Anthony Mann for Republic Pictures, is a wild ride of a movie. It has a hard-to-believe storyline with many wild twists and turns, yet despite -- or because of -- the crazy plot, it's a pretty entertaining film.
Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) is a research scientist engaged to Dr. Stephen Lindstrom (William Gargan). Nora's been delaying their wedding as she's so consumed by her work developing anesthetics.
As part of her job, Nora likes to try out her new anesthesia inventions at home (!), away from fussbudgets at the office who might require mundane things like paperwork prior to clinical trials. One night at Nora's apartment, while she's knocked out by anesthesia, Nora's jealous assistant Arline (Hillary Brooke) starts a fire. It seems Arline wants Dr. Lindstrom for herself.
The fire doesn't kill Nora, but it disfigures her face. Arline manages to convince Nora and Stephen that neither wants to see the other again so she can have Stephen to herself, and the movie's just getting warmed up at this point!
I thought Mann's very enjoyable STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944) had an improbable plot, but STRANGE IMPERSONATION may win the prize. As the film goes on, there's the matter of a blackmailer, a balcony that's too low -- a little problem which is clearly telegraphed by a comment early in the movie -- plastic surgery, and developments which might have inspired some of the plot in the following year's Warner Bros. film NORA PRENTISS (1947). (Odd that the heroine of STRANGE IMPERSONATION is named Nora!) I'm not going to say anything more about the storyline, only that I've seen enough film noir to be able to correctly guess the ending.
I sometimes find Brenda Marshall beautiful but too bland, examples being THE SEA HAWK (1940) or FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK (1941). I found her more interesting in a small but showy role in THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), and I thought she was quite good in STRANGE IMPERSONATION, taking her character through a variety of life-changing travails. The plot doesn't always make sense -- Nora's "plastic surgery" seems to consist merely of a dye job on her hair, yet no one recognizes her? -- but Marshall plays the role with gusto.
Speaking of plot devices that don't make sense, I was slightly amused at the thought of a woman being willing to murder for the love of William Gargan, but whatever! He does what he can as the good doctor, who's a little too patient and a little too dense. Hillary Brooke is entertaining in a showy role as Nora's evil "friend."
George Chandler plays an ambulance-chasing attorney, H.B. Warner is a plastic surgeon, and Lyle Talbot shows up in the final minutes as a police detective. Ruth Ford, who in real life later married Zachary Scott, plays a blackmailing accident victim. Mary Treen is a goodhearted but extremely annoying nurse who always speaks in plurals, as in "We need our nap now!"
STRANGE IMPERSONATION isn't the best of the early Mann films I've seen to date, but Mann fans should find this fast-paced film entertaining.
STRANGE IMPERSONATION is available on DVD from Kino. It can be purchased as a single title or in Kino's boxed set titled Film Noir: Five Classics From the Vaults. The DVD is currently available from Netflix.
It was also released by Kino on VHS.
February 2014 Update: I had the wonderful chance to see this film in 35mm at UCLA's Anthony Mann Festival.