MURDER, MY SWEET (1944). CORNERED is top-drawer Powell, a rough, gritty tale of postwar vengeance.
Powell plays Laurence Gerard, a Canadian flyer who spent the waning days of WWII in a POW camp. Upon his release, Gerard has only one thought in mind: finding the Nazi collaborator responsible for the execution of his young bride, a member of the French resistance. Gerard's relentless journey takes him to South America, where he must figure out which of the many shadowy figures he meets can be trusted as he searches for the man he intends to kill.
Powell is outstanding as a man who has nothing to lose, making him fearless in his single-minded quest. Powell gives Gerard the usual sardonic wisecracks of his noir-era characters, but he also adds something deeper, an utter sense of despair. The good guys may have won the war, but in a sense Gerard lost. There's a scene where Gerard lays on his bed in shadows, staring into the dark; when he leans closer to the bedside lamp as he answers the telephone, the viewer sees the streak of a tear on his face. It's a very affecting moment.
In an interesting essay at Where Danger Lives, Mark writes "Much of CORNERED'S originality comes from Powell’s interpretation of Laurence Gerard...there’s something in Powell’s performance that goes beyond the clichéd term world-weary — Gerard isn’t just tired, he’s dead tired. This is a man on fumes." His post, as always, is very much worth reading, though I think perhaps I liked the film even more than he did.
I also enjoyed a comment at IMDb which says of the film "Everyone has a card up their sleeve and a gun in the top drawer. Just in case. Shadows, prying eyes, lonely dimly lit streets, whispered mistruths partially overheard but only half understood; that's what this film is about. Some have done it as well but none have done it better."
The international intrigue foreshadows one of Powell's next couple films, TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (1948), in which he played a U.S. Treasury agent intent on breaking up an opium ring. The films also share a very bleak look at an uncertain postwar world, tempered by the success of international cooperation and teamwork, shadowy as it may be at times.
Morris Carnovsky (DISHONORED LADY, THE SECOND WOMAN) plays a mysterious man who is after the same man as Gerard. Walter Slezak plays one of the many strange people Gerard meets in Argentina, and Luther Adler has one scene as Gerard's quarry.
The cast also includes Micheline Cheirel, Edgar Barrier, Nina Vale, Jack LaRue, and Steven Geray.
Actress Ellen Corby has a nonspeaking role as a maid who puts a critical letter on a mailbox. Corby had previously appeared in a few films in the '30s and was working on CORNERED as the script supervisor for director Edward Dmytryk. It was the beginning of an acting career which would last over half a century, with her most notable roles being Aunt Trina in I REMEMBER MAMA (1948) and Grandma on THE WALTONS.
Dmytryk and cinematographer Harry J. Wild had both worked on Powell's MURDER MY SWEET, and Wild would go on to shoot Powell's PITFALL (1948), as well as his "Western noir" STATION WEST (1948). In my view CORNERED would be worth seeing for the cinematography alone, whether the gritty shots of postwar Europe or some of the breathtaking shadowy scenes when Powell's character is caught up in a Nazi-chasing noir nightmare in Argentina.
CORNERED runs 102 minutes. It's part of the Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 5. Other films in the 8-film set are DESPERATE (1947), DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946), and BACKFIRE (1950).
CORNERED and DESPERATE are on a two-film disc which can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.
CORNERED also had a release on VHS, as part of the RKO Collection, and it can additionally be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is available at the TCM website.