, and under duress he spills the name of his client: Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger). It doesn’t add up just yet, but when Foss departs, Kathleen pursues the brute, though with little success. In time, it becomes clear that Jardine is a blackmailer; an affluent art gallery owner (Clifton Webb) is mixed up in the scheme; and Foss isn’t the pushover that he at first appeared to be.
Shadows are inky black and highlights are blinding white. Smoke wafts about continuously, while guns get drawn and makeshift brass knuckles are brandished. The look and actions of “The Dark Corner” are classic film noir, and the hardboiled plot and seedy settings thoroughly copy the template as well. Yet there’s time for light romance, for Eddie Heywood and his orchestra to provide a tune at a club, and for playful warnings about how trouble is coming for the bloodhound – and that Kathleen should get out now while she has the chance. The dialogue, too, is clever and catchy, again sounding perfectly suitable for the subject matter.
Although “The Dark Corner” is an obscure crime drama, it’s difficult to dismiss an early performance by Ball – and a serious one, after a string of comedies and musicals – before she would become immortalized as Lucy. Here, there are threats tossed about, frame-ups, revenge ploys, assassination attempts, destructive fistfights, and duplicitous women, yet Ball steals the show as a decent, concerned, nurturing, sincere woman amid so many shady personas. She’s never weak or whiny; she’s uncommonly devoted, courageous, and intelligent. On the other hand, Stevens doesn’t make much of a mark, but at least he’s an underdog, stuck with a bad rap and trapped as a clay pigeon.
“You sew a nice seam.” Kathleen is fixated on her man, despite the trouble he can’t seem to avoid and his reluctance to involve her in his business. A mystery is also afoot, but it’s not terribly circuitous, especially since the audience is made aware of the answers long before the leads get caught up. Interest stems instead from the characters and the believable ways in which they go about their hard-edged machinations (the villains are all particularly good); there’s a curious genuineness to the interactions and confrontations – even down to a chloroform-ing (or ether-ing), which isn’t falsely instantaneous like in so many comparable pictures. The story drags in a couple of spots, but the acting remains precise and convincing, while the finale ramps up the tension by creating near-misses, excellent cover-ups, and encroaching lawmen – as well as some extreme yet forgivable coincidences – leaving the protagonist’s innocence a somewhat futile quality. Thankfully, the conclusion is sensational.
– Mike Massie