Genre: Crime Drama and Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 7 min.
Release Date: March 15th, 1946 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Anthony Mann Actors: Brenda Marshall, William Gargan, Hillary Brooke, George Chandler, Ruth Ford, H.B. Warner, Lyle Talbot
t the Mindret L. Wilmott Institute of Chemical Research in New York, chemist Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) has finished work on a new one-hour anesthesia that is safe, effective, and easy to administer … or so she believes. After her big presentation on the drug, she prepares for a final test on herself, convinced that the results will be entirely harmless. Fellow scientist Dr. Stephen Lindstrom (William Gargan) is her fiancé, but their romance can’t interfere with her research and experiments. Nora’s assistant and roommate Arlene Cole (Hillary Brooke) disagrees with putting careers ahead of matrimony, secretly harboring her own interest in Lindstrom.
On the way home, Nora nearly runs over drunken Mississippi girl Jane Karaski (Ruth Ford), who doesn’t want to make a big deal of the situation. But shady businessman Jeremiah Wilkins Rinse (George Chandler), who claims to have seen the whole incident, pushily exclaims that legal representation and the pursuit of damages is entirely necessary. That evening, Arlene helps Nora administer the anesthetic in their penthouse suite. “Nothing will go wrong. I’m sure I’ve worked this thing out perfectly,” insists the chemist. But when Nora is completely unconscious, Arlene orchestrates a scenario for an accidental death, creating a chemical reaction with acid that causes an explosion that badly mutilates Nora’s face. Nora’s life is saved, however, by Stephen’s unexpected return.
At the hospital, Arlene convinces the doctor to prevent Stephen from visiting, on the false grounds that his presence disturbs the patient. After several weeks, Nora finally returns to her apartment, only to be confronted at gunpoint by Jane, who proceeds to rob her of her wallet, jewelry, and engagement ring. When Nora wrestles the gun away, Jane falls from the lofty penthouse balcony, smashing her face beyond recognition. Thanks to the wallet and ring, she’s mistakenly identified as Nora. Taking the rare opportunity to reinvent herself, Nora assumes the identity of the drunkard and flees to Los Angeles for extensive reconstructive surgery. More than a year later, she emerges with a stunningly repaired face, ready to reap revenge on her wrongdoer.
“Strange Impersonation” isn’t as much a film noir as it is a crime melodrama, though there are definitely noirish elements, including high-contrast cinematography, narration, illicit affairs, sleuthing and interrogations, and the themes of deception and revenge. The notions of guilt and criminal activities catching up to the perpetrators are also prevalent. In addition, it’s oddly (or expectedly) anti-feminist, with the antagonist striving for an overly comfortable, stereotypical wife role to enjoy the comforts of a wealthy husband. Nora is painted out to be a fool for putting work ahead of a marriage and she eventually battles Arlene to obtain a successful man.
At a mere 67 minutes, the film moves incredibly fast. The details and complications keep bombarding the screen, stringing together the introduction, the middle, and the finale, as if unable to comfortably transition between normal storyline sections. Though the plot is incredibly unique, the conclusion falls apart due to an abundance of circumstantial evidence – chiefly when Nora is accused of her own murder, and when a cheap twist ending places “Strange Impersonation” into the realm of projects with extremely disappointing, seemingly tacked-on resolutions, which includes “The Woman in the Window” (drawing an even greater parallel with the type of last-minute surprise), “Detour,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and many other films hindered by the Motion Picture Production Code.
– Mike Massie