Friday, June 17, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Dishonored Lady (1947)

DISHONORED LADY is an enjoyable drama starring Hedy Lamarr as a reformed party girl who becomes entangled in a murder case.

Lamarr plays Madeleine Damien, who lives the glamorous high life working as the art director at a magazine by day, then romancing various men and drinking too much by night.

One evening a lonely and despondent Madeleine drives recklessly and -- perhaps deliberately -- crashes her car, which leads to a chance meeting with a psychiatrist (Morris Carnovsky). Madeleine ultimately decides to go into therapy, and as she begins to understand the upbringing that led her to an unhealthy lifestyle, she decides to completely turn her back on her current life. She moves into a run-down apartment building where she begins a new existence as an artist under an assumed name. She also finds love with a research scientist, Dr. David Cousins (Dennis O'Keefe).

One evening while David's out of town, a former colleague (Natalie Schafer) lures Madeleine out of hiding. Madeleine goes off the wagon and ends up at the home of Felix Courtland, one of the men from her past. (Courtland is played by John Loder, then Lamarr's husband offscreen.) The ring of the doorbell jolts the tipsy Madeleine, who thinks better of the situation and leaves out the back door. Moments later, Courtland is murdered, and Madeleine ends up charged with the crime. David is shocked, all the more so when he learns of his sweet Madeleine's decidedly impure past. Will he stand by her?

The first few scenes of the film are a bit disjointed, as the car crash and ensuing scene almost seem ready to launch a flashback or some sort of explanation for Madeleine's strange, possibly suicidal behavior. We jump from this sequence to watching Madeleine at work and play, and it's only later, when Madeleine revisits the psychiatrist, that the narrative settles down and becomes easier to follow.

The film has some moments which are a bit hokey or cliched, but all in all it's an entertaining 85 minutes, especially if the viewer is a fan of the gorgeous Lamarr. She was an underrated actress with particularly expressive eyes, and she gives an interesting performance as the tormented heroine. One only wishes that the screenwriters had more fully fleshed out the character, as most of Madeleine's issues and motivations are glossed over at a rapid pace.

In my eyes this relatively little-known film qualifies as film noir. Cinematographer Lucien Andriot captures some of the dark, rainy streets and shadowy walls which are so often an essential element of noir titles. The heroine caught up in a nightmare beyond her control also seems to be the essence of film noir.

Additionally, DISHONORED LADY is yet one more example of Hollywood's mid-'40s love affair with psychology. Several other mid-'40s titles in which psychology is a major plot point are listed in my review of SHOCK (1946); CONFLICT (1945) is another example seen since that post was written.

This was one of a string of film noir titles made by Dennis O'Keefe in the late '40s. DISHONORED LADY was immediately followed by T-MEN (1947), RAW DEAL (1948), and WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948). Here he has a relatively light role as Madeleine's clean-cut white knight who is surprised to learn of her colorful past associations.

William Lundigan typically played square-jawed, straight arrow hero types, such as in the film noir THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951). Here, however, he has quite a different role, as a slimy, money-grubbing colleague of Madeleine's who is also entangled in the murder. It's a different side of Lundigan, and it's fun to see him in an atypical role.

The supporting cast includes Margaret Hamilton, Paul Cavanagh, and Douglass Dumbrille.

The movie was directed by Robert Stevenson, director of JANE EYRE (1943), TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (1948), and MARY POPPINS (1964). The opening credits note that his work on the film was by "special arrangement" with David O. Selznick.

The screenplay by Edmund North also had uncredited work by Ben Hecht and Andre De Toth. It was based on a play by Edward Sheldon and Margaret Ayer Barnes.

DISHONORED LADY, which was at one time reissued under the title SINS OF MADELEINE, is in the public domain. It's had multiple releases on VHS and DVD.

I watched an ACME DVD from VCI Entertainment; ACME is VCI's line of public domain films. The print ranged from good to very good, depending on the scene; it was far better than most public domain prints. The ACME DVD also includes Lamarr's film THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946), which makes it a great deal at a low price.

DISHONORED LADY can also currently be seen on YouTube.


Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I still have trouble understanding how this movie is in any way similar to Letty Lynton. And it's rather ironic that this movie has fallen into the public domain and Letty Lynton is stuck in legal limbo.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Interesting, I didn't realize DISHONORED LADY had been compared to LETTY LYNTON. I guess the similarities I can see are the "woman with a past" reforming when she finds true love, and then being caught up in murder. The circumstances surrounding the murder, however, are quite different.

LETTY desperately needs to be pulled out of that legal limbo; it's such an important film, in terms of being one of the foremost examples of a pre-Code plot, the outstanding Crawford and Montgomery performances, and the impact on fashion.

Best wishes,

11:10 AM  

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