This RKO feature from director Nicholas Ray plays like a Noir film with some of the genre’s key elements. But it’s perhaps the single most important feature of a Noir film that’s missing, a body.
Oscar winner Joan Fontaine is cast here as a woman with an agenda. She’s a social climber who invades the happy lives of those around her.
First up is moving in on poor Zachary Scott who is engaged to be wed to attractive Joan Leslie. Scott is a wealthy bachelor and sure to be a good catch. To get close to the duo, Joan takes up with family friend and aspiring writer Robert Ryan. Ryan is of course one of Noir’s leading figures.
With a nudge here and planting a seed there, Joan soon finds herself the benefactor of not only Ryan’s passion but Scott’s love. Poor Joan Leslie has been cast aside. She sees through Joan and corners her for one of the film’s better scenes.
Ryan is up next giving us his best when tearing into Joan with an angry close up. “It’s just a sex attraction.” Strong words he accuses her of. Especially in a 1950 film.
Eventually hubby Zach Scott begins to see through Joan and begins to wonder if marriage was the right thing. She’s cold to the touch and when Ryan drifts back into their lives the truth will set him free.
Joan’s eventual downfall is one of those scenes worthy of having Ace Ventura doing his victory dance on the porch screaming while opening and closing the sliding glass door. You can’t help but do a fist pump when her world comes crashing down.
As for being classified as a Noir film, I can see it up to a point. The presence of Robert Ryan definitely adds to the notion of this fitting in to the genre. Scott had done his fair share of flirting with Noir cinema as well. While Joan does alright here I think the role would have been far better suited overall to a real temptress like Ava Gardner. Mel Ferrer is used mainly here as a bit of a comedy relief. A devil may care painter who seems to know all with a drink in hand.
What I really believe is that the film would have made a decent soap opera vehicle for Joan Crawford. She was always one to play tough and loved to get ahead on screen and off. It also would have allowed for a reunion with her Mildred Pierce costar Zachary Scott for a third time.