Strange Impersonation (1946)

  “You cannot escape the person you are.”

strangeIn the film, Strange Impersonation chemist Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) is close to perfecting a new form of anesthesia, and she’s also fending off fiance and fellow chemist, Dr Lindstrom. Lindstrom is pushing for a wedding date, but Nora’s ambition dictates the conclusion of her experiments before moving on to personal business. Nora decides to accelerate product testing by experimenting with the anesthetic at home. She enlists the help of lab assistant Arline Cole. The experiment, however, goes horribly wrong, and Nora’s face is scarred beyond recognition.

Following a bizarre encounter with female blackmailer Jane Karaski, Nora seizes the opportunity to assume Jane’s identity. Nora–as Jane–goes into hiding and then undergoes over a year’s worth of intense plastic surgery to restore her face.

Director Anthony Mann is considered one of the great film noir directors. So for those interested in the genre, Strange Impersonation is a must-see. However, that said, viewers should be aware that the film is seeped in 1940s technology and science (Nora’s lab–Nora’s experiments, etc), and so much of the film seems extremely dated. There are literally beakers full of smoking concoctions. Also, the film has a very high camp quality. The fights between females, a hideously scarred face hidden by veils, and the nonsensical inability to identify a body because the face is damaged beyond recognition, all add up to a good laugh. While the performances of the main actors are up-to-standard, some of the minor characters are definitely bad actors.

Strange Impersonation is absolutely not in the same league as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity or The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. It’s just too campy for that. However, I was extremely interested in Mann’s portrayal of females in this film. Nora is a brilliant scientist, Arline is the wicked schemer, and Jane Karaski is a female thug. This is a film about strong women (not necessarily nice) who take fate into their own hands. The characters of the females are fascinating–whereas the males play only dull minor roles on the periphery of the film. Strange Impersonation is relatively short–68 minutes long, and if you want to see a “B” cult classic from the 40s, then this film–with all its flaws–is worth your while. This is a restored version of the film, and both the picture and sound were excellent quality.

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Filed under Anthony Mann, Film Noir

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