Saturday, September 05, 2009

Movie: Manhandled (1949)

In the annals of film noir, surely no actress has made a greater impression than ... Dorothy Lamour?!?

Hope and Crosby would be shocked to find Dottie on The Road to Ruin in this not-on-video rarity. Alan Napier, Alfred the Butler on TV’s Batman, looms Easter Island-like over the rest of the cast as a writer – the right kind, he thinks, not one of those blasted pulpsters – plagued by recurring dreams in which he murders his jewelry-bedecked unfaithful wife. He visits the office of a psychiatrist, where Dottie works, to figure out what these dreams might mean. Guess what happens next.

Manhandled is the Patient Zero in an epidemic that has infected many contemporary thrillers. It suffers from ELS: Everybody’s Lying Syndrome. No one in this movie is on the level with the exception of Sterling Hayden, who turns up half an hour in as an insurance investigator (and is the only person who comes close to Napier in the height department). Even our Dottie stretches the truth to the breaking point. Once you realize you can’t trust any aspect of the story, the whole enterprise starts to feel insubstantial.

In another ahead-of-its-time trope, each supporting player is given a specific bit of business to define his character, which is promptly run into the ground. This does, however, set up one of the lamest comic closing scenes in film history. Oh, and the cops behave like idiots throughout.

So why did I like this movie? Two words: Dan Duryea. Sporting an unholy combination of loud bowtie, dark shirt and sweater vest, he’s at his sleazy best playing a shady-cop-turned-shamus. (And yes, he slaps Dorothy Lamour.) Duryea topped off his tank of ingratiating smarm for this one, and his engine keeps running long after the rest of Manhandled has gone into a ditch.