Monday, May 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: No Man of Her Own (1950)

Cornell Woolrich is a name which keeps popping up in my viewing. His novels inspired BLACK ANGEL (1946) and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), both of which I've seen in the last few weeks. His books also were the basis for PHANTOM LADY (1944) and DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946), seen in 2009. Tonight's movie, NO MAN OF HER OWN, was based on another Woolrich book, I MARRIED A DEAD MAN, written under his pseudonym, William Irish.

Sally Benson (who wrote SHADOW OF A DOUBT) and Catherine Turney (CRY WOLF) adapted Woolrich's novel, along with uncredited work by the director Mitchell Leisen. The result is NO MAN OF HER OWN, a film noir with a superb lead performance by Barbara Stanwyck as an unwed mother who finds the love of a man and a family, only to be threatened with losing it all.

Pregnant Helen Ferguson (Stanwyck), who's been abandoned by her sleazy boyfriend (Lyle Bettger), meets a lovely couple, Hugh and Patrice Harkness (Richard Denning and Phyllis Thaxter), on a train trip. Patrice, who has never met Hugh's family, is also pregnant.

A terrible train crash kills the Harknesses, but doctors believe that Helen is Patrice. And as Patrice and her newborn son are enveloped by the love of the extended Harkness family, she finds herself unable to tell them the truth, all the more so because the Harknesses offer her baby boy security. All is well, and then the sleazy ex-boyfriend shows up with blackmail in mind...

John Lund plays Hugh's brother William, who gradually finds himself falling for "Patrice." The wonderful actors Henry O'Neill and Jane Cowl (ONCE MORE, MY DARLING) play Hugh and William's parents. Venerable character actress Esther Dale plays their loyal housekeeper.

NO MAN OF HER OWN is an excellent film with great atmosphere, blending dark, ominous scenes with sequences exuding warmth and love; the darkness threatens to wipe the good out of Patrice's life, and she's desperate not to hurt her new family.

Stanwyck is at her very best in this, and the rest of the cast is also excellent, down to the smallest parts. (Watch for Griff Barnett as the doctor, Milburn Stone as a police detective, and Dooley Wilson as a train porter.) The film may not be completely believable -- particularly one of the twists near the end -- but the viewer willingly suspends disbelief to enjoy a powerfully acted film.

Director Leisen and John Lund teamed multiple times, including TO EACH HIS OWN (1946), BRIDE OF VENGEANCE (1949), THE MATING SEASON (1951), and DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! (1951). (Lund was also in another Woolrich-based film, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, directed by John Farrow.) Lund is one of those actors, along the lines of George Brent or Lee Bowman, who doesn't get a lot of respect, but I've seen several of his films and I always enjoy him. I think NO MAN OF HER OWN is one of his best performances, subtly communicating his questions and his feelings for Patrice without much dialogue. He makes a marvelous romantic hero, and I don't think anyone could have played this role better.

My only quibble with the film was that the blackmailing ex-boyfriend had so much screen time in the last third of the film. It was very unpleasant watching him and what he put the characters through, although his actions also go a long way to explaining why other characters act as they do.

This is the second movie I've watched in recent days in which a woman under duress takes over another woman's identity; the other film, THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, was released a year after NO MAN OF HER OWN. In both cases, the heroine is portrayed very sympathetically, despite her lies, and the hero is not too concerned about who she really is.

The story might have inspired the much later WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995), a lighter spin on a similar story, minus the blackmail. In fact, the year after WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, NO MAN OF HER OWN was remade as MRS. WINTERBOURNE (1996), that time crediting Woolrich's novel as the source.

This film runs 98 minutes. The cinematographer was Daniel L. Fapp. Costume design was by Edith Head.

This movie has no relationship to the 1932 film of the same name starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

NO MAN OF HER OWN is a Paramount film which isn't available on DVD or VHS. It can be seen on Netflix Watch Instantly; the print streamed by Netflix is in very good shape. Hopefully this film will eventually be released on DVD, as it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

January 2012 Update: NO MAN OF HER OWN will be released on DVD by Olive Films on March 27, 2012.

December 2012 Update: A few more thoughts on this film after seeing it in 35mm at UCLA.


Blogger Clara Fercovic said...

This is a great (and very unknown) movie!! Barbara is so good in it. The scene when she is pregnant and tries to talk with her (stupid) ex boyfriend is so heartbreaking:

Great review!!

Oh, Laura, last year I made a ranking of my favorite movies directed by Mitchel Leisen, I thought maybe you'd like to check it:


8:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you enjoyed it too, Clara! Thanks very much for the link to your very enjoyable post on Leisen's films -- he's someone whose work I've really come to admire.

Reviewing your Leisen post reminded me I left a very important film off the list of Leisen-Lund collaborations -- TO EACH HIS OWN. I've now added that to my post. :)

Thanks for visiting!

Best wishes,

8:47 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

John Lund was a fairly big star for a few years. Lee Bowman, a man I knew and liked, was never that. George Brent had an enormous career that ran twenty-five years. No comparison to his accomplishments and the other two guys.

7:07 PM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I've read the Woolrich novel on which this film is based, and it had a good twist ending (but Woolrich usually had them in his stories). Thanks for your excellent post - I will definitely check this film out!

5:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you enjoy seeing it! :)

Best wishes,

7:21 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Glad you rate this film highly, Laura. I love it. Lyle Bettger is so good at being slimy!
I had never seen Jane Cowl before and she played her part so warmly and true.Wish she had made more films.
And I agree John Lund is very good. I always thought he held his own between Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich in A FOREIGN AFFAIR.
He just never seemed to get the parts and it was so disappointing to see him in HIGH SOCIETY.

1:32 AM  

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