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Friday, 6 December 2013

Classic Film Review: The Velvet Touch (1948)

The Velvet Touch stars Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton, a Broadway star who wants to break from her long-term partnership with director Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) because she wants to star in a serious play and she's also fallen in love with Michael Morrell (Leo Genn). Dunning is unwilling to let her go and she accidentally kills him when he threatens to make up lies to tell Morrell to split them up. A flashback sequence shows how they got to that point and then the police investigation starts up. The primary suspect is the woman who truly loved Dunning, Marian Webster (Claire Trevor). She found the body and picked up the murder weapon but she's in a catatonic state. What will happen when she comes round?

I thought this was an excellent film. There were a few shaky moments acting-wise but Leon Ames played the villain to perfection, giving Valerie every reason to attack him in the opening scene. The moments that follow that, as Valerie makes her way back to her dressing room in a daze are exceptional. Russell plays that entire sequence perfectly and really, from then on, she's completely absorbing. She battles with her guilt and her fear but ultimately uses her acting skills to good effect to keep the truth under wraps. However, she may have underestimated Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable police detective who adores the theatre and investigates the case.

There are some brilliant scenes that have stayed with me. The hospital confrontation between Valerie and Marian - and Valerie's subsequent breakdown in Captain Danbury's office - is tense, with Claire Trevor giving a very good performance throughout the film but especially in this scene. Really, though, this film is Russell's alone and she makes good use of it. The final sequence of her opening night in Hedda Gabler builds to a climax where you're unsure what the outcome will be. Ultimately, I think the ending worked but the alternate scenario would have been equally as good.

Highly recommended. It's a psychological thriller that leaves you wondering when Valerie will finally break - because break she must.

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