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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Classic Film Review: They Won't Believe Me (1947)

They Won't Believe Me is a film noir which stars Robert Young as Larry Ballantyne. When the film opens, Larry is on trial for the murder of his mistress Verna (Susan Hayward). He recounts to the jury his version of events, beginning with his relationship with his first mistress Janice (Jane Greer) and the way his wife Gretta (Rita Johnson) reacted to that. Larry's tale is unbelievable but his life hinges on it. Will the jury believe his version of events?

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. My first experience of Robert Young was in The Bride Walks Out (1936, reviewed here) and it was good to see him in a markedly different role. He gives a subtle performance as Larry - there's often a lot more going on in his face than you might originally notice. The scenes in the hospital, particularly, are demonstrative of that. Out of the three women, my favourite performance came from the relatively unknown Rita Johnson as Gretta Ballantyne. She simultaneously shows that she needs Larry's love desperately while manipulating him with her wealth. The most sympathetic woman of the three is supposed to be Janice, but even this is tricky because she planned to run away with Larry at one point. Janice's presence in the courtroom - and her status as a witness - necessitates her importance in the film as a whole and, in that sense, the character works. She also assists in showing a different side to Larry at the beginning of the film and the contrast between his relationship with her and his relationship with Verna is fascinating.

Ultimately, Larry suffers because he's unwilling to give up Gretta's money but he can't face a life on a lonely ranch with her. He's a selfish man but events do spiral out of his control in the end. However, sympathy for him has to be tempered by what he would've done if he'd had to - maybe he deserved to be on trial.

The Won't Believe Me is a suspenseful film that doesn't really seem to dip much. The last five minutes, especially, are brilliant with two twists that I didn't see coming. Overall, an excellent film.

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