My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched TENSION (1949) yesterday. It was the first time for both of us to experience this wire taut film noir.
Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a milquetoast pharmacist with a very bad wife, Claire (Audrey Totter). She's the classic film noir femme fatale, a woman who openly and flagrantly cheats on her husband. Claire takes up with wealthy businessman Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). The cuckolded Quimby decides to murder Deager but in order to do so, he creates a false identity, "Paul Southern". His plan is to kill Deager as Southern and then have the non-existent Southern disappear forever.
To pull off the deceit, Quimby gets contact lenses to replace his wire rim glasses (shades of Clark Kent!). He rents an apartment under the Southern name, explaining that he's a traveling salesman and will only use the apartment on the weekends. But he meets an attractive neighbor, Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse) and they start to fall in love.
Quimby goes to Daeger's beach house at night to kill him but finds he cannot do it. He decides that living with the rotten and corrupt Claire is punishment enough for the man. Relieved of his anger, and free of his cheating wife, Quimby is ready to start a new life with Mary.
But someone does kill Daeger and all of the evidence points towards "Paul Southern". Enter a pair of police detectives, Lt. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) and Lt. Edgar Gonsales (William Conrad). They can't find Southern or the murder weapon but an unexpected turn of events points the finger of suspicion at Quimby. Bonnabel starts romancing Claire in order to try and get the goods on her husband. The cops aren't totally crooked but they do use some questionable tactics to solve the case.
TENSION is a first rate film noir. It's a classic exercise in suspense where a man finds himself hopelessly trapped in a spiraling series of circumstances, many of which are of his own creation. Basehart is good as the mild mannered Quimby while Totter drips venom in every scene. She's a very, very bad girl. Charisse is solid as is Sullivan but I got the biggest kick out of watching Conrad. He was always one of my favorite actors, whether playing good guys or bad.
Directed by John Berry from a screenplay by Allen Rivkin (based on a story by John D. Klorer), TENSION moves along at a good clip. The cinematography by Harry Stradling is appropriately moody and atmospheric and there are several scenes shot on location in Los Angles that really add to the realism of the film.
If you're a film noir fan, check out TENSION. I guarantee you'l enjoy it. Thumbs up.