If cable tv had existed in 1947, then the movie I chose to review for this blogathon, RKO Studio’s They Won’t Believe Me! would have appeared on the Lifetime Channel! Instead of a woman in danger film, we have a man who is the protagonist/antagonist all at the same time. He is really a jerk, incapable of making good choices as to who to love, marry, and even how to work at a job! The 3 female characters are either blind to his numerous faults or they think they can change him-3 pretty ladies who are hooked on this idiot! Ah well, c’est la vie in Lifetime movie plots and in They Won’t Believe Me!
They Won’t Believe Me was based on a story idea by Gordon McDonell and the screenplay was written by Jonathon Latimer. The film’s producer was Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s reliable assistant on many of his films and his television series. Former actor, voice actor, Irving Pichel helmed the film as director. The film has a noir feel to it, but despite some movie critics calling it a top notch noir, I felt it was a bit weak in a true noir description. More on that issue later in the post.
Robert Young, who usually played nice guys in film, and was most well-known in his later years on television as the all-knowing, loving Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best and as the wise and caring Dr. Welby in Marcus Welby, M.D. is this film’s stinker! Young’s Larry Ballantine is a jerk, a weakling sort of a man. A weakling because he married wife #1, Greta(ably played by Rita Johnson) because she’s wealthy. He wants to divorce Greta when he falls in love with her friend, Janice (Jane Greer, a news magazine writer) and even has plans to meet Janice in Montreal, her new home office assignment. The clever Greta finds out and deals her trump card: you can run off to Montreal with Janice, but the money flow will dry up, dear Larry. Rita plays Greta as an understated, quiet, and very patient woman. Greta’s not a shrieking harpy, and she calmly informs Larry that if he chooses her over Janice, there is a job lined up for him in LA, at a prestigious brokerage firm, and that she, Greta, has a fabulous house with tennis court and pool in Benedict Canyon, all ready for them to live in. Janice goes alone to Montreal. ( A side note-Greer got to wear the most outstanding hats I’ve ever seen in a movie-just gorgeous creations!)
Time goes by and at the brokerage firm, we can tell that Larry isn’t a good employee. He tries for a bit, but one day his boss chews him out for not having a requested report ready for a prospective, rich investor. As Larry is about to voice some lame excuse as to his awful work ethic, in pops a sexy and smart secretary, Verna(Susan Hayward) who hands Larry the report with a, “Is this the report that’s needed, Mr. Ballentine?” Before Larry and his boss know what’s hit them, Verna sashays her way to the secretarial area of the office. Larry finds her to thank her and offers to buy her perfume! Verna has a better idea, why not have Larry give her a ride home some evening. Verna, of the three women, is the closest to a femme fatale in this noir wannabe. She admits she’s a gold digger, she correctly accuses Larry of being no more mature than a child, but she thinks Larry is her only ticket to a life of luxury. They begin an affair in earnest until Greta finds out and once again she calmly plays her trump card. This time, her suggestion is to move to a ranch house out in the middle of a valley, no phone, mail delivery will be at a general store, horses to ride every day, a pool to swim in, and they can just while away their days by relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the valley and the nearby mountains. Larry looks queasy at her offer, but he agrees. I wanted to cheer when Verna lashes out at him and calls him a rat when he delivered his breaking up speech to her. Run, Verna, as fast as you can!!!!
The plot of the movie, up to this point, was easy to follow, but it was a bit frustrating to me. Larry’s character, while conflicted, was not a hard-boiled noirish hero. The 3 women characters weren’t femme fatales in the true noir definition, although Hayward’s came the closest. What frustrated me the most was how could these 3 seemingly intelligent and attractive women, fall for this guy, Larry? I kept thinking that if the part of Larry had been recast with Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Victor Mature, Ray Milland, or Robert Mitchum, Alan Ladd, Kirk Douglas, or even Joel McCrea, then I could possibly see why these women would all fall for Larry. I like Robert Young, but to me, he was miscast as Larry. I’m sure he didn’t mind too much as he got to have some kissing scenes with Greer and Hayward!
The last third of the film the plot became trickier. Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” (I thought Shakespeare wrote that but I was wrong!) Larry and Verna reunite and come up with a tangled web. Larry decides to spurn Greta and take some of her money. He’s going to go to Reno and get a quickie divorce, Verna will go with him, and then they’ll get married and move away to begin a new life. He tells Verna that he’ll write a letter to Greta telling her he’s divorcing her, and since he’s on a joint checking account with Greta, he’ll write out a check to Verna and she can cash it at the brokerage house. Then she can bring that money with her when she and Larry meet at a tiny burg, Thomson’s Corner. They’ll then drive to Reno together. To redeem the two for a teensy bit, Verna reveals that she didn’t cash the check and Larry tears it up into little bits. Aw, they’re not going to gouge Rita’s checking account! All seems to go according to plan until on the drive to Reno they have a horrific crash at night with a delivery truck.
To reveal anymore of this film is to give away too many spoilers, but I will add that the film is told from a courtroom flashback: Larry is the defendent in a murder trial and he gives his side of the story to the jury: he shares with them how he is a jerk, how he trashed his marriage vows to Greta, how he only cared about her money, how he dumped Janice, how Verna dumped him, how they reunited, planned to get to Reno, the horrific car accident, his meeting Janice again by accident(or is it by accident?), and how Larry came to be put on trial.
To see the surpise ending of this romance/crime/drama noirish film, seek out They Won’t Believe Me! TCM is going to air this film again on September 4th at 6:45 am Eastern/5:45 Central. The films is also at Amazon but mainly as a VHS tape(!) or on dvd through third-party sellers. It does deserve to be re-released on a proper dvd format, in my opinion.
This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon hosted by classic film fans Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin. Please visit their sites by clicking on the links and read about other films that came to the movie going public in 1947.