Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


THE TATTERED DRESS (1957). Director: Jack Arnold.

Famous criminal lawyer James Gordon Blane (Jeff Chandler) comes to a small town in Nevada to defend a couple who have been accused of murdering a bartender who supposedly raped the wife but more likely was one of her lovers. This alone might have made for an interesting movie, but this trial is over so quickly that many viewers may not even be aware of it. The main trial in The Tattered Dress comes about when Blane is accused of trying to bribe a witness, and he winds up defending himself in court (and doing such a lousy job of it that the outcome is highly improbable). This is an odd movie, with mostly unsympathetic characters, but some good performances to help put it over. Chandler adds no nuances to his character but he plays with intensity and authority. As the sheriff and his main adversary -- and a clever, dangerous one at that -- Jack Carson scores in one of his best roles since Mildred Pierce. Gail Russell certainly makes an impression as the almost hysterical woman who claims that Blane gave her five thousand dollars, and Elaine Stewart and Phillip Reed are fine as the sleazy couple who brought Blane to Nevada in the first place. Ed Platt, Edward Anderson, Jeanne Crain, and Paul Birch are fine in smaller but important roles. The film is interesting but not terribly convincing.

Verdict: Less here than meets the eye but it holds the attention and Carson is excellent. **1/2.


Neil A Russell said...

I'd never heard of this one and fortunately some kind soul has posted it to YouTube so I'm starting on it now.
If it halfway lives up to the intro it ought to be pretty good.
I got sidetracked trying to figure that convertible out from the first few scenes but I finally chased it down.
It's the 1954 Plymouth Belmont showcar which is apparently still around.
Ok, now back to the movie!

William said...

Hope you enjoyed it. I've never watched a whole movie on youtube! For public domain films check out the Internet Archives and click on moving images. Whole bunch of movies you can watch for free.

Neil A Russell said...

Now that I've seen the movie, I'm probably going to have a bias towards it for several reasons.
Mostly because it takes place in an era I love, the late 1950s and for another it's got a cast that I really like.
That's extremely rare for me. Here you have everyone from William Schallert to Dick Wilson and all kinds of characters ranging in stature from tv to Oscar-worthy in between, and not one of them makes me cringe when they show up.

Not one Van Johnson or June Allyson stinking up the landscape anyplace.
(Stars and movies that I detest and the rest of the world loves could start a world war, so I'll save it for another time)

As for that cast, everyone handles their characters perfectly, especially Jack Carson who turns in an amazing performance as a first class stinker.
No time is wasted in character over-development either, the director and editors get you right into the story and as soon as you see the characters you know pretty much everything there is to know about them. In today's filmmaking mindset of needless backstory these kind of characters would be defined as one-dimensional, but I just call it good casting.
They could do that then when there were actually some great character actors around.

I don't believe I've ever seen a movie that kicks off with such an action packed subplot. Usually something so melodramatic shows up in the second act and tends to drag a movie down, but in this case it just rolls the audience right into the main story of the perils of being a clever attorney in somebody else's small town.

Which by the way may be one of the places the movie falls down.
Despite the bustling downtown scenery and well groomed suburbia that is right on the edge of Death Valley, or so it looks, we're supposed to believe that this is a little town with a little police department and a little district attorney's office.

From the distance they describe to Las Vegas, it makes me think it's supposed to be a place like Palmdale or Lancaster CA, but it looks more like Burbank.

All this is adding up to my analysis of the ending of the picture.

I agree that when you look at this picture and its setting you can't believe the jury would go for Blane's long winded closing statement, but if you look at it in the context of a being a small town (much like the one where I live) it wouldn't surprise me a bit that everyone in town would know the sheriff was a rat and a crook and would also know about his nocturnal liasons and also any little plots and plans he might be cooking up. People in political power don't end up acting like Hoak overnight.

Unless they were directly threatened by the sheriff any small town jury would hand down the same verdict.

Finally, I was surprised at myself for becoming so engaged in the story as it unfolded. At least twice I was hooked on the build up as Blane poured on the heated examination of Sheriff Hoak and then Mrs Morrow, each time to have the air let out of him, yet both times it was completely unexpected.

At those times it felt like the movie was shown from the perspective of Ed Platt's character (Ralph Adams), and in fact there's a comment by Adams to that effect when Blane botches his examination of Hoak.

As I said earlier, it might be because I liked every actor in this thing but I can't recall a movie I've seen in some time that held my interest like this.
Much like "Some Came Running" (at least until the stupid carnival scenes at the end) I got caught up in every performance and was only taken out of the film by the poorly executed cityscapes. And short of a Mamet play or film, that doesn't happen to me often.

William said...

Very interesting analysis of this film, Neil. You make a good point about the members of the jury probably knowing that Carson's sheriff is a stinker, and that would explain the verdict. I think I never got over the movie sort of switching gears from the first interesting trial (which we hardly see any of, except for the cross of Carson) to another trial that was for me not as compelling as the first situation with the husband and wife vs the dead lover. But I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is entertaining in its own way. Bill

Classic Manuals said...

The DVD is here

William said...

Thanks for the info.