The Accused (1949)

The Accused (1949) is a psychology sex-killer-thriller paranoid woman classic from the film noir era, starring Loretta Young as a psychology professor who asks he students to perform sexual-psychological experiments on each other. With disastrous consequences.

The Accused is as essential a film noir one would need as the most extreme example of the othering and socially oppressing of women. It's the ultimate in #metoo noir as well.

The Accused is directed by William Dieterle and adapted to screenplay by Ketti Frings from the novel Be Still, My Love written by June Truesdell. It stars Loretta Young, Robert Cummings, Wendell Corey, Sam Jaffe and Douglas Dick. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by Milton R. Krasner.

Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young) is a college professor who is prompted into an act of self defence when one of her students attacks her sexually. 

Signals in the night — Loretta Young in film noir The Accused (1949)

The typical noir storyline of the part-guilty party, the forced-into-crime individual, the one-on-the-run and with no excuse for the paranoia. The twist is that she is a woman.

This scenario fills the film noir canon to its every corner. A staple of Hitchcock and the backbone of many fine films of the forties — the sexual harassment remains however by far the most interesting aspect remaining, as well as the psychology that is asserting authority over social and sexual process.

The view of the self in film noir —  Loretta Young in The Accused (1949)

Hot and cold in temperature, The Accused is sympathetic toward Loretta Young's character. But the character is weak and hysterical some of the rest of the time. Wendell Corey is his habitual now famous poker-faced self, and in a smaller role, Sam Jaffe is Mephistophelean, delivering his lines as tartly as Corey, and in his lab scenes photographed to resemble a Dwight Frye hunchback from the thirties. 

Subtle signals of criminal duality in film — white hand / black hand in The Accused (1949)

The Accused is filled with nice touches, as Dieterle and most of his cast are perhaps above the script, breathing life into it at times. On the other hand Loretta Young's character is given a soundly unattractive name in Wilma Tuttle, and is seen initially in the great mode of the hysterical woman, complete with fainting fits, sleeping pills, cocooned inner dialogue of doubting, here droopy expression and clothing, and even a bun in her hair goddamit — to emerge as a butterfly in the irresistible power of Robert Cummings — as smooooth lawyer friend of the deceased boy's family.

Crazy semi-conscious oral flirting movements lead to a MeToo murder in academia in film noir — with Loretta Young and Douglas Dick in The Accused (1949)

Hysteria and psychology play into the hands of film noir. with Loretta Young as psychology teacher Wilma Tuttle going so far as to suggest to a class of young people that they conduct psychological-sexual experiments on each other. This leads to heavy-hitting in class and an increasing fault line of #metoo moments that are going to quickly crack  — and do.

The voiceover delivers a noir flip in sparking psychological cross-currents which crackle from time to time underneath this always electric classic film noir. The silliness of the combination of psychology professors, lawyers and police detectives, facing an environment of sexualised young people — with psychology as their only hope of escaping this body-snatching sex fever that is taking over, and even threaten to burst out of Loretta Young's restrained psychology professor performance — even in the middle of one of film noir's hardest sexual assault, the audience are still being asked if she likes it or not — just how much is she resisting now — where are we on the sexual-moral scale —  and she seems to be giving herself up — at least that is what the assaulting young male is saying. 

[Wilma is dressed for a date.]

Warren Ford: It's remarkable! Your brains don't show a bit.

Any failing connected with The Accused is entirely in giving Loretta Young far too much to do. Her voiceover is used in a silent-era manner, while she pulls expressions of doubt, fear and paranoia, makes bad decisions, and describes herself doing these actions in voice-over, while she strains hysterically and is hit upon by smirking males.

Midnight sexual assault in film noir The Accused (1949)

True film noir. That so-noirish opening scene of a dark figure struggling along a deserted highway in the dark is core to the style, and is beautifully followed in flashback by deserted city streets and a lonely all-night bus. Psychological drama and routine investigation and hysterical love affair, do detract from the chops but the strong psychological overtones keep The Accused in noir attitude even as it succeeds in showing Loretta Young transform from dowdy career prof to fashionable beauty.

Loretta Young in The Accused (1949) A variety of personas?

She's a prude and she's attractive, and her teaching style is suffering as she collides with date rape, and then commits murder, and then gets sick and flaky, which prevents what might well have been the next obvious topic of discussion — about to tackle the subject of rape and the killing of an attacker, and all that that could mean — perhaps a sudden silliness comes over The Accused, still a true film noir desire the circumstances.

Robert Cummings in The Accused (1949)

From The New York Times January 1949:

