Tension is missing it for the most part. Half a good movie is there in the 95-minute running time, but the second half limps to the finish with plot holes you could drive a school bus through, and some stupid decisions that no real person could or would ever make. Other than that? It's a decent movie.
There were times early on in this 1949 that I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock's stories revolving around murder, deception and intrigue, especially classics like Dial M For Murder or Strangers on a Train. It keeps you guessing even when you have a sense of where it's going, and when you think you have everything figured out it throws you for a loop. But that is just the build-up to the actual twist because once it is revealed things start to fall apart, especially the ending.
Working long hours and odd shifts at a 24-hour pharmacy, meek, quiet pharmacist Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is doing everything he can to make his wandering wife, Claire (Audrey Totter), happy. No matter what Warren does though, Claire always ends up with another man, but Warren loves her too much and looks past every single one of her flaws so that he can still be with her. Finally, he's had enough though when he sees her with another man as she basically rubs it in his face. He comes up with a plan to murder the man and goes as far as creating a man out of thin air who will be pointed to as the murderer. Everything starts to come together, and it looks like the plan is going to work until Claire shoots the man instead, turning to Warren for help. Now the police are involved, and the evidence looks like it points to Warren.
The movie derails during the scene where Claire shows back up on Warren's doorstep, basically begging him to take her back. Warren has moved on, even starting to see a woman (Cyd Charisse) he meets when setting up this fake life. On a sidenote, what did Warren think was going to become of this relationship? At some point I'm guessing he'd have to come clean. Anyways, back to the story once Barry Sullivan and William Conrad show up as the bumbling yet still competent cops investigating the murder. Through all their idiotic actions, a picture of Warren in his alternate life is given to them, and they don't IMMEDIATELY recognize him. Now that's just good police work in my opinion. It gets better as they manipulate everyone involved to basically giving themselves up.
This keeps building and building as Warren and Charisse's Mary continue to meet, Sullivan's detective sees them and does nothing. Then after a whole movie of Totter's Claire being perfectly calm through all the ups and downs, she falls apart and does the stupidest thing possible; I'm assuming because they needed to wrap everything up, and the movie was getting a little long in the tooth. Sullivan's cop reveals a twist in the ending that if I understood it right, cancels everything out that just happened, making the confession he just got completely false. Who knows though? By then I could have been drifting in and out of the story. It's a film noir, and it's obvious who is or isn't going to pay. Basehart planned a murder but never actually killed someone. This movie is not going to kill off or send its most sympathetic character to jail.
Basehart is an underrated actor to begin with, and this is a part that gives him two roles to play. His Warren Quimby is a quiet man who goes about his job and work without ruffling any feathers. At some point in his past, he might have been more forthcoming and outgoing because he won Claire over, but he's just not the same anymore. His alter-ego is everything he wishes he could be, confident, cool and smooth. When the chips are down and his perfect plan hits the fan, he goes back to being skittish Warren who gets easily rattled. A solid performance(s) that rises above the often very dull story. Totter too is a scene-stealer, the femme fatale film noirs became known for.
Tension <---trailer (1949): **/****