Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The File on Thelma Jordon (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

Opening night at the 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival last Friday began with a restored 35mm print of TRAPPED (1950).

The second film on the double bill was a 35mm print of Paramount Pictures' THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey. It was my first time to see THELMA JORDON, which is a mashup of domestic melodrama with crime film, beginning as the former and gradually sliding into the latter.

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON struck me as having more than a little in common with the following year's THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950), which like TRAPPED has been restored by the Film Noir Foundation in the past few years. In each film a previously upright man of the law -- a police detective in THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, a prosecutor in THELMA JORDON -- is tempted by a woman who turns out to be quite the femme fatale, involving them in covering up a murder and torching their careers in the process.

The movie also made me think of the previous year's PITFALL (1948), with Lizabeth Scott tempting Dick Powell away from his strait-laced wife Jane Wyatt.

Assistant District Attorney Cleve Marshall (Corey) is married to Pam (Joan Tetzel, HELL BELOW ZERO) and has two children, but his love for his wife wars with his dislike for the way Pam's wealthy father invades their marriage, providing Pam with things Cleve can't afford working for the district attorney's office.

One evening Cleve's been moping over his marital situation and gotten good and drunk when in walks Thelma Jordon (Stanwyck), wanting help with a prowler spotted at the home of her wealthy aunt (Gertrude Hoffman). Ladylike Thelma unbends enough to go out for a drink with Cleve -- not that he needs any more -- and as the evening ends they indulge in a kiss before parting ways.

Soon Cleve is spending far too much time with Thelma and falling in love with her, while also doing the bare minimum to placate his increasingly concerned wife. And then late one night Thelma's rich aunt is shot to death, and Cleve feels the need to help make sure the police won't suspect Thelma...but his boss (Paul Kelly) is too smart for that.

This wasn't one of my favorite titles, as unlike the pure fun of THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, the pain caused by Cleve and Thelma is palpable as Pam tries to salvage her marriage. There were times I wished I could have reached through the movie screen and shaken Cleve to his senses! That said, it was certainly an engrossing 100 minutes, with excellent performances and some interesting twists, and I did enjoy seeing it for the first time.

Stanwyck's performance is smooth as silk, moving from an initially restrained persona, albeit one curiously willing to put up with Cleve as a drunken masher, then layer by layer we start to see the sharp edges underneath as gradually the true Thelma is revealed.

The part as a troubled yet ultimately semi-honorable chump is very much in Corey's wheelhouse, and it's hard to imagine anyone who could have done a better job with the part as an unhappy man. He believably walks the line conveying being torn by love for two women, with the situation with his wife annoying him and the unfolding relationship with Thelma ultimately proving to be something far worse than annoyance. (Shades of PITFALL again!)

Corey's Cleve treats his wife with utter coldness in some moments, tenderly in others, successfully conveying "I love you but..." How much better off Cleve would have been if he'd found a way to "man up" and approach the situation with his wife and father-in-law. He may eventually discover he has something of a spine, but he does a lot of damage along the way.

Paul Kelly is always a very welcome screen presence, and Stanley Ridges is effective as Thelma's attorney. The cast also includes Richard Rober, Barry Kelley, Kasey Rogers (billed as Laura Elliot), Minor Watson, and Basil Ruysdael.

Cleve's children Timmy and Joan, seen only briefly, are played by Corey's own children, Jonathan and Robin Corey.

The screenplay was by Ketti Frings, from a story by Marty Holland. Robert Siodmak directed, with black and white photography by George Barnes. The musical score was by Victor Young.

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Thelma Jordan is a pretty good movie but my problem is Wendell Corey, as it always is when he plays the leading man. He's simply not leading man material. He was paired again with Stanwyck in Fury and it was even odder.

Corey is very good when he's not supposed to be one half of a romantic duo, as in The Killer is Loose or Desert Fury. (Though we can argue in Fury he is one half of a romantic duo.) In Hell's Half Acre he was again the leading man, it just doesn't work for me.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wendell Corey was good in a movie with Janet Leigh & Robert Mitchum titled A Holiday Affair. His character Carl was seeing Connie (Janet, of course) and then a stranger Steve(Robert) shows up and complicates things. But Corey did play a supporting role.

12:55 AM  

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