Dupin is broke and far too fond of alcohol, spending most of his time bumming drinks in a tavern. Despite these handicaps, he comes to the aid of Madeline (Leslie Caron), an innocent young French girl newly arrived in town. Madeline has traveled from Paris to visit her fiance's estranged grandfather (Louis Calhern) and ask him to support his grandson's political cause.
Madeline and the old man get along wonderfully, but she quickly discovers that his housekeeper (Barbara Stanwyck) and butler (Joe DeSantis) may have plans to kill him and claim his fortune for themselves. Madeline enlists Dupin's help trying to unravel the mysterious goings-on in the house. Matters come to a head when the grandfather decides to draw up a new will.
Cotten is terrific in the title role, with his marvelous voice perfect for dialogue which is both cynical and literary in tone. There's good reason for the latter, and viewers who watch the film closely will likely figure out that Dupin is not the "man with a cloak's" true name, which is revealed in the final scene. Dupin is a reassuring presence throughout the film; he hasn't lost any of his wits to drink, and as long as he's at Madeline's side viewers know that all will be well.
This cleverly plotted film might be considered an entry in the "Gothic noir" subgenre. The "spooky old house" setting and devious schemes depicted call to mind other period films such as EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) and SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), yet it has a style all its own. Dupin and Madeline are unique lead characters; the observant, wily Dupin and the courageous, sweet young French girl work very well together and develop an affectionate relationship, but there is no romance between them.
Each role is perfectly cast, with Jim Backus a standout in a lively performance as a tolerant barkeeper who verbally jousts with Dupin. The supporting cast includes Margaret Wycherly, Richard Hale, Roy Roberts, Nicholas Joy, and Francis Pierlot. The voice of the carriage driver at the beginning of the film is instantly recognizable as that of Hank Worden.
This film was directed by Fletcher Markle. The photographer was George Folsey, and the score was composed by David Raksin. The following year Raksin composed his standout score for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952).
The print shown on Turner Classic Movies was 81 minutes. According to IMDb, the original running time was 84 minutes.
This film is not available on DVD or VHS. (Update: This film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.)
For more on this movie, visit Jacqueline's excellent post at Another Old Movie Blog.