Noirvember Day 9: The CMBA Fall Blogathon – Movies are Murder!

One of the many things I love about Twitter (and why I plan to hang around the platform for a long time to come) is the recommendations I’ve racked up for movies to add to my watchlist. Today’s post is about one of those films: The Scarlet Hour (1956). Earlier this month, one of my Twitter comrades, The Burgermeister, described the film thusly: “Double Indemnity & Too Late For Tears vibes w/this one. Unhappy wife and paramour overhear a planned heist and plan to rob the robbers. Husband suspects the affair and winds up following them to the heist. Entertaining.” I was immediately intrigued: Double Indemnity and Too Late for Tears vibes? Just try to keep me away! Luckily, I found the film on YouTube and just in time for the CMBA Fall Blogathon: Movies are Murder!

Besides The Burgermeister’s references to two of my favorite noirs, the film had several characteristics to recommend it. First off, it was directed by Michael Curtiz who, thanks to the book written by my pal Alan Rode, is fast becoming one of the directors I most esteem. (He helmed so many classic gems that it’s hard to comprehend, including Casablanca, Life With Father, The Proud Rebel, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, and such noirs as Mildred Pierce, The Breaking Point, The Unsuspected, and Flamingo Road.)

— Gregory, Curtiz, and Ohmart (and the makeup dude)

Another selling point was the robust supporting cast, which included Elaine Stritch, E.G. Marshall, James Gregory, who you might recognize as the luckless senator in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) or on TV’s Barney Miller, and David Lewis, who I know best from in The Apartment (1961) and the daytime soaper General Hospital, where he played patriarch Edward Quartermaine for 14 years. And finally, I was fascinated by the fact that four of the film’s performers were making their big screen debuts: the two stars – Carol Ohmart and Tom Tryon – and supporting cast members Stritch and Lewis. I don’t recall the last time I saw a movie that was the first one for so many of its actors, and certainly none where the top-billed performers both received the “Introducing” label. (Incidentally, you never see that anymore. I wonder when it stopped and why?) I’d never heard of Ohmart before, and I only knew Tom Tryon as a writer – two of his novels, The Other and Harvest Home, were fixtures on my mother’s bookshelf when I was growing up.

— A match made . . . somewhere.

As the film opens, we’re introduced to Pauline Nevins (Ohmart) and E.V. “Marsh” Marshall (Tryon), who are carrying on a hot and heavy affair. From what we can see, it boils down to Marsh schoolboyishly declaring his everlasting love and Pauline telling Marsh to light her cigarette. But anyway. They’re trysting in a woodsy area when three men arrive in a couple of cars and start discussing, in detail, a scheme to burglarize a nearby mansion of its cache of jewels. Marsh suggests that they contact the police, but Pauline quickly puts the kibosh on this idea: “Stop being a boy scout, Marsh,” she tells him. They don’t give a prize for it.”

It turns out that Pauline is married to the rich and physically abusive Ralph (James Gregory), who constantly (and, I might add, correctly) suspects his wife of stepping out on him. What he doesn’t know is that she snatched her current paramour, Marsh, from right under his nose – Marsh works for Ralph’s land development company as his right-hand man. Before long (due to a rather contrived circumstance involving a noisy bracelet Pauline always wears), Ralph figures out that Pauline and his boy Friday are doing the horizontal hokey pokey. To put an end to this entanglement, Ralph plans to take Pauline on an extended trip out of town, but she doesn’t care for this idea. Instead, she wants to go a permanent trip with Marsh – and she wants to fund this adventure with the jewels stolen from that mansion. (You remember – the eavesdropped conversation between the three bad guys in the woods?) “We heard every move they’re going to make for robbing the house,” Pauline tells Marsh. “We can take them by surprise. They wouldn’t have a chance. There’s nothing wrong about robbing thieves.” Of course, straitlaced Marsh is reluctant, to say the least. Three guesses as to whether he eventually gives in, and the first two don’t count.

