Friday, October 2, 2009

Cornered (1945)

Dick Powell started his career as a juvenile lead in the classic early 1930s Warner Brothers musicals such as 42nd Street. By the mid-40s he was getting much too old for such roles and tried to reinvent himself as a hardboiled actor in crime ovies. He had some success with this in 1944 with Murder, My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely) and directed by Edward Dmytryk. Cornered in 1945, also helmed by Dmytryk, was his second such role, but the film is much less successful and Powell’s performance is much less convincing.

Powell plays Laurence Gerard, a Canadian pilot who had been shot down over occupied France during the war. Agents of the French Resistance had helped him escape back to England, and he had fallen in love with and married one of them. She was later rounded up with other Resistance fighters and shot by the Germans. When the war ends Gerard is determined to find out who betrayed his young wife, and returns to France looking for answers. He learns that a French collaborator named Marcel Jarnac was responsible, and sets out to track him down. The trail leads him to Argentina.

I was a little surprised that a movie made so soon after the end of the war should concern itself with conspiracy theories about ex-nazis on the run in South America. Many of the people involved in making the film were later blacklisted, and it does have a very strident anti-fascist tone.

Unfortunately the plot is over-complicated and relies too much on coincidence. Powell is deadly dull. I guess he was trying to appear burnt out by the war, but it’s difficult to care much about his character. Thee are a couple of entertaining turns by members of the supporting cast, especially Walter Slezak as a mysterious and ambiguous figure who both helps and hinders Gerard’s investigation.

It’s a surprisingly brutal movie, especially the scene in which Gerard finally encounters Jarnac. Overall it’s reasonable entertainment if you enjoy 1940s B-movies with a hint of film noir. Worth catching if it shows up on cable, but not really worth a purchase.

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