(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “The Unfaithful”

Incoming Day. Photo by Emanuele Toscano.

Today’s film is 1947’s “The Unfaithful,” starring Ann Sheridan (Christine “Chris” Hunter), Lew Ayres (Larry Hannaford), Zachary Scott (Bob Hunter), Eve Arden (Paula), Jerome Cowen (Prosecuting Attorney), Steven Geray (Martin Barrow), John Hoyt (Det. Lt. Reynolds), Marta Mitrovich (Mrs. Tanner), Peggy Knudson (Claire), Douglas Kennedy (Roger), and Claire Mead (Martha). Directed by Vincent Sherman; cinematography by Ernest Haller. Produced by Jerry Wald for Warner Bros. Studios. Screenplay by David Goodis and James Gunn; from the play “The Letter,” by W. Somerset Maugham (uncredited).

This film is a reworking of the 1940 Bette Davis vehicle “The Letter,” but they changed enough of the plot to feel like they could get away with not crediting W. Somerset Maugham. After having seen both, I agree that this story is different enough to stand on its own, rather than be seen as a remake.

Even though this was a B-picture for a big studio like Warner Bros., there’s nothing cheap or second-rate here.

Here’s the trailer:

The film was billed as a woman’s picture, which you can certainly see from that trailer; but it’s also a noir, in that Chris makes one bad choice after another, and it takes quite a while before she finally tells her attorney, her husband, and us the whole story of her shame.

Eddie Muller, host of TCM’s Noir Alley, kept mentioning and comparing this to “Mildred Pierce,” since Sheridan turned down the titular role in that film, but also because both stories are about infidelity and murder. (Or was it justifiable homicide?) To be honest, I prefer this film to MP, since the story itself is far more relatable and “real” than MP ever seemed to me. What sets “The Unfaithful” apart from most stories about war brides who end up cheating on their husbands while they’re off fighting is that–while those actions aren’t excused–they are explained in a way that demonstrates that soldier husband and stateside wife are both victims of circumstance and human frailty.

Another shift from “The Letter” to “The Unfaithful” is that in the former, Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) isn’t really all that likeable; and as the story unfolds, we see she is, indeed, guilty of murdering her lover because he tries to end things with her. Whereas here, the obsessive lover is Michael Tanner, not Chris, who has tried to make it clear to Tanner that she doesn’t love him and wants him out of her life.

All in all, a solidly good film. The acting was just right; there was even a bit of subtext going on between Chris and her attorney which caused her husband to momentarily wonder about the two of them and just how close they got while he was off fighting the war.

I give it 4 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs. (Could be a bit more noir-ish…)

Next week is Spanish film, “Death of a Cyclist.”

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