Saturday, December 4, 2010

No Man Of Her Own (1950)

There's something about the first winter chill and black and white celluloid slush that crackles like firewood. As I've been putting off turning on the heat in my apartment for as long as possible it was nice to warm my hands a bit with No Man Of Her Own (1950), a film I've been dying to see as a card carrying Stanwyckphile. Bless you, Netflix, for making it available on instant.

For those experiencing deja vu the feeling is justified, as the film takes its name but none of its plot from a 1932 version starring the then indifferent at best platonic Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

Image Credits here and here

This later version stars Barbara Stanwyck (Helen Ferguson/Patrice Harkness) as a woman spurned by her lover and left penniless and pregnant. His 'parting gift' to her? A $5 bill and a train ticket. Classy. On the train she is shown real kindess by a young married couple who die when the train crashes as abruptly as the transition in this sentence. In a twist of fate Stanwyck is taken to the hospital wearing the young woman's wedding ring (because cold cream and wedding rings don't mix) and it is assumed that she is the young bride. As the family has never met her (living abroad cures so many ills) or seen her (apparently photographs hadn't been invented by 1950) she goes along with the charade to give her child a name, choosing to live a lie despite guilt over the complete kindness and trust of her new family. But for Helen there is no escaping the past.

This film marks the second time Mitchell Liesen had to direct Stanwyck as a woman with a past (the first being Remember the Night) the latter mixing sparse Christmas cheer with melodrama and murder.

Stanwcyk and holiday cheer in Chrstimas in Connecticut vs. a despairing Stanwyck in No Man of Her Own

The great performances are given guidance by a fantastic script. Its basis in a novel "I Married a Dead Man" is probably where the film gets its overuse of voiceover in the beginning and end of the film, but more important is its attention to character details. A shot of the deadbeat boyfriend deciding against giving Stanwyck more than a $5 bill out of his wallet, then an inconsolable Stanwyck leaving the money on the floor says a thousand words. It is also a compelling film because of its genre mixing. What starts as straight melodrama turns to who-done-it with aspects of the plot that seemed small paying off till the very end in unexpected ways. While some of the turns are a bit unbelievable critiquing a melodrama for its realism is like asking how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood so I'll let those plot points pass.

Definitely recommended for a cold winters night.

2 comments:

  1. I saw this film a few weeks ago for the first time...it was great, my #10 in my top 10 movies directed by Mitchell Leisen. The scene you mentioned, in which Stanwyck's character, pregnant and exhausted, asks the cold father of her child for help is so intense and heartbreaking.

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  2. It really is an amazing scene! this film was definitely a pleasant surprise for me.

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