The second film on tonight's Noir City Film Festival double bill, paired with ALL MY SONS (1948), was TAKE ONE FALSE STEP (1949).
I was completely unfamiliar with TAKE ONE FALSE STEP, despite it having a cast of favorites including William Powell, Marsha Hunt, and Dorothy Hart.
Truth be told, the movie was pretty weak tea, with plot holes and underused leading ladies, but it's just the kind of minor film I really enjoy checking out, so I'm glad it was shown in the festival -- especially since it was in a brand-new print from Universal!
Andrew Gentling (Powell) is a professor visiting Southern California looking for funding for a new university.
Andrew steps into a bar he frequented when he was in the service and runs into Catherine Sykes (Shelley Winters), an acquaintance from his war years.
Catherine aggressively attempts to restart a relationship with Andrew, despite hearing that he's happily married to Helen (Hart) -- and despite being married herself.
Catherine eventually pressures Andrew into stopping by a party. But when Andrew arrives, the only person there besides Catherine is his old friend Martha (Hunt). (Why Martha tolerates Catherine is an unanswered question.) The tipsy Catherine pesters Andrew for a ride but keeps making passes at him and won't go home, so he gets out of the car and leaves himself. At least he had the smarts to remove himself from a bad situation instead of hanging around longer!
Next day Andrew sees a newspaper headline that Catherine is missing and presumed dead. He wants to go to the LAPD but the concerned Martha discourages the idea, and Andrew and Martha try to investigate the situation themselves, staying one step ahead of police detectives (James Gleason and Sheldon Leonard).
This was an oddly constructed film with numerous dropped and/or inexplicable plot threads. For instance, it was never clear in the first place why Catherine was presumed dead. And what about that hit she took in the forehead when the car stopped abruptly? I assumed she'd later turn up with a concussion or amnesia, but that part of the plot was never developed. Given that, it was also a bit odd that late in the film Andrew hits his head in a crash himself...but he comes to and goes on, with no more said about it.
I did appreciate that when Helen showed up, Martha immediately introduced herself as a friend of Andrew's and the two women teamed to help him; it would have been easy to depict Helen as having misguided jealousy in the circumstances.
Given Powell's longtime association with the character of Nick Charles and his loyal dog Asta, one of the film's amusing themes is that dogs absolutely hate his character. He has a brutal fight with one dog, ultimately beaning the animal with a candlestick. Not sure I've seen anything like that in a movie before! (Dog lovers, never fear; all's well that ends well for the doggy.)
TAKE ONE FALSE STEP was directed by Chester Erskine and filmed in black and white by Franz "Frank" Planer. It runs 94 minutes.
TAKE ONE FALSE STEP is not available on DVD or VHS.