They Won't Believe Me (1947)

They Won't Believe Me (1947) is a note-perfect melodramatic film noir from the later 1940s.

Within the paranoid marriages of the era, there was according to the classic film noir canon, a good deal of secrecy, murder, and madness. 

Given the amount of times that film noir discusses such marriages, and their eerie contents, one wonders what was happening to men and women in that decade.

It is perhaps as if the women were coming out of the darkness and forging a place for themselves in the future homes and relationships of the 1950s, and beyond. In the 1940s marriages were fearful and secret places, where women remained prisoners in mysterious gilded cages.

With Robert Young, Susan Hayward and Jane Greer in this movie, there is an indication across the cast alone that something more romantic than evil is afoot. But this is still a murderous relationship, and the murderous relationship was one of the best ways filmmakers knew of in the 1940s to describe the marriage between woman and man.

While on trial for a double homicide, Larry says that his girlfriend died accidentally in a car crash and his distraught wife tossed herself over a cliff. Will the jury believe him?

The state of life after World War Two was mighty different in the United States, as it was in Europe. The States was left well provisioned with everything from steel to nylon, and the film industry could continue as if nothing had happened. 

Film noir is fantasy, film noir is incredible, and nearly always in the 1940s packs a killer punch. Noir rides out with the darkest and most premises, and leaves the imagination speechless. Consider: On trial for murdering his girlfriend, philandering stockbroker Larry Ballentine takes the stand to claim his innocence and describe the actual, but improbable-sounding, sequence of events that led to her death.

Flashback and suspenseful adultery, we are most certainly on the paranoid trail of some film noir. Larry, played by Robert Young is a mad film noir hero, depressed but rich, lost in his murderous space.

They Won’t Believe Me is mighty fine suggestion that this might be the case ― the war is never once mentioned, and the good folks who populate this noir live pretty well, in domestic opulence, and in a rather carefree world of yachting and outdoor fun.

Robert Young, who plays a rather unpleasant character here for once, has no less than three girlfriends ― and he still ain’t happy. They are all of course beautiful too, because this is Hollywood ― Susan Haywood and Jane Greer leading the trio. 

Paranoia in America in 1947 was primarily focused on the fear of communist infiltration in government, entertainment industry, and other sectors of society. This fear was known as the "Red Scare" and was fuelled by the belief that the Soviet Union was actively working to spread communism throughout the world, including the United States.

The fear was heightened by several events that occurred in 1947. In February of that year, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9835, which established a loyalty program for federal employees. The program required all government employees to undergo background checks and swear an oath of loyalty to the United States.

Says Larry:

She looked like a very special kind of dynamite, neatly wrapped in nylon and silk. Only I wasn't having any. I'd been too close to one explosion already. I was powder shy.

Later that year, in August, a former communist spy named Whittaker Chambers testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that he had been part of a Soviet spy ring that included several high-ranking government officials. This led to a series of investigations and hearings by the HUAC, which targeted suspected communist sympathizers in the government, the entertainment industry, and other sectors of society.

The fear of communist infiltration was alive in the movies and never far from the bubbling surface of the old coffee pot in film noir. This paranoia was the kind of thing that led to people being blacklisted, fired from their jobs, and even jailed for their political beliefs. This period of paranoia and suspicion had a lasting impact on American society, and its legacy rains and rains.

The 1947 film They Won't Believe Me can be seen as reflecting the paranoia of the era in which it was made. The film is a classic film noir, which was a popular genre during the 1940s and 1950s, known for its dark and cynical themes. The horsing around in the gully in They Won't Believe Me may not be the apogee of urban anomie, but it's still fatal for some.

The film tells the story of a man named Larry Ballantine, who finds himself accused of murder. Throughout the film, Larry's guilt or innocence is constantly called into question, and he becomes increasingly paranoid as he tries to clear his name.

Larry's paranoia is a reflection of the broader societal paranoia of the time. The fear of communism and the hunt for suspected communist sympathizers had created a climate of suspicion and mistrust, where people were often assumed guilty until proven innocent.

The film also reflects the gender dynamics of the era, with Larry's relationship with the three women in his life - his wife, his lover, and his secretary - playing a central role in the plot. The film's portrayal of these women as manipulative and duplicitous can be seen as reflecting the anxieties and prejudices of the time.

Overall, They Won't Believe Me can be seen as a product of its era, reflecting the pervasive paranoia and suspicion that characterized American society in the aftermath of World War II.

They Won’t Believe Me is generally held in fairly high esteem, and it is so long as you are prepared to overlook the absurdity of much of it. Robert Young is actually very well suited to the mess he creates here, with his indecision, poor decisions and general prevaricating.

No amount of prevaricating can move aside the hand of fate, however.

Exit Strategy in Film Noir — They Won't Believe Me (1947)

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