Glenn Ford double bill at the Noir City Film Festival led off with FRAMED starring Ford and Janis Carter.
The film starts off with classic noir elements established in the opening moments: the down-on-his-luck WWII vet (Ford) arriving in a small town, where he meets an eye-popping dish (Carter) behind the counter at the local coffee joint/bar.
Mike (Ford) is thrown in jail due to an incident involving a brakeless truck and doesn't have the money to meet bail. Waitress Paula (Carter) pays the bail and rents him a hotel room for the night. Paula pretends to be interested in the suspicious Mike, but it transpires that Paula has a rich, married banker boyfriend, Steve (Barry Sullivan), who's embezzled a whole lot of cash; she sees Mike as the perfect patsy to be mistaken for the banker in a fatal car crash.
Over the course of its 82 minutes the film conjures memories of scenes from other film noir titles, including THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1941), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and FALLEN ANGEL (1945); in turn, later films such as IMPACT (1949) have small bits which are familiar from FRAMED, such as the plan to bump off the hero. A scene involving poison, on the other hand, was straight out of CLEOPATRA (1934)!
Although the script and occasionally the acting lack subtlety, I found the film quite entertaining; in fact, at times it was the "over the top" aspect -- particularly with regard to Janis Carter's vivid femme fatale -- which made the film so enjoyable. The Egyptian Theatre program aptly described the film as "prime grade pulp."
At times plot developments can be seen coming far in advance; for instance, the audience waits for the payoff when Mike will spot Paula's name on a bathrobe hanging in Steve's house. At the same time, there is some genuine suspense. I doubted Glenn Ford would be bumped off by Paula at the critical juncture but was quite curious about what would happen, and the moment was nicely carried off.
Given her dynamic performances in both FRAMED and NIGHT EDITOR (1946), it's fascinating that Janis Carter is so little remembered today, even by some fans of film noir. (At Twenty Four Frames John Greco calls her Paula "one of film noir's forgotten femme fatales.") After the film I briefly chatted about Carter's performance with Eddie Muller, who noted Paula's strange pleasure in things like exploding cars. I mentioned her role in NIGHT EDITOR, in which her character's fascination with death is even more pronounced. I felt this was Carter's film all the way, and she makes it a "must see" for those who love the genre.
Ford was solid as the beaten-down college grad in need of a job, but I felt he gave a much more interesting, more developed performance in the other film on the double bill, MR. SOFT TOUCH (1949). One of his best sequences in FRAMED involved a dice game and a gold watch; by coincidence, he also has an excellent dice scene in MR. SOFT TOUCH.
Barry Sullivan alternated between playing noir heroes and villains; in TENSION (1949) he was a relentless detective, while in CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951), which is arguably a modern "Gothic noir," he was creepy as Loretta Young's deranged husband.
Karen Morley appears in a single scene as Sullivan's betrayed wife. Edgar Buchanan plays a silver prospector who befriends Mike, and Barbara Woodell and Jim Bannon are effective as a bank secretary and her husband. (A small blooper: the secretary's desk nameplate said "Miss Woodworth," but she was actually Mrs. Woodworth.)
The movie was directed by Richard Wallace, who passed on in 1951.
Burnett Guffey, who also filmed Carter in NIGHT EDITOR, shot the film in black and white. Guffey's outstanding credits also included MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) (showing at the festival on Wednesday, April 20th), JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), and IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), among many other notable titles. Locations included Big Bear Lake, California.
This movie is not available on DVD or VHS, but it's been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has a film clip available on their website.
January 2013 Update: FRAMED will be out on DVD from the TCM Vault Collection in March 2013.