(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “Money Madness” and the Girl Next Door

Nouvelle Vague (the residues of alphaville). Photo by Emiliano Grusovin.

Today’s film is 1948’s “Money Madness,” starring Hugh Beaumont (Steve Clark), Frances Rafferty (Julie Saunders), Harlan Warde (Donald), Cecil Weston (Aunt Cora), Ida Moore (Mrs. Ferguson), Danny Morton (Rogers), Joel Friedkin (Mr. Wagner), and Lane Chandler (Policeman). Directed by Sam Newfield (credited as Peter Stewart); director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh . Produced by Sigmund Neufeld for Sigmund Neufeld Productions. Distributed by Film Classics. Original screenplay by Al Martin.

This film hasn’t had a full restoration on it, so the version at the provided link isn’t as clear an image as it could be, but it’s the best we can get for free. It also has ads, but only five. Sorry about that…

The woman of noir we’ll be discussing today is the “Girl Next Door,” or “good girl” character. Usually she’s in a battle with a femme fatale for the soul of the male protagonist; but in today’s film, there is no femme fatale. Instead, our Girl Next Door is the protagonist whose life is circling the drain, due to a few poor decisions, as well as her fatal flaw of being too passive for her own good.

The film opens with this dramatic shot of Julie (Frances Rafferty) standing before a judge, who sentences her to 10 years for being an accomplice to murder:

Julie standing before the judge

The remainder of the film is told in flashback, where we have the opportunity to discover how such a good girl ended up in the hoosegow. It turns out, it’s because of a man. (Isn’t it always?)

Steve (Hugh Beaumont) enters Julie’s life as a helpful cabbie who saves her from the creep who took her out one night and expected a $16.43 dinner (not including the tip!) entitled him to take certain liberties with her. But as it turns out, Steve isn’t exactly the white knight he seems to be at first glance. In fact, he’s an homme fatale (deadly male) who’s about to ruin her life.

BTW, we immediately recognize Julie’s good girl status: she’s covered up to the neck in dress and wearing flats. Yep, the wardrobe lady played an important role, visually establishing Julie’s virtuous nature for the audience.

Julie’s living an unhappy existence, working at a diner and living with her elderly aunt–her only remaining relative. When Julie arrives home from her ordeal, we learn just what a nosey shrew her aunt is, and how Julie gave up going to college to come look after her.

So when a man comes along who seems ideal: charming, kind, and interested, Julie falls in love with him. But maybe it’s not so much in love as much as being in love with the idea of finally having a life of her own, of having a way of getting out from under her aunt’s control. And, thus, Julie’s real trouble begins, because just how well can you know someone who’s only been in your life a handful of weeks? It’s only after they secretly marry that Steve sheepishly admits he was married before, and the ideal life she imagined quickly dissolves into a nightmare.

Beaumont is shockingly good at playing a psychopath in this film. So good, you almost have to wonder what he was like in real life. (Spoiler alert: he was an ordained Methodist minister! Who knew?) Steve’s moods are like quicksilver, running from charming to frightening in a split second. Throughout the film he tells Julie, “What I have, I keep.” It’s more a threat than a confession of love…

My only beef with the ending is that during the climactic scene, Steve admits Julie had nothing to do with his plans; he’d married her in order to prevent her from testifying against him later. You’d think that admission would’ve exonerated her when she went on trial, but apparently it wasn’t enough.

Overall, this was a decent film, made better with Beaumont’s performance. A solid rating of 3.25 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs.

Next week our women of noir will feature the woman scorned and will showcase the movie “A Woman’s Vengeance.” This is one stellar film! You really, really, really need to watch it. Jessica Tandy is incredible in this!

As always, this is an open thread, so discuss whatever you like in the comments below.

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