Tension (1949) film thoughts… I went into this one with absolutely no expectations and came away with one of my favorite film noirs. Richard Basehart plays probably the most cuckold man in cinema history. He runs a old fashioned pharmacy/soda shop and watches his wife each day leave with another man. She constantly makes demands on him and no matter all his efforts, she keeps putting him down. One day, she finds a real “winner” and actually leaves to shack up with him. Basehart goes to confront this guy and gets his ass kicked in front of his wife. It’s pretty much the straw that breaks the camels back as he puts together a plan to create a new identity for himself and plots to murder the guy, in the hopes of getting his wife back. There is a fly in the ointment, while under his secret identity, he meets a beautiful and fun woman more his speed. It all goes downhill from there.
Seriously, the film is just top notch from the acting, pacing, writing and visuals. I love the scenes in the pharmacy, with it’s different departments and hands on customer service. The head detective, played by Barry Sullivan, is so freaking sleazy being on both sides of the fence. The scenes with him and William Conrad are excellent. I don’t think I have seen Audrey Totter in a film before, but I need to see more, she play the “witch/bitch” role well. Also, loved Cyd Charisse, her opening scene was great, in a shot you don’t normally see in films like this.
Don’t want to say too much else. Experience this one for yourself, it’s a keeper.
and now DOUBLE THE “TENSION” with Michael’s review…
This MGM release, directed by John Berry, has a terrific opening. Police Lt. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan), standing outside of his office, looks at the camera and tells us how he solves a murder. He says he likes to keep questioning a suspect until they break from the tension. To emphasize his point, Bonnabel is playing with a rubber band, pulling it tighter and tighter, until it’s ready to snap. Then we see the film’s title, jammed into our faces.
Bonnabel continues as the narrator of the story. We are taken to an all-night drugstore in Los Angeles where we are introduced to Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart), the night manager who works long hours. Quimby is a mild mannered man who wants to save enough money to by a house for his beautiful wife, Claire (Audrey Totter), whom he adores. The couple lives in a modest apartment over the store. Claire treats her husband coldly and openly flirts with other men when she comes into the drugstore, even allowing herself to get picked up. One morning Warren comes home to find her packing her clothes, announcing that she’s leaving him to go and live with a wealthy acquaintance, Barney Daeger (Lloyd Gough). Warren begs her not to leave, but she tells him she’s finally found what she wants and she’s going to get it.
Warren is lost without Claire and eventually goes to Daeger’s beach house to plead with her to come back. Daeger beats Warren, knocking him down into the sand in front of Claire. Warren’s glasses get broken in the fight, so he goes to an optometrist for new ones. While there, he sees an advertisement for contact lenses. The doctor tells him they could change his life and make him feel like a new man. Warren decides to get revenge by planning to kill Daeger. He gets the contact lenses and changes his style of dress. He adopts a whole new persona and takes on a new name, Paul Sothern. He rents an apartment. He begins calling Daeger’s home, leaving threatening messages and calling himself Paul Sothern. His plan is to kill Daeger and make Sothern the prime suspect. Then Sothern will disappear without a trace and Quimby will be in the clear. His plan becomes more complicated when he becomes attracted to his new neighbor, Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse), a lovely woman who treats him with the kind of affection and consideration he never received from his wife. When he finally goes to Daeger’s house to kill him, he changes his mind, realizing that Claire isn’t worth it, and that he’s enjoying his new life as Paul Sothern. But Daeger ends up dead anyway. And Warren Quimby’s deception begins to unravel when the case is being investigated by Bonnabel and his assistant, Lt. Edgar Gonsales (William Conrad).
Practically all of the known conventions of Film Noir are thrown into this enjoyable, involving mystery thriller. The Femme Fatale role is played expertly by Audrey Totter, a beautiful blonde MGM contract actress. Totter had an unusually hard, cold look about her, as if she were staring with contempt at the whole world. And she had a body to die for, shown off stunningly by the sexy wardrobe she’s given to wear. The music score by Andre Previn even provides Claire with her own theme. Every time we see her enter a scene we hear a wailing, sensuous saxophone. It’s almost as though the film is presenting her as a showgirl walking across a stage. You just know this dame is no good.
Warren Quimby’s use of an alter ego is another well used Noir plot point. Quimby is such a nice, gentle guy. And he’s obviously been wronged by his shrewish wife and her boyfriend. Therefore, the viewer is automatically on his side, even though he is plotting a murder. When he can’t go through with it, we feel as if our belief in him has been justified. What is fascinating about the story, and also one of it’s weak points, is how Warren changes so drastically after he starts wearing the contact lenses. In no time at all he truly appears to become a different person. He has more confidence and is at ease talking to women. he is also able to stand up to Daeger and Claire. Apparently, personalities can change very quickly in the Noir universe.
There’s another supporting character that adds a little twisted flavor to the film. Tom D’Andrea plays Freddie, the slightly over-the-hill soda jerk at Quimby’s drugstore. Freddie likes and respects his boss and resents Claires’ treatment of him. But he is just a little too close, to cloying around Warren. He even appears to be stalking him. Of course, this is 1950, so if there was any intention to show an attraction of one man toward another, it would have to be incredibly subtle. It’s a little difficult to figure Freddie out, but his inclusion in the story certainly adds interest. And D’Andrea is an affable actor and always a welcome face.
TENSION is put together with all of the available MGM gloss and standards of quality. The Black and White cinematography is beautifully done. The director made good use of LA locations and the drugstore setting is especially pleasing. One thing I always love about these Noirs from the 1940s and 1950s is the look of the cities with the neon lights that shine like jewels in the B & W landscape.
The film also makes good use of another MGM contract actress, Miss Cyd Charisse, one of the most talented dancers of the silver screen. only rarely was she given a chance at a straight dramatic part and she excels in the part of sympathetic Mary Chanler. Mary is the polar opposite of the icy Claire. As a film buff, I find it great fun to see the two actresses in their scenes together. A full on hair pulling bout would have been nice, but alas, it was not to be.
TENSION is a well worth seeing for anyone looking for a textbook example of classic Film Noir from the Golden Age of Hollywood.