Saturday, August 1, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Hunted (1948)

The Hunted (1948)
directed by Jack Bernhard
This is a workmanlike noir movie. It hits most of the major noir themes, alienation, loneliness, untrustworthy femme fatales, uncaring or corrupt officials and of course a few criminals. 

But it rushes through all of those plot points, rarely giving its two leads a chance to bite down into them. It looks great though.

From a purely visual standpoint if someone wanted to know what film noir looked like, you could show them this film. The framing of light and shadow, the blinds, the darkness, the streetlights, all let the viewer know that he or she is in an untrustworthy world. This could have been a better movie with a larger budget and stronger secondary actors. 

Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster) is a world weary homicide detective. He's just learned that his former special rider Laura Mead (Belita) has been paroled from serving her prison sentence for her role in a robbery. It seems that not only were Johnny and Laura an item but Johnny was the one who arrested Laura. 

Despite her protestations of innocence Johnny thought Laura was guilty. He apparently didn't even bother to visit her during her stint in the Big House. As you might imagine this has caused some strain in their relationship. Laura has sworn to murder Johnny and her lawyer Simon Rand (Pierre Watkin) once she gets out. And since she's out her parole officer feels legally and morally required to warn the two men. 

Well just who is waiting for Johnny in his apartment when he returns late at night? Well yes it's Laura herself. She has no place else to go. And it's against her parole to be on the streets at night, not that she's that kind of girl anyway, regardless of what Johnny thinks. 
This is actually the strongest part of the movie as the two former lovers discuss past events, tease or mock one another, share their fears, argue, insult, flirt and hold to their respective bottom lines. 

Laura insists that she's innocent and that a real boyfriend/fiance would have stood by her no matter what, even if she were guilty, which she's definitely not. Laura's also a little peeved that Johnny doesn't want to do the thing that men and women do when they like each other a lot. It's been four years since she's had that. For his part Johnny knows the effect that a beautiful woman can have on a man, particularly a schlub like him. He's angry at the idea that Laura played him for a sucker. 

No one plays Johnny Saxon for a sucker. Johnny may be a nice guy WAY down inside but he puts his responsibility as a detective and lawman above all else. Johnny has investigated the case over and over again while Laura was imprisoned. Johnny's sorry but the evidence against Laura was overwhelming. 

Still, Johnny thinks he owes Laura something. Johnny lets Laura stay the night at his place without sleeping with her. Johnny gets Laura a job as a ice skate dancer and skating instructor (the actress Belita was an Olympic ice skater and ballerina) as well as a place to stay. 

To Laura's great amusement, Johnny finds that he's still in love with Laura. He's even jealous. But Johnny can't get over what she did. And when her lawyer turns up dead Johnny wonders if Laura is even now playing him. He starts doing some digging and once again doesn't like what he finds.

Laura says she is trying to move ahead. She can't do that if a lovesick lawman keeps showing up at her home and work. Either get in or get out of her life. And yes she still says she's innocent of the robbery and the lawyer's murder. She says it's a setup. She's hurt that Johnny can't see that.

Belita walks and talks like she knows what goes where and why. Although this was not a great movie it was an example of a feisty female lead role that, unlike some roles in today's films, was not a male character in a female body. Johnny and Laura are both proud people trying to regain the trust they once had. Despite the low budget and occasional scene chewing from supporting actors, the viewer may enjoy the story.
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