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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wallis Gets Away With Murder


The Accused (1949) Drops a Net on Loretta Young

Used to come on television, not so lately, as in twenty or so years, thanks to Universal pulling rug on The Accused along with bulk of pre-49 Paramounts they own. An old complaint I know, but one that should be renewed until this backlog is put before us again. In the meantime, bootlegs are comfort, provided we don't watch on too large a screen. The Accused is another Hal Wallis crackerjack --- shouldn't we crown him Producer King Of Noir? Ones he did (and so many) were always my favorites of the genre. Many still are. Loretta Young is this time top-lined (notice how often women are focal point of Wallis thrills?). The producer made narrative policy of tightening nets, be it guilt, complicity, femme fatale-ing. Often it was Stanwyck stirring pots, which was intent for The Accused, but she was elsewhere, thus Loretta Young, who actually works better thanks to more vulnerable persona. Stanwyck would have gotten out of her murder fix in a walk, maybe committed a few more to dispose of unhandy witnesses.


I had The Accused on while Ann computer-played. As Facebook interest wound down, she glanced up to ask recap of action so far. Well, I said, Loretta kills this guy in self-defense when he tries raping her, then she throws him off a cliff into the surf, but first has to pump water into his lungs so it will look like drowning. Like Joel Cairo, I felt "distinctly like an idiot" making this all seem credible, but isn't that often the lot of noir webs the 40's wove? Anyway, Ann's interest perked when Robert Cummings showed up as romantic assist (she, like millions, loves that Bob). Young spends The Accused trying to brazen out the killing and play innocent. In other words, phony as Loretta Young in any number of perfs. Maybe a best impression is Wendell Corey's, never a major star (though Wallis tried), but standout aspect in a number of noirs the producer did. Directing is William Dieterle, known by Wallis from Warner years, and probably had at a price here, for HL didn't pay generous once he went independent and was obliged to pony half or more production costs with his own bank loans (Paramount fronting the rest, but at front of the line to recover theirs from the gross). Most of Dieterle paychecks after the war were signed by Wallis, however modest. Is it time too to recognize Dieterle as an outstanding noir helmsman?


Brilliance of The Accused lies with clever evasion of Code edict, the one saying murderers must pay (beware spoiler ahead). We know Loretta Young kills Douglas Dick --- we see her do it --- but no way should she answer for the act with gaol time, let alone inconvenience of a gas chamber. Wallis surely saw this as spine of the story that had to be cracked, but how to lick censorship's most inviolate rule? First torture your lead lady with heaviest sledge of guilt, seasoned by utter futility of beating the rap, detective Corey and lab expert Sam Jaffe (very good) seeing to that --- then last reel confession, so we know she knows she did wrong, then rabbit from procedural hat of trying her for first-degree murder, which under these factual circumstances, no jury could convict her on. Acquittal is a sure thing, even though it will happen after the end title, as neat a trick of beating the PCA as could be managed in still repressive year that was 1949. All of an audience, especially Wallis and Paramount bookkeepers, could go home happy. Never mind far-fetchedness of how we got there. The Accused has style, some suspense, wall-to-wall Victor Young scoring, and all of what Wallis delivered best. This one should at the least be on TCM's next lease list from Universal (the network ran it before, but long ago).

4 Comments:

Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

For a while there I thought Sam Jaffe in the still was Spec O'Donnel.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The Catholic Legion of Decency forced the movies to lie about life. It is good that it is gone. We are still recovering from the damage it did.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Universal put THE ACCUSED out on DVD as part of their Universal Vault series. The film was also restored by the Library of Congress. I screened it at my Film noir festival in Palm Springs and at NOIR CITY in Hollywood.

1:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Would like to mention how much I've enjoyed the Czar Of Noir's Sunday morning intros, for instance recent THE BREAKING POINT, which covered Garfield, Curtiz, HUAC, Warners from that period ... each combined to fine and well-informed context for the film we were about to see. Also like TCM sets and decor which neatly capture noirish by-ways (original release pressbooks have been among occasional flourishes --- a pleasing tip-of-fedora to showmen who ran noirs in first-run).

8:43 AM  

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