Enlighten, Rs 399
Rating: *** 1/2
We can call this one a half-noir. A number of ingredients that typically go into film noir are there: everyone is a shade of grey (or have something to hide); there’s a beautiful damsel in distress (Gene Tierney as career woman Laura Hunt); and there’s a sprinkling of muscular dialogues (“Dames are always pulling a switch on you”). But it’s only half the deal essentially because this 1944 film is more of a twisty whodunit featuring several people with motives rather than a gritty encounter between an anti-hero and the rest of the universe. Also, there’s a class difference from the typical noir plot – this high-society drama features only one working-class person. Yet, with its long shadows, sharp editing, on-and-off first-person narrations and clipped one-liners, this classic has the unmistakable burnt whiff of a noir.
We follow the linear progression of a murder investigation, cutting in when detective Mark McPherson goes to quiz wealthy and popular columnist Waldo Lydecker on the murder of his good friend Laura. Was she just a “good friend” or something more? We don’t know immediately. We follow the tough-talking, cool-headed McPherson to meet the penniless playboy Shelby Carpenter, who was Laura’s fiancé, wealthy socialite Ann Treadmill, who seems interested in Shelby. The motives are apparent in two chamber sequences. As Laura emerges as a kind woman who was torn between personal priorities, Waldo comes across as a selfish man possessive about Laura, Shelby as a weakling who can easily swallow his pride, and Ann a scheming woman without illusions of righteousness. McPherson himself seems slightly taken in by the aura of Laura.
Even with the build of a rugby player, Dana Andrews is believable as detective McPherson. Waldo, played by the very Arun Shourie-ish Clifton Webb, is haughty. Vincent Price seems as spineless as Shelby needs to be. But it’s Tierney’s vulnerability that defines the noir. Oh, there we go again!