THE VELVET TOUCH is an interesting melding of crime story and psychological drama, with Russell starring as famed stage actress Valerie Stanton.
On the closing night of Val's latest romantic comedy success, her longtime director-producer Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) threatens to ruin her love affair with Michael Morrell (Leo Genn) if she insists on doing a serious drama with a new director.
The verbal fight becomes a physical struggle, and Valerie picks up an award statuette off the desk and beans Dunning in the head, inadvertently killing him. Val flees the scene and actress Marian Webster (Claire Trevor), who has long loved Gordon from afar, finds the body. She picks up the statuette, putting her fingerprints on it, and she ends up suspected of the crime.
Val suffers huge guilt over not confessing in the first place, especially when Marian collapses and is hospitalized. Val is ready to tell all to Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet) when the distraught Marian kills herself, leading the police to close the case just as Val is ready to open in HEDDA GABLER. It's uncertain, though, whether Val will be able to go on -- and more importantly, whether she can live with herself if she never discloses the truth.
Val probably could have made a pretty good case for self-defense if she'd just picked up the phone and called the police immediately, though she might have also ended up with a "heat of passion" manslaughter charge. She's hardly a cold-blooded murderess, and one can see a certain logic in Val's initial decisions, regretting it as a horrific fluke and just hoping it would all go away.
Little does she realize just how heavily the guilt will start to wear away at her, even though the person implicated, Marian, has been an arch rival. Indeed, the fact she and Marian didn't get along seems to make Val feel worse about the situation, not better; as the saying goes, she wouldn't wish Marian's plight on her "worst enemy."
There are interesting little touches to watch for, such as Val's penchant for wearing gloves, and the Travis Banton gown she wears prior to opening night is rather obviously covered in black X's!
Greenstreet is terrific as the avuncular, theater-loving police detective; it's a role which somewhat calls to mind the psychologist he played in CONFLICT (1945). He's genuinely nice, but he also seems to have a pretty good instinct for who might have done it, as well as for the fact that she's not a criminal at heart, so he stays "in her face," killing her with kindness and hoping she'll eventually be motivated to do the right thing.
Leo Genn is also quite good as Val's suitor, a powerful man in his own world (something to do with the then-new United Nations) who has the self-confidence to woo and handle a high-strung stage star. And like Captain Danbury, he's pretty sure Val had something to do with Gordon's death but loves her anyway.
There are several nice smaller parts in the film for Theresa Harris (at right) as Val's loyal maid, Frank McHugh as the stage manager, Dan Tobin as a gossip columnist, and Lex Barker and Martha Hyer as young actors in Val's play. Walter Kingsford, Dr. Carew of the DR. KILDARE movie series, plays the director of HEDDA GABLER.
Small roles are played by Nydia Westman, Russell Hicks, Irving Bacon, and Bill Erwin, with Queen of the Dress Extras Bess Flowers featured prominently in the closing night party sequence.
THE VELVET TOUCH was produced by Russell's husband, Frederick Brisson, as an Independent Artists production, released by RKO. The movie was directed by John Gage and filmed in black and white by Joseph Walker. It runs 100 minutes.
Fans of Rosalind Russell or '40s crime films will want to see this enjoyable movie. The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.