“You cannot escape the person you are.”
In 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.
“Don’t give me that love stuff.”
In Railroaded, Clara’s Beauty Salon operates as a front for a gambling racket, and it’s part of a chain of gambling joints owned by Jackland Ainsworth (Roy Gordon). Vicious hood, Duke Martin (John Ireland) is one of Ainsworth’s henchmen, and as a disgruntled employee, Martin thinks he deserves a bigger piece of the action. Clara (Jane Randolph) and Martin arrange for a ‘robbery’ to take place, but things don’t go as planned when shots are exchanged between a passing policemen and one of the robbers. Martin drops off the wounded robber at a doctor’s house. The police investigate the case, and when the wounded robber identifies his accomplice as Steve Ryan (Ed Kelly), the detectives think they have an open and shut case.
Double-crossing and revenge are at the heart of this excellent noir film from director Anthony Mann, and one of the most interesting features of the film is the way the police investigate the case. Steve Ryan is a nice clean-cut boy who has no alibi for the night of the crime. He’s a WWII navy veteran, and fellow veteran Police Sgt Mickey Ferguson (Hugh Beaumont) can’t quite swallow the notion of Steve Ryan as a killer. While all the evidence points solidly to Steve, intuition tells Ferguson that Steve is an innocent man. Steve Ryan’s sister Rosie (Sheila Ryan) also believes her brother’s story that he’s innocent, and she starts investigating the case on her own. Ferguson’s attraction to Rosie, and her distrust of the police add to the complications.
Clara and Rosie represent the two types of women in the film–the gangster’s moll and the solid, reliable girl-next-door. Clara is the peroxide blonde who’s sold her soul to Martin and knows she’d better do whatever she’s told. Rosie has principles and is willing to stand up for them. It’s no coincidence that one scene has Rosie and Clara brawling with Rosie ultimately triumphing over the brassy blonde. The DVD print quality of this black and white film is excellent. Noir fans–put Railroaded on your list of films to watch.
“You are a bad habit I can’t cure.”
The Great Flamarion is a decent, odd little film with a good story that suffers from clumsy stylistics, but the fact that the film is directed by Anthony Mann is enough to make film buffs want to watch it. The Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim) is a sharpshooter who has a stylish act with married couple Al (Dan Duryea) and Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes). As a frame story, the film begins in Mexico in 1936 with Flamarion telling his tale of past passion and jealousy to an interested bystander.
Al is a drunk, and this makes him a liability in the sharpshooter act–especially as he’s supposed to move across the stage with precision timing while Flamarion takes potshots with live rounds. Beautiful Connie is the faithless wife who manages to juggle three men at a time–Flamarion, Al, and the burly bicyclist Eddie Wheeler (Steve Barclay). While Connie keeps her romantic entanglement with Eddie quiet, she plays Flamarion for a fool–pumping him with stories of Al beating her. Flamarion (played stoically by director von Stroheim) at first rejects Connie’s transparent advances, but she’s so persistent, he eventually succumbs to her flattery. In retrospect, Flamarion realizes that “one look in the mirror would have told me I was not for her.”
Flamarion is a believable character, and Dan Duryea is suitably sleazy, but it’s the role of Connie that steals the film and gives the story a noirish feel–her unscrupulous behaviour comes full circle by the film’s conclusion. The main problem with the film is its clumsy beginning and its frame story structure–with Flamarion recounting his tale through flashbacks.