It’s a B-picture title to be sure but with Robert Siodmak and such an ensemble, this is an enticing noir all the same. The well-to-do Quincy family of small town America are an odd bunch, still holding onto their surname with pride as they slowly drift further and further into obscurity within the walls of their old mansion.
George Sanders is always a perennial favorite due to his dry wit and often snooty manner but here as Harry, we see him as all those things yet also trapped by his circumstances. Ella Raines, unfortunately, one of the often forgotten starlets of the 1940s, plays his savior in a sense and when she comes into his life there’s a chance to shake up all that is monotonous and stuffy about his existence.
Because he is constrained by his family name and a pair of sisters who rely on him continually for moral and emotional support. The eccentric Hester is always carrying an accusatory tone towards the housekeeper and getting bent out of shape about small trifles.
The dominating sister Letty, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, is more aloof in her ways, veiling everything with a conviction that what she does, she does for the good of her brother. But it’s all really due to the fact that she cannot bear to let him go. In this way, she’s constantly controlling his life and undermining his happiness. She’s hardly your typical femme fatale, more cultured and refined than most, but there’s still something exacting about her.
It’s when the tempered exterior and well-mannered formalities begin to crumble that her ulterior motives become more evident. Feigning illness just to keep him on a string and buying poison for some nefarious purpose. This unnerving dynamic between siblings becomes more tenuous for Harry, accentuated by the fact that Letty, as played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, is quite attractive.
As far as the ending, there could have been five different outcomes and the one chosen fits the expectations of the contemporary audiences and the censorship board. Frankly, the affability of Ella Raines makes me want to enjoy this denouement, but my appreciation for film-noir makes me realize that this story deserved a dark turn to hammer home a genuinely twisted little picture. Still, Robert Siodmak is time after time one of the most interesting craftsmen of film-noir big and small. So it is with this morsel. Above all, I gained a newfound appreciation for the noteworthy work of Fitzgerald in particular.