Classic Film Guide

Cornered (1945)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire (1947)), this film is a mess. First, it stars Dick Powell (!) as a blustering ex-P.O.W. Canadian pilot (!). After the war, he's bent on trying to find the man who killed his wife of only 20 days (must have been some woman!). The plot is unbelievable and so confusing, with so many twists and turns, you'll get whiplash trying to keep up, if you're even interested enough to try. Plus, if you've ever read a Robert Ludlum novel (particularly The Rhinemann Exchange), you'll be sorely disappointed in the intelligence (or lack thereof) and one dimensional nature of Powell's character, and the route he takes to enact his revenge. John Wexley's story and adaptation were scripted by John Paxton.

World War II is over and Powell has just returned from his stint as a P.O.W., receiving his year's back pay. He's going to need it too because he'll be canvassing the globe trying to find out who killed his wife, and then tracking him down. When he can't get a VISA to travel into France, he rows (from England across the channel?) there. Of course, he still has his gun (a German Luger!), which he wraps in cellophane (!) so it won't get wet when he sinks the boat and swims to shore. He finds his way to the Prefect's office, which is conveniently run by someone (his Father-in-Law?) who knew his wife. Like nearly everyone he encounters from here on out, the Prefect urges him to forget it and discourages him from his vendetta, which he naturally ignores each time. He then takes Powell to his wife's grave, a site hidden in a cave of French allied persons who were killed by Vichy, French enemies (those that collaborated with the Nazi's). This gives Powell an opportunity to exhibit his acting skills (?), covering his forehead and eyes with his hand as he grimaces ... emotion provided by the film's score./p>

Powell learns that Marcel Jarnac, the Vichy trigger-man, is thought dead, but that his boss is believed to be in Paris. He gets to Paris just in time to find that the police have cornered this man. However, by the time he gets there, the man has been killed in a fire. So, he searches through the rumble and (low and behold!) finds the front page of a dossier about Marcel Jarnac. And, because of the date handwritten on it, he's convinced that Jarnac is still alive. He also finds some burnt stationary of a Swiss insurance company with Mrs. Jarnac’s name on it. So, he goes to Switzerland and bribes an official at the agency to obtain her last known address. He picks up some of their stationary (!) and writes a letter to her at the address, then stakes it out. Ellen Corby (I Remember Mama (1948)) appears uncredited as the maid at the residence who addresses the envelope with a Buenos Aires forwarding address and puts it on the mailbox for the postal worker. Of course, Powell intercepts it right after she puts it there, and just before the mailman arrives.

Powell now travels from Switzerland to Buenos Aires where Walter Slezak, obviously trying to channel Sydney Greenstreet (The Maltese Falcon (1941)), is waiting for him. After brushing him off, Powell goes straight to a hotel where, after checking, he grabs a phonebook and finds a listing for Mademoiselle Jarnac. However, when he dials the number, she won't take his call. Then, with Slezak's "help", Powell meets a string of characters, one after the other (virtually everyone in the credited cast), which are seemingly all "bad" guys because they too try to dissuade him from his mission. Several of them are German (ex-Nazis?). Initially, Powell's character trusts no one, so he listens to no one. However, then (suddenly) he trusts and listens to anyone who has information regarding Jarnac or his "wife". He follows these "hot" leads blindly and recklessly to the film's conclusion. The only bright spot left in this one is the appearance of Byron Foulger, who appears uncredited (& typecast?) as the hotel's night clerk.

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