Noirvember Day Two: They Won’t Believe Me (1947)
They Won’t Believe Me features enough twists and turns to satisfy any noir fan, a would-be sympathetic protagonist who’s really a heel, and standout performances from a trio of dames – Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson, and Jane Greer.
The film stars Robert Young, who was first introduced to me when I was around seven years old, as TV’s Marcus Welby, M.D. But in this underrated noir, Young is about as far from that kindly old doctor as he could be. Told in flashback, They Won’t Believe Me offers up the story of Larry Ballentine (Young), who is on trial for murder. As Larry takes the stand to tell his side of things, we are introduced to his rich, long-suffering wife, Greta (Johnson); an old girlfriend, Janice (Greer); and his most recent lover, Verna (Hayward), with whom Larry was running away – and who Larry is accused of murdering. The film takes us through Larry’s relationships with each of these women, and shows us how he came to be charged with Verna’s death. The film’s end coincides with the trial’s conclusion and the final verdict, in a scene that you’ll just have to see to believe!
They Won’t Believe Me was produced by Alfred Hitchcock’s longtime collaborator, Joan Harrison. Continuing the Hitchcock connection, the film was based on a story by Gordon McDonnell, whose screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt was nominated for an Academy Award four years earlier. The screenplay for the film was penned by Jonathan Latimer, who was responsible for the writing on a number of other noirs, including The Glass Key (1942) and The Big Clock (1948). The film was directed by Irving Pichel, who later helmed the Mickey Rooney noir, Quicksand (1950), and began his career as an actor, appearing in a variety of films, including An American Tragedy (1931), Jezebel (1937), and Juarez (1939). He was also seen as an extra in They Won’t Believe Me.
Although They Won’t Believe Me is not often included on lists of top films noirs – even my own – it’s one of those noirs that I’ve seen several times, and enjoyed on each occasion. The characters are unusually well drawn – you feel sorry for Larry Ballentine’s plight, but you can’t deny that he’s a remorseless skirt-chaser whose only beef with his wife seems to be that she lacks the sexy sophistication of Jane Greer’s character or the self-confident sensuality of Susan Hayward’s. And the three principal female characters offer depth as well, each evoking feelings in the viewer of disapproval coupled with compassion. Pichel’s direction is nimble and tension-filled, creating a suitable noirish sensation of impending doom – the audience may not know what’s coming, but we know it’s bound to be nothing good.
To round out today’s look at They Won’t Believe Me, help yourself to some trivia tidbits about each of the principal players in the cast:
Robert Young married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth, in 1933. They had four daughters and remained married until Elizabeth’s death in 1994.
Susan Hayward portrayed an alcoholic in three films – Smash-Up: The Story of A Woman (1947), My Foolish Heart (1949), and I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955). She was nominated for an Academy Award for each performance.
At the age of 15, Jane Greer was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, which temporarily paralyzed the left side of her face.
Rita Johnson’s film career was nearly ended in 1948 after a freak accident (reportedly, a hair dryer fell on her head) that required brain surgery to remove a blood clot. The doctor who initially examined her noted a number of old bruises on various parts of her body. Detectives investigating the injuries determined that they were accidental, but rumors persisted that the actress was romantically involved with a gangster who had beaten her, and that the old bruises had been caused by previous assaults. She appeared in only four movies after the incident and died in 1965 from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 52.
Joan me tomorrow for Day Three of Noirvember!