Film Noir Friday: The Man Who Cheated Himself

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Fim Noir Friday: The Man Who Cheated Himself

Drawn into the Noir World by the Classics, there soon comes the need to find something not generally known to the casual fan. There’s the search for every movie that called itself Film Noir, many disappointments. Movies might follow the formula but they fail to deliver.

Set in San Francisco, The Man Who Cheated Himself, with the Hitchcockian title, suggests something sophisticated. This film was well received at the time and generally well thought of in Noir circles. It isn’t bad; it isn’t a real disappointment. After an oddly unbalanced beginning, it makes its way to the ending that had to be.

For you credit watchers, the Special Effects are done by Rex Wimpy.

It opens on masculine hands, Howard Frazer (Harlan Wade), opening a package that contains a revolver. He hides it in a closet containing mink coats and then burns the box and wrapping in the fireplace. He then rigs the balcony door so it won’t lock. His wife arrives, Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt), and wants to know why he is there. She has the money and she is starting the divorce next week. As he leaves he goads her about her new boyfriend. After he is gone she finds the receipt for the revolver.
This damsel in distress is now hysterical. She calls her new lover, Lt. Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb), a homicide detective. When the phone is answered by his brother, Andy Cullen (John Dall), she hangs up. His brother Ed tells him that the Chief had agreed to make Andy his brother’s partner in the Homicide Department. Then Andy tells Ed that some woman called him; Ed knows who it had to be.
It’s made plain that Ed is a womanizer. His brother Andy, an ‘Aw Shucks’ kind of guy tries to tell him about the wonder of a mature relationship. Driving out of the station, Ed runs into his brother’s fiancé Janet (Lisa Howard), tries to convert him to their view of happiness.

After his call to Lois, Ed drives to the big house. It’s dark; Lois lets him in. Overdressed and hysterical, Lois tells him that she found the gun and that she was sure that Howard had seen the letter to her lawyer about a new Will. Certain that he loves her money more than her, she believes that Howard wants to kill her. He has told her that he is flying to Seattle. He sneaks in the balcony door while Lois pulls the gun out of the desk. Quickly, she sees him and shoots him dead, firing three shots; Ed grabs her arm, the third shot is fired into the room.

Lois seems to want to tell the truth about what happened but Ed tells her that the truth can get her 20 years. Ed calls the airport looking for Howard and is told that he is there somewhere but he refuses the suggestion to page him. Ed decides to make it look that Howard was robbed and killed at the airport. After they load the body into Ed’s car, he tells Lois to locate the third bullet.

As Ed is dumping the body, a middle-aged couple, Ernest and Muriel Quimby (Charles Arnt and Marjorie Bennett), pull up to ask for directions. He disguised his identity as best as he can and drives away. He is almost caught but the couple says the car was a green coupe, Ed is driving blue coupe. He drives onto the Golden State Bridge and throws the gun into the Bay.

With Ed out of touch, Andy is called in to start the investigation. The Medical Examiner, Doc Munson (William Gould), puts the death at 2-4 hours earlier. Blood stains suggest the body may have been moved. Andy questions the Quimby’s: They fix the time at 10:00 PM. Ed arrives during the questioning. Ernest Quimby is sure that the driver was alone. Medium height.

Howard Frazer parked his car at 7:00 PM. What was he doing for three hours? Meeting a dame? Looked a robbery. The man who took Ed’s call was brought in. Could he recognize the voice?

The brothers went to the Frazer home to break the news to the wife. Lois had already decided to pose in her sitting room. Ed volunteered to break the news; it was after 1:00 AM. Butler announces Ed’s arrival; Andy decides that he has to learn how to make these calls and joins him. During the questioning, Ed and Lois notice the third bullet lodged into a book. They hurry Andy out of the room. Andy notices that the balcony door has been tampered with.

Not yet married, Andy lives with his brother. He asks Ed troubling questions: What did he do for those three hours? Was he the body moved? How am I doing? “All right, kid.”

At the crime lab, they find that the murder weapon was a ’38 caliber short barrel revolver; it didn’t make it into the Bay. Ed sends Andy to the pawn shops to find out if the gun has been pawned. The gun is traced to a low-level criminal, Nito Capa (Alan Wells) who has used the gun to rob Martin Liquors, where the owner was killed.

Ed tries to pin the Frazer murder on Cape but Andy keeps catching his brother in a series of lies. He finds out that Quimby is color blind; the green coupe was blue. Andy wants to give Ed a chance to do the honorable thing and waits for his brother at his apartment. Ed knocks his brother out and ties him up. Janet calls Ed’s apartment; Andy manages to roll off the couch and kick against the wall. With the town bottled up, Andy has an idea where Ed might have gone.

Ed took Lois to Fort Point; an abandoned complex under the Golden State Bridge. It’s a forbidding place of echoing footsteps. Andy eventually calls in help and they arrest Ed and Lois. The next time Ed and Lois meet is the Courthouse where Ed overhears Lois flirting with her defense lawyer; this is the place where he realizes what he means to her; this is her descent for the damsel in distress to the femme fatale. He seems to accept it as what he deserved.

Jane Wyatt plays her role well but I would like to know what was going on at the beginning of the picture. How did her husband’s awkward and foolish murder plan turn into his own murder? Did she somehow set him up? But they didn’t seem very happy. Why didn’t Ed Cullen play this out as an act of self-defense? And what was his crime? Why did he decide on such a convoluted solution?

A very good movie but I can’t decide exactly who is guilty of what.

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