|The Dark Corner (1946)
Run time: Approved | 99 min | Crime, Film-Noir, Drama
Director: Henry Hathaway
Writers: Jay Dratler, Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Stars: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix
When her boss is framed for murder, his secretary (Lucy) comes to the rescue. A fine piece of film-noir, enhanced by stark camera angles and dark themes.
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It’s a loss to the noir cycle that Lucille Ball never got to exercise her widely underestimated acting (as opposed to comedic) skills as a femme fatale; she might have gained entry to the Bad Girls’ Club. She did, however, lend her welcome presence to three film noir: Two Smart People, Lured, and, the first and best of them, The Dark Corner.
She plays the new, spunky receptionist to private eye Mark Stevens (and gets top billing; logically the star, Stevens comes only fourth in the titles). Once framed into a manslaughter charge in San Francisco, Stevens has come east to start over with a clean slate. But he’s being measured for an even bigger frame. White-suited William Bendix is the cat’s-paw in a plot to goad Stevens into murdering the old partner who set him up (Kurt Kreuger).
Kreuger, however, isn’t even aware that Stevens is out of prison and in New York; he’s too busy romancing the young wife (Cathy Downs) of rich art-gallery owner Clifton Webb (she sits around bored, listening to `his paintings crack with age’). Webb is the puppet-master behind the elaborate scheme to eliminate his younger, more virile rival. When Stevens comes to on the floor of his apartment with a poker in his hand and Kreuger bludgeoned to death next to him, he, with Ball’s help, must race against his inevitable arrest to find the real killer.
The story flits between two Manhattans: The shabby cityscape of penny arcades under the El and flats that open up onto fire escapes, populated by Stevens, Ball and Bendix, and the haut monde of ritzy galleries and high-ceilinged, richly upholstered apartments inhabited by Clift, Downs and Kreuger. Spanning the gap is the unholy alliance between the coarse Bendix and the p***-elegant Webb, reprising his Bitter Old Queen number from Laura and The Razor’s Edge (though again, as in Laura, we’re asked to swallow his obsession with a beautiful…woman half his age).
While maintaining a deft balance, the plot weighs in as quite a brutal one (Webb’s quick dispatch of Bendix proves quite startling). Despite this role and The Street With No Name, Stevens never quite became the noir icon – like Ladd or Bogart or Mitchum (or even like Powell or Ford or Ryan) he seemed destined for, but he’s persuasive enough as a man strained to the limit by forces he can’t fathom.
Henry Hathaway directed, but the black magic comes courtesy of cinematographer Joe MacDonald. He ably lighted a number of estimable noirs (Street With No Name, Call Northside 777, Pickup on South Street), but here his work surpasses itself. When Ball and Stevens embrace, he turns a two-shot into a four-shot by placing them in front of a fireplace mirror; we see her face in the foreground, his in reflection. In plot, writing and direction, The Dark Corner falls just short of the finest entries in the cycle. But in its strikingly composed photography, finely filigreed with shadow, it could be shown at a gala opening in Webb’s high-priced gallery.
"I feel all dead inside . . . backed up in a dark corner . . . and I don’t know who’s hitting me."
So Mark Stevens’ Brad confesses to secretary-girlfriend Lucile Ball’s Kathleen.
This particular dark corner has many angles, shadows and turns, as the two go sleuthing in search of an elusive villain–Clifton Webb’s Hardy. Along the way Hardy’s "hitman," Stauffer (William Bendix) gets the "ax," as the audience maintains rapt attention.
A nicely turned crime script by Jan Drather and Leo Rosten is given slick credibility by Director Henry Hathaway. The "Manhattan Melody" theme, used in so many New York drama films of the 40s, was first heard here. It was part of Cyril Mockridge’s original score, so evocative of "big city pre-dawn street scenes" that it became a motif of dozens of similar efforts.
The film also showed what Ball could do in a straight dramatic role, and she proved quite capable of holding her own. Webb, forever "effete personified," offers a polished performance, while Bendix contrasts as the perfect "mug."
A "whodunit" worthy of a studio that produced loads of neat "forties thrillers": 20th Century Fox.
"The Dark Corner" turned up the other night on cable. This is a film that should be seen more often. For one, we get great views of the New York of 40s. Most of the action was photographed, brilliantly, one must add, by Joe MacDonald with the old 3rd. Avenue El as a background. Henry Hathaway’s direction was inspired.
