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Movie Critique - They Won't Believe Me

Stars: 4 / 5

Recommendation: Plenty of twists and turns with enough mystery and death to warrant a film noir, despite the censors spoiled the ending, the film remained entertaining giving the viewers shock after shock after shock.

They Won't Believe Me is a 1947 American film noir directed by Irving Pichel and produced by Joan Harrison. The lead cast included Robert Young, Susan Hayward and Jane Greer among others. Screenplay provided by Jonathan Latimer to Gordon McDonell's story.

The film is told in the words of the protagonist Larry Ballentine (portrayed by Robert Young) at the murder trial where he is accused of killing his wife Gretta (portrayed by Rita Johnson) and his girl friend Verna Carlson (portrayed by Susan Hayward). He spins a fantastic tale that he killed neither of them, and the rest is left up to the jury. 

Joan Harrison who produced the film was Alfred Hitchcock's longtime assistant and collaborator. Clearly you can see how she influenced his work. Originally made has a 95 minute version, in 1957 it was re-released by RKO Radio Pictures with 80 minutes runtime. And that is the version I got to see on TCM.

Incidentally when TCM aired the movie recently, it was introduced by Christina Lane who is the author of a new book titled Phantom Lady, about the producer of this film, Joan Harrison. I am also watching a series called "Women Make Film", a documentary film shown in several episodes on TCM that focuses on women directors. I am surprised they didn’t include about women producers. If they had we would definitely see Harrison in the list too.

Joan worked with Hitchcock for a decade and was influential in many of his mystery and film noir that were hugely successful. She received Academy award nominations for co-writing the screenplay for 1940 Foreign Correspondent and 1940 Rebecca, both directed by Hitchcock again. Her first film as Producer was the 1944 Phantom Lady, after she went solo breaking ties with Hitchcock. 

Joan gives the viewers so much complexity with her characters and lot of depth to the plot. She has adultery; a marriage built on lies; confused crimes although there are deaths shown; and the eternal mystery - what is the crime? Who eventually committed? Is there a crime at all?

The narrator of the film is the primary character, Larry Ballentine, who is an unreliable narrator, suggesting he could be lying about everything. I recently re-watched the Hallmark Channel's Mysteries & Movies section, the 2019 film Mystery 101: Words Can Kill where the female protagonist, Amy Winslow, tells the exact same thing to the male protagonist, Travis Burke, citing Agatha Christie's 1926 detective fiction The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as the famous example. Very interesting coincidence for me!

Robert Young's Larry Ballentine is a charming rogue and a constant philandering stock broker, who has no qualms at using and throwing women away. He makes the viewers think that that is what women look for in men. I couldn’t place my finger on where I saw Robert Young already prior to this film. He looked so familiar. 

Contrary to the usual film noir, all the three female actors in the movie aren't femme fetale. In fact they are the ones destroyed by Larry Ballentine. You see his wife, Gretta (portrayed by Rita Johnson) who tries to give him every chance to redeem and have a successful marriage. You see his first other woman, Janice Bell (portrayed by Jane Greer) who is totally blindsided yet foolishly loves him till the end. And finally his other other woman Verna Carlson (portrayed by Susan Hayward) intentionally seduces him but unwittingly falls into his usual trap of leaving bleeding hearts behind.

The ending of the film came as a total surprise; and very very apt to the title. You will not believe it at all! After such a wonderful movie, it confused me why Joan Harrison ended that way. Christina Lane on TCM after the film explained that Harrison was facing issues with the censors and had troubles with the original ending, so she ended up morphing the way it was filmed. Definitely an odd ending for me for the several of film noir I have watched so far. 

Plenty of twists and turns with enough mystery and death to warrant a film noir, despite the censors spoiled the ending, the film remained entertaining giving the viewers shock after shock after shock. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Verna Carlson's house is the same one that was used in another film noir released that same year earlier by RKO, The Devil Thumbs a Ride.

b. Verna mentions about reading a poem in high school, something about gathering rosebuds while you can. I am guessing she is referring to the 1648 poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When Verna smacks on Larry's cheek, she does so hard that his head hits the corner of the car door and the roof edge. 

b. Verna and Larry are swimming in the lake, and Verna has her hair tucked inside a swimming cap. Clearly you can see that her hair on the forehead is wet. However, in the next scene when they are resting under the tree, her hair is all made up and styled in and well-set; while Larry's hair is all wet and tumbled. 

c. When Larry and Verna are hit with the truck in front of them, the windshield of their car cracks before the truck actually collides with them.

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