Last weekend there was a terrific post by Caftan Woman on the "Desperate Housewives of Film Noir." She reviewed three interesting films, including WITHOUT HONOR; thanks to Amazon, within just a couple of days I had the DVD in hand for $4 and some change.
As Caftan Woman indicates, WITHOUT HONOR is by no means a great film, but I still found it fairly entertaining for several reasons, including the short, odd plot; the excellent cast playing a group of troubled characters; and the glimpses of everyday domestic life in the then-rural San Fernando Valley.
Like CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951), which was also reviewed by Caftan Woman, WITHOUT HONOR unfolds in a brief time frame, in this case a single afternoon.
Mrs. Jane Bandle (Laraine Day) is surprised when her lover, Dennis Williams (Franchot Tone), visits her at her home. He explains a detective has found them out and he can't leave his wife and teenage daughters to be with her, as he had previously promised.
The distraught Jane, who'd been preparing kabobs for dinner, tries to kill herself with a skewer, but in the ensuing struggle Dennis is stabbed instead. He staggers to the laundry room and collapses, apparently dead as a doornail. Or maybe dead as a skewer.
Jane closes the laundry room door, washes the blood off her hands, and fairly calmly plans to take a taxi to city hall to turn herself in at the police station, but she's interrupted by the arrival of her nasty brother-in-law, Bill (Dane Clark). Bill has resented Jane since she turned down his pass years ago, and he's the one who hired the detective. Moreover, he's invited Mrs. Williams (Agnes Moorehead), the wife of Jane's lover, to join them. Soon Jane's husband Fred (Bruce Bennett) has joined the merry group, and Bill spills the beans on Dennis and Jane's affair. But why hasn't Dennis responded to Bill's invitation? By this time Jane is almost catatonic with hysterical fear, knowing what's lying behind her laundry room door.
This is a really strange group of characters, who all seem to live lives of, as the saying goes, "quiet desperation." Jane has a small but charming little home next to an orange grove, but she dreams of fleeing with her more glamorous lover. (She's embarrassed when he finds her in the kitchen wearing an apron, making a self-deprecating remark.) After the initial confrontation, Day speaks the least of any character in the movie, yet is able to convey a great deal with her panicked expressions. Jane's deep unhappiness really does seem an early incarnation of a "Desperate Housewife," and her future is left very much in doubt. The 29-year-old Day had previously starred as a troubled woman in a better film noir, THE LOCKET (1946).
Bruce Bennett, another film noir veteran, plays a man who seems to be easily led and not too interested in interacting with his wife. He mentions he's spent most evenings out with his brother for the past couple years. He's excited to present Jane with a television -- he quaintly asks her "Don't you know what it is?" after it's unboxed, reminding the modern viewer this was 1949 -- yet when he mentions its uses, such as watching wrestling and night baseball, it's clear the television is for him. It will be yet one more way he escapes from relating to his wife.
The strangest character of the quintet is Bill (Clark), a deeply disturbed man who not only resents Jane, he seems to have some curiously unhealthy feelings toward his brother. By exposing Jane's affair, Bill hopes to have Fred all to himself again. Bill's unsettling feelings become especially clear in the film's final minutes; incidentally, the film's final shot of him, as "The End" comes on screen, is quite nice.
Agnes Moorehead plays perhaps the most interesting and sympathetic character in the film, although it's curious how she continues to sit passively throughout the early goings-on. It's hard to know how to interpret her calmly whispered questions to Bill. When Mrs. Williams finally comes to life in the last quarter of the film, confronting Jane and then unexpectedly helping her, Moorehead also takes the film's entertainment value up a notch.
As for Franchot Tone, he has a few minutes as the typically sleazy, wealthy love 'em and then leave 'em type, then he disappears for the remainder of the 69-minute movie! It's left to his wife to explain his motivations, saying that he craves hero worship and his relationships with other women -- there were others -- have always been about what's in it for him. It's fascinating Tone was able to rate third billing for such a small part. Perhaps the impression he leaves behind is as important as his screen time.
WITHOUT HONOR was directed by Irving Pichel, from a script by James Poe. Like CAUSE FOR ALARM!, WITHOUT HONOR almost seems as if it were originally written for another format, perhaps a play or even a radio show. Poe also wrote the script for the Loretta Young melodrama PAULA (1952), which I saw many years ago; it's been released in the Columbia Classics line, available from the Warner Archive.
The black and white cinematography was by Lionel Lindon. The score by Max Steiner is at times good but at other moments is overwrought when something subtle would be more appropriate.
This film was later reissued under the title WOMAN ACCUSED.
The DVD from Geneon isn't a great print, but it's perfectly acceptable, especially for a relatively unknown film.
I had a good time watching WITHOUT HONOR and am glad Caftan Woman called it to my attention.