I love it when a woman gets to investigate a murder or a mystery, especially in noir films and this is one such movie. Intelligence goes above beauty or just hoping for the best in the justice system. The woman takes charge and soon enough becomes the protagonist of the film and it is so satisfying to watch.
Scott Henderson is a 32-year old engineer who has a fight with his wife and then, being miserable, goes out in to a bar. In the bar he meets a mysterious woman and the two decide to spend the evening together. When returning home Henderson finds Inspector Burgess is there waiting for him and he tells him that his wife is dead. Henderson tells them his alibi, that he was with a woman all through the evening, but when the police investigate everyone says that he was alone and that there was no woman with him. Henderson’s secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman believes he is innocent and with police Inspector Burgess and Jack Marlow begin to investigate the circumstances of the case and to find this mysterious woman.
Directed by Robert Siodmark, a German filmmaker who went to Hollywood in 1941, this film is seeped in the dark shadowy atmosphere of thriller noirs alike to those in Germany, reminisced of the silence that so domineered even after talkies came, since silence was what made the German silent movies so different. The silence is adhered to and when the jazzes almost Bacchanal frenzy starts it rouses you to the same thrills as the drummer playing it.
Our detective is Ella Reins as Carol “Kansas” Richman who has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in a black-and-white film. They light up like lightbulbs when an idea crosses her mind and become like water when she is sad. Her eyes keep us captured, but her performance is what makes us invested. She is the most interesting character in the film, while the others are supporting of her in her endeavour to free Henderson. There is a moment in the film when she has to change her manners and become what one could call a “loose woman” in order to find a clue and there is no judgement in her doing so as her motives is in the end love. But its still a shock and the way Ella Reins goes from being “Kansas”, this slightly uptight and reserved woman and have her believably become this “loose woman” for one night just shows her talent. In the end it might be a show if the fact that no woman is one thing or the other, she choose to be what society expects of her, but she can also transform in to something else. Reminding us that perhaps the same is the case of the mysterious woman.
The rest of the cast is fit with stock characters of the noir. Alan Curtis as Scott Henderson gives a restrained performance filled with nuance while Thomas Gomez as Inspector Burgess is both caring and casual, but not stupid. The one spark out of these is the Brazilian actress Aurora Miranda as Estela Monteiro, the dancer at the club with enough theatrics to keep to the realism on the film as well as to give some light to it as well with all the shadows brewing in the background.
This is a meticulously made film – though the script is flawed, but you hardly notice it. Some aspects are as blatant as day while others – like the motive – is what keeps you watching till the end. We are given hints, but when it all explodes in the end there is an artistry in the way it is shown. Casts of faces, of hands and the plain white background emphasises the horror of the situation. Less is more is the clear aesthetic and I am glad for it.
Thank you for reading!