— Stritch was a standout as Pauline’s BFF.

Although Ohmart actually looks like Barbara Stanwyck in certain angles, The Scarlet Hour is certainly no Double Indemnity (but Pauline and Marsh do rendezvous in a record store in one scene, which is more than vaguely reminiscent of the grocery store meetups between Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff). Overall, The Scarlet Hour moves along at a good clip, it sometimes borders on the pleasantly campy, and there’s never a dull moment. Neither Ohmart nor Tryon are any great shakes in the acting department, but Stritch is always entertaining; she plays Pauline’s loyal and salt-of-the-earth best friend who keeps insisting that her short, balding and much-beloved husband is not a plumber but a “plumbing fixture contractor.” David Lewis, as the mastermind of the jewel robbery, walks with a cane, wears a derby and a bow tie, and addresses his partners in crime as “gentlemen.” And, for some reason, Nat “King” Cole shows up in the middle of the movie to sing in a nightclub. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – there’s a wholly unexpected plot twist and, more importantly, a murder. I’ll let you find out for yourself who gets it and how.

Given all these qualities, I recommend that you give The Scarlet Hour a whirl – it’s satisfyingly noirish and definitely worth your time (no pun intended). And in the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the movie – all spoken by Pauline:

“I’m scared silly. But it’s a funny kind of scared. I think I’m actually enjoying it.”

“You’re not taking me anywhere! If I were dead, you couldn’t take me to the morgue.”

“Don’t you give me that holy stuff. What are you, some kind of a martyr? You’re just as guilty as I am!”

That’s all she wrote, y’all. Before you go, please click here to read the other murderously good entries in the CMBA Fall Blogathon!

You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 8, 2022.

16 Responses to “Noirvember Day 9: The CMBA Fall Blogathon – Movies are Murder!”

  1. Never heard of this film, but I now want to see it. Excel

  2. What a wonderful post. For some reason those 1950s goodies seem to get lost in the shuffle. This sounds like an interesting film. Many thanks for pointing us in its direction.

    • So tragically true! I legit got into a full-blown argument once with some joker who declared that anything made after 1952 didn’t count as noir. Oh, the humanity!

  3. You had me at “Double Indemnity & Too Late For Tears.”

    I just rewatched the latter on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. Every time I see that beautifully restored print, I light a mental candle for Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation.

    And baby Elaine Stritch! I’ve seen the HBO doc of her one-woman show more times than Lizabeth Scott double-crossed some sap in the movies!

  4. I’ve seen The Scarlet Hour described as the last classic Noir. Not too far off. It has that in common with the much better The Big Combo. Both movies are throwbacks, straight-up 40s Noirs made in the 50s.

    Icy but smoldering Carol Ohmart is far and away the best thing about the film. She was made for femme fatale roles, unfortunately for her she came on to the scene a bit late while the Noir cycle was coming to an end.

    She was mostly a TV actress and I’ve seen her in a couple of 77 Sunset Strip episodes where she vamped it up beautifully.

    • Interesting that this film has been described as the last classic noir! I’ve seen the movie a few more times and Carol Ohmart is growing on me. I’d like to see her in other performances — maybe I can find her on 77 Sunset Strip.

  5. This one is 100% unknown to/unheard of by me. Tom Tryon and Elaine Stritch in a B-noir. Huh. I do remember the man as an actor way back when..and I love her. I’d watch this just for her. Thanks for a great read and another addition to my watch list, Karen.

    • Elaine Stritch is definitely the best thing about the movie. Carol Ohmart is interesting, too, if a bit one-note. But that’s due to the writing, I suppose. Thank you for reading and commenting, Patty!

  6. “If I were dead, you couldn’t take me to the morgue.” With lines like that (AND Elaine Stritch as part of the cast), this is a Must See for me.

  7. such timing, I bookmarked this movie on YT last week and just now found your post! It’s a sign

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