This is a super-duper psychological job, well spiced with terminology which sounds impressive, if not always crystal clear in meaning, and the performers go about their business with an earnestness which commands attention. Under William Dieterle's assured direction, the story flows smoothly and methodically builds up suspense to a punchy climax which leaves it to the audience to determine whether the defendant should be punished or go free. That must have been quite a concession for the Production Code people of the Johnston office, who are usually quite fussy about exacting retribution. The departure should not be construed as a body blow to morality, however, for it is made quite evident that the heroine acted instinctively to protect her honor. And, even the poiliceman who doggedly pieces together the fragments of evidence which expose her has nothing but sympathy and admiration in his heart for the lady.It may be presumed, too, that Loretta Young's appearance in a role of this type is further evidence that Wilma Tuttle, the unfortunate psychology professor, acted with justifiable vigor, for Miss Young just isn't the murderess type. But, regardless of motive and questions of guilt or innocence, the taking of life is not to be dismissed lightly and the due process of law must be taken into account."The Accused" is a fine exemplification of crime detection, for with little tangible evidence to go on Lieut. Ted Dorgan, a rough, practical student of human nature, painstakingly builds a strong circumstantial case around Dr. Tuttle and finally breaks through her psychological armor. On close examination it is possible to spot loopholes in the plot and, indeed, it may seem surprising that a woman of such intelligence couldn't view her dilemma with more perspicacity, but the authors have shrewdly attributed her desire to conceal the truth to her dread fear of the scandalous consequences. And who wants to argue about a person's actions when fear takes hold?Miss Young brings a high degree of conviction to her portrayal and the same goes for Wendell Corey as Lieutenant Dorgan. Robert Cummings, as the guardian of the dead student who falls in love with the professor, holds a conventional role on a steady level most of the time, and Sam Jaffe has a small but sharp role as a laboratory criminologist. 

Robert Cummings and Wendell Corey in film noir The Accused (1949)

To varying degrees hysteria in peril, has a lineage in noir, with favourite women in jeopardy pictures including among them:

The further sub-genre exemplified in this type of film noir is a massive favourite of the era and is the heel psychologist, of course dishing heel psychology:

Stress, guilt and the doubting of the self — film noir Loretta Young

There is an ongoing problematic between Tuttle as the super-elegant sexual woman and woman of education, as if the two cannot work side by side without absolute social disruption. 

In the classroom  professor Tuttle's pencil takes on a sexual representation in direct view of Bill Perry (Douglas Dick), her rapist student who like a sex-bandit returns the visual cue with gusto. 

Vision / Mirror / Re-vision in The Accused (1949)

Without a husband, boyfriend or any suggestion of past lovers in her life, Tuttle is a female anomaly and a supreme target for attack. Her every sexual move points to obvious signs of sexual frustration and she clearly desires Perry, the date-raping student whom she kills. 

Using psychology where female intuition would have sufficed, she judges Bill Perry to be a brash and bad-faith young man, though she seems to admire his intellect, which is dubious although possible. His sexual battery of a pursuit of Tuttle works its way through her defences until she is in his arms and unconscious with struggle and emotion.

Men to the rescue in The Accused (1949)

This student drives her out of Malibu to a deserted beach spot and forces himself on her while she repeatedly asks him to stop hurting her arm. This student Perry is convinced that young and sexy Tuttle is truly turned on by his brutish behaviours and in response to the rape, she beats him to death. 

Amusingly, Doc Tuttle is n fact what she fears, the 'cyclothymiac cutie' of dead student Bill Perry's essay, a sexually-repressed woman struggling with unfulfilled desires. So accurate is this heel psychology picture, that the essay which was of course ironically set by Tuttle, acts as the catalyst for her near downfall.

Loretta Young in The Accused (1949)

Tuttle will never get over being a woman though, despite being one of the smartest and upwardly mobile in all of classic film noir. She is still and forever objectified and lives at risk of the men who would like to imprison her, just like when Warren Ford (played by Robert Cummings) announces their imminent marriage without bothering to consult her on the subject.

In fact the male characters are united in their opposition to this outrage, and are consistent from start to finish about a woman's place. 

Sam Jaffe and forensic tech in film noir The Accused (1949)

The psycho himself, without doubt had it coming but his end on the cliffs can hardly atone for the rest of them. If for example Ted Dorgan (played by Wendell Corey) is the cop who believes she is capable of murder, this capability seems to do nothing to cool his ardour. 

He seems absolutely in awe of her beauty, almost to the degree of hypnotic sway. He can't resist her at all. It seems a little rich that Tuttle the teacher had no suitors and that Tuttle the murderer is super-hot to all comers.

Susan Duval (played by Suzanne Dalbert), is an immigrant student, who likes Perry, or at least was successfully seduced by her. The treats her poorly however to the extent she says she could kill him, and it is not directly stated, but strongly implied that Bill Perry impregnated Duval. Another fatherless baby of film noir missing on the streets of Los Angeles County.

The Accused hails from a time when long-held social norms were being challenged, while horrific immoral acts of murder, and inhumanity were being talked about, shown in he press, and then discussed on screen. One need think of many film noirs including a telling reference to the Black Dahlia, the gruesome, still unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947).

Sam Jaffe and Loretta Young in The Accused (1949)

Then of course the perpetual issue of intelligent women presented as a problem in cinema, particularly when they occupy a position of power over men. 

Loretta Young as Tuttle — again this name is not inspiring — challenges every man she meets in one way or another. Her violent actions were only out of self-preservation and understandable under the circumstances.

Loretta Young raises a hand in anger in The Accused (1949)

Her narration by voiceover reveals a split in her consciousness, a variation on the doppelgänger theme that distinguishes numerous film noirs.

This doppelgänger theme runs overtly in SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE DARK MIRROR (1946), STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1946), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956). 

Guardian, sleuth and male saviour Wendell Corey in The Accused (1949)

Both Tuttle and Dorgan make direct reference to the theme of doubles, and the recurring mirror motif hammers down the same point. Then lace with outrageously sexist dialog to get things moving:

'Your brains don't show a bit.' 

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