File on Thelma Jordon, The (Blu-ray Review)17 Jun, 2013 By: Mike Clark
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly, Joan Tetzel.
The black-and-white dramas Hal Wallis produced for Paramount in the postwar ‘40s and early ‘50s always had their own look and feel to them, and sub-dividing this, so, especially, did the Wallis-Barbara Stanwyck noirs. The latter beak down into perpetual entertainments The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Sorry, Wrong Number, and this relatively obscure entry — to say nothing of the Wallis-Anthony Mann noir-ish Western The Furies (subject of superb Criterion treatment in 2008) and the non-Wallis No Man of Her Own, a Cornell Woolrich noir jewel that Olive Films brought out in 2012 to major acclaim.
The jumping-off point here was, of course, Billy Wilder’s landmark Double Indemnity from 1944, which decked out Stanwyck in a blonde wig and altered a screen image that morphed time and again over a killer five-decade career (think 1930s showgirls and ladies of leisure to that strikingly gray matriarch of “The Big Valley,” a popular TV Western that began its run after Stanwyck even co-starred in Roustabout, an Elvis movie whose soundtrack LP went to Billboard’s No. 1. In Indemnity, Stanwyck remains unforgettable as the worst client an insurance agent ever had until Bob Hope sold a policy to you-know-who in Alias Jesse James — it a comedy in which Jesse was played by Wendell Corey, the Thelma assistant district attorney taken for a ride by a woman who turns out to be as about as trustworthy as the Indemnity’s instigator of homicide. Both of these women have tendencies to get caught in lies and then concoct so-called explanations that feel like transparent bull. Yet momentarily, they convince enough for the person on the other end to swallow and say, “well, all right” until her next unlikely whopper.
In Thelma’s case, Stanwyck shows up at police headquarters to warn of a possible future intruder who may be casing the house of an elderly aunt who’s loaded with jewels. Almost immediately, we sense that this may be a smokescreen for a future inside heist by Babs herself — but Corey’s on-the-scene assistant D.A. (political ambition is a major part of the subtext here) is doubly vulnerable because a) he’s alcoholically hammered; and b) has an emasculating father-in-law who makes married life a drag. In fact, he’s hammered because of his marriage.
As part of some lengthy exposition that takes a little too long to sprout, Stanwyck pulls Corey into her web, and soon they’re sneaking around in ways almost certain to get them noticed by someone around town at one time or another. Soon the robbery takes place, and it all gets rather sticky — starting with another guy (in movies like this, there is always another guy) whose relationship with Stanwyck isn’t too savory. Eventually, the movie turns into a better-than-middling courtroom drama, thanks to a smoothie performance by Stanley Ridges (an actor I always liked) as a warily seen-it-all defense attorney — plus the intriguing prospect of a prosecutor forcing himself to be off his game in ways that can’t be called career-friendly.
This is probably the least of the Paramount Stanwyck noirs I mentioned earlier, but a lot of that is due to the fact that the others are so good — while this one is essentially a pro job in the Robert Siodmak noir canon when he was at very least a co-owner of the noir ’40s (actually, Thelma scrapes through as a ’50s release, given its Jan 18, 1950 opening date). Per usual, Olive hasn’t done anything special with the printing material, and there’s occasional speckling and even infrequent projector buzz. But by and large, the Paramount library titles have always been in pretty fair shape (I ran a zillion 35mm studio prints when I was a programmer), so this rendering is about as good as we’re likely to get. There was never even a Thelma VHS, so this one’s way overdue in getting a home release.