Brad Galt, the gumshoe at the center of the story, has come to New York to get away from an unsavory past in San Francisco. He was on the right track in establishing the detective agency he runs, helped by his attractive gal Friday, Kathleen. Trouble seems to find Brad, no matter where he goes. When the apish Fred Foss appears, dressed in a white suit, we know we’re in for a rough ride.
Brad is being framed, but he has no clue, except to think, Jardine, the suave lawyer, is responsible for it. Little does he know there are higher ups that want to pin a murder on Galt. With the help of his kind secretary, Kathleen, this pair embark in a voyage of discovery where a few surprises await them.
"The Dark Corner" is a fine example of a film noir, enhanced by the background shots of Manhattan. Mark Stevens, as Brad, makes a good attempt to portray Brad Galt, the man who wants to play it straight after his run in with the law. The biggest surprise of the film was the wonderful Lucille Ball playing the secretary. Ms. Ball was an accomplished actress who was basically seen in comedy, but as this film shows, she could play anything.
Clifton Webb turns up as Cathcart, the art gallery owner. There is a great scene at the vault where some art pieces are kept, after taking a few clients to see the new Raffael (that looks it could have been painted on velvet), Cathcart sees the shadows of his wife, and his partner in crime, Jardine, in a passionate embrace as both kiss. The other great moment in the film also involves the art gallery. When Brad, who has finally arrived at the gallery late, asks the assistant how much would the Donatello statue would cost, and she answers "Forty Thousand". After that, he asks her how much would the pedestal would cost! Obviously, he couldn’t afford either the work of art, or where it rested! In minor roles, William Bendix makes an impression in playing the evil Fred Foss. Kurt Kreuger is seen as Jardine and Cathy Downs plays the deceiving wife, Mari.
"The Dark Corner" is a film that will not disappoint the viewer, thanks to Henry Hathaway’s direction and the work of this cast, but especially watch out for Ms. Ball, she does amazing work!
Sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to avoid being framed for murder. I think we’ve all had that experience, haven’t we? That certainly is Bradford Galt’s (Mark Stevens) problem in "The Dark Corner." I should say, it is ONE of his problems. That, along with being constantly annoyed by the cops and assorted bad guys. It’s just one of the hazards that come with being a private eye. If you don’t believe that, just ask Humphrey Bogart. Among others!
But there can be benefits, too. And in this case, one of the benefits is having the beautiful Kathleen (Lucille Ball) for your … uh … private secretary. Furthermore, it can be doubly beneficial when you and your "private secretary" become romantically involved. This role — Kathleen — is, I think, one of Lucy’s very best from her lengthy pre-"I Love Lucy" movie career. She’s beautiful (oh, I said that), she’s charming, she’s bright (quite un-Lucylike) and, perhaps most important for a private snoop, she helps her man Brad extricate himself from more than one tight spot. And, she’s beautiful!
As for those aforementioned annoying bad guys, we have William Bendix and Clifton Webb on hand to annoy His Snoopness. The former THINKS he’s a lot tougher than he really is. Better had he known that a tough guy gets much further being the other way around. As for the latter, he, apparently, didn’t learn his lesson in "Laura" two years earlier. Too bad. For him.
One of the mildly amusing aspects to this film is Brad’s use, perhaps as many as half a dozen times, of the word "shagged." Thanks to "Austin Powers," we now have a new 21st century meaning for that word. But in 1946, in THIS movie, it meant something completely different. And neither meaning has anything to do with rugs. Ahhh, language.
I also find it interesting that the star of this movie (Mark Stevens) took fourth billing. True, although he was both a known and a competent actor, he was never a star of the magnitude of, say, the aforementioned H.B. Which makes me wonder if Henry Hathaway (the director) and Fred Kohlmar (the producer) had a big-name star in mind for the main role but were unable to land same. Thus, did they have to "settle for" Stevens? It would be interesting to learn the background of the casting of this movie and how Stevens came to get the main role and why he was given just fourth billing.
Even so, "The Dark Corner," WITH Mark Stevens, is still one of the better film noirs of the 1940s. And watch out the next time somebody tries to frame you for murder. Maybe it won’t be a movie!