It's Mother's Day, so maybe it's appropriate I review a movie with one of my mother's favourite actresses, Lucille Ball. My mother's had a lifelong obsession with I Love Lucy so I've been familiar enough with Ball from childhood to always make me feel a little odd when I see her in a film from before her hit television series. I've seen her in several musicals now, including all the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies she appeared in as well as the wartime musical comedy Best Foot Forward. But I'd never seen anything so different from her famous television work than 1946's The Dark Corner, a mediocre film noir with a few rewarding qualities.
Ball plays Kathleen, secretary for a private detective whose name, Bradford Galt, almost adequately conveys how dull he is. He's played by a whiney and unconvincing Mark Stevens and, despite being the clear star of the film, he gets fourth billing. It's better than he deserves.
Ball herself is fine as the secretary. Not really playing for laughs, she has the steel and the implicit quality of intellect most good comedians seem to possess. It's actually kind of an interesting reversal of type--instead of the whiney dame you don't understand why the brilliant guy is falling for, you have the whiney guy you don't understand why the brilliant dame is falling for.
Even the villain's henchman, played by William Bendix, is billed above Stevens and gives a more interesting performance. The villain, with second billing, is played by Clifton Webb, familiar to fans of 1944's Laura, one of the greatest films noir of all time, as Waldo Lydecker.
Here he plays a similar character, an aristocratic wit who thinks he's won the affection of a beautiful woman he desires when he's really only bought her compliance. But unlike in Laura, The Dark Corner fails in precisely the way films noir were generally remarkable in succeeding: it provides no insight or depth for the bad guy. Maybe Galt's whining is supposed to provide that, giving his detective a gritty complexity, but Stevens' performance ruins any chance of that happening.
Visually, The Dark Corner is one of the most noir films noir I've seen, Joseph MacDonald's cinematography hiding two thirds of this turkey in attractive darkness.
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