Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Take One False Step (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

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.

Martha was so anxious that Andrew not go to the police that for quite a while I was expecting that there might be a murderer under her kind, mild-mannered exterior. But no, she was just a friend...and without nearly enough screen time.

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.

The movie would have been much more interesting if Andrew had spent more time with Martha and Helen, but instead he has too many scenes with his fellow professors (Art Baker, Felix Bressart, Howard Freeman). On the other hand, Catherine is yet another of Shelley Winters' seemingly endless string of whiny, annoying characters, so at least she checks out of the action early on in the movie!

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.)

Gleason and Leonard help liven up the proceedings, playing cops with a comedic bent. The supporting cast also included Paul Harvey, Jess Barker, Houseley Stevenson, and Francis Pierlot. Tony Curtis is said to have had a bit part but I didn't spot him.

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.

2022 Update: Great news, TAKE ONE FALSE STEP will be out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in October 2022.

November 2022 Update: My review of the Blu-ray release is here.


Blogger KC said...

How did Winters have such a long career with a grating persona like that? This is certainly an interesting cast. I think I'd enjoy seeing it, though it does sound like an odd one. Powell and Winters acting together--that just sounds weird to me.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would love to see this. A William Powell title I had never heard of. Surprising that TCM haven't shown it.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

KC, great question re Winters! :) The teaming with Powell was definitely offbeat. It's worth seeing for fans even though it's a bit of an odd duck.

Vienna, TCM has to pay more for Universal films so they license relatively few films from that studio (and Paramount and 20th). Would be neat to have this turn up there -- along with a lot of other Universal films! I thought I knew Marsha Hunt's filmography pretty well but this one was totally new to me.

Best wishes,

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Tom P. said...

A lot of reviewers have panned this film. I liked it... I liked the combination of comedy and mystery... there was plenty of dramatic tension in the film [good] and the comedy provided a nice change of pace. Some folks just can't sit down and enjoy a film -- they are overly critical. An interesting and different movie -- just enjoy it for what it is.....

8:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback, Tom. This is a film I'd like to revisit, given that it's been a few years and I love the cast. I'm glad to know you enjoyed it!

Best wishes,

8:41 AM  

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