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No Man of Her Own (DVD Review)

26 Mar, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/27/12
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, John Lund, Jane Cowl, Lyle Bettger.

Four or five years before he showed up atypically as a good guy in the short-lived TV series inspired by Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Court of Last Resort writings (talk about casting that confused me as a kid) Lyle Bettger was a key factor in the first movie scene that ever made a huge impression on me. The blond actor with the slightly raspy voice played the creep whose convertible gets tiddly-winked by a chugging train in the payoff scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 Oscar winner The Greatest Show on Earth — significantly in part because his character is driving the car down the tracks at the time. (I think they take 20 points off your state-run driver’s test for that one.)

Along with Lawrence Tierney, Bettger was the movie’s main heavy, which was his specialty. In fact, the actor had such a conditioned-response relationship  going with audiences that all he had to do was show up on screen for people to think, “no good can come of this.” And this is our reaction almost from the get-go in this polished romantic suspense film with occasional noir elements, adapted from a Cornell (Rear Window) Woolrich story. We see Barbara Stanwyck pounding on Bettger’s apartment door (sub-category: crummy) trying to get his attention because she is carrying his child. He is mum inside, accompanied by what used to be called a chippie.

Paramount was a great studio for Stanwyck from the mid-‘40s through 1950 — and leaving aside one Technicolor Western and one indifferent comedy, her lineup there included Double Indemnity (Oscar nomination), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Sorry, Wrong Number (Oscar nomination), The File on Thelma Jordon, The Furies and this — good movies all. Her character here is probably the most sympathetic of the sextet’s bunch: pregnant, unmarried, no money and no prospects — only a train ticket Bettger finally shoves under the door. Befriending an also-expecting couple on the journey, Stanwyck learns just enough about them (in screenplay exchanges that make sense, as opposed to seeming contrived) to make her willing to go along with universal assumptions that she’s the other woman after the train wrecks and kills the couple.

Stanwyck’s weary duplicity is all for her baby’s sake (she is no money-grubber herself) when the latter’s nicely-heeled in-laws, who had never met their son’s wife, take her in under the same assumption. Might not their also dead son have mailed, say, a photo from the overseas wedding ceremony? Yeah, probably — but this is one of those movies where you go with the flow. Bettger, once he two-and-two’s the situation, does the same — and happily. Suddenly, here he is at the local country club dance hatching a blackmail plot when Stanwyck is there with the brother of the deceased (John Lund), for whom she is falling.

Hit-and-miss director Mitchell Leisen, who could be quite capable when he hit, handles the action very well, and the yarn (which rates a pretty decent print here) plays much better than it sounds. Adapting Woolrich (who wrote the source novel as William Irish) were a couple name screenwriters: Sally Benson (famed for creating the original Meet Me in St. Louis short stories) and Catherine Turney (Roughly Speaking, Stanwyck’s My Reputation and The Man I Love, three gems at mid-‘40s Warner Bros.).

At this point, Lund’s career (like Leisen’s) was already on the downside after an initial studio build-up — yet he will always be beloved by me for a performance   that almost anticipated the screen persona of Jerry Lewis, whose national career launched at almost the same time. This is when Lund played a Hollywood stuntman hired to impersonate imbecilic Schuyler Tatlock in the pitch-black Miss Tatlock’s Millions, easily my favorite ‘40s comedy not directed by Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges or Chaplin. Rounding out Man’s cast (as the Stanwyck mother-in-law who, of course, really isn’t) is stage actress/playwright Jane Cowl — who, by the time she began to get consistent movie work just before this movie, was dying of cancer.

Just when the picture throws out a hint or two that it might begin to sag, the Bettger reappearance gooses the dynamics, and the final give-take 40 minutes are the movie’s strongest (Stanwyck really knew how to convey personal misery). She and Bettger would have another go of it just three years later when he got cast as the former lover who causes her career-sagged stage actress a lot of family trouble in a personal favorite of mine: Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire, which Universal included on its Stanwyck box set a few years back. 

About the Author: Mike Clark

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