Manhandled (1949)

Manhandled (1949) is a lousy husband psychiatric jewel thievery crooked private eye wife-murder film noir crime drama directed by Lewis R. Foster and starring Dorothy Lamour, Sterling Hayden and Dan Duryea. It is based on the 1945 novel The Man Who Stole a Dream by L. S. Goldsmith.

Dan Duryea plays a crooked private eye, which is the first twist in this serpentine and sinuous noir drama, which is a lot of fun as any classy high period film noir should be. The convoluted plot is at the best of times a feature of film noir, and not to be sneered at in such a circuitous story as Manhandled tells.

Comedy is also snuck into Manhandled in the shape of mild antics between the detectives played by Art Smith and Irving Bacon, which do feel oddly inappropriate at times, although do leave the sleuthing to the bizarre appearance of Sterling Hayden as a louche kind of insurance investigator.

Dan Duryea in Manhandled (1949)

The twist of the crooked investigator is what moves Manhandled at the pace it does — Dan Duryea who made a great show when it came to sleazy and malevolent characters fires up this film noir with lies, thievery and murder.

Dan Duryea in Manhandled (1949)

A further curveball is flung in the form of the psychiatrist, who may also be crooked too — and there is also a lousy husband to contend with, one of noir's further staples — and in Manhandled (1949) a man who without any doubt seeks to kill his wife.

Dr. Redman: How often have you had these dreams, Mr Bennet?

Alton Bennet: Oh, five or six times. Every night for the past week in fact.

Dr. Redman: Have to mentioned them to anyone? To your wife in particular?

Alton Bennet: A recurrent dream in which I brutally beat my wife with a perfume bottle is hardly a cheerful topic for the breakfast table.

Dan Duryea in Manhandled (1949)

The actual man-handling of Manhandled (1949), which is suggested on the lurid poster for the production, takes place at the end of the film, when Dan Duryea attempts to handle Dorothy Lamour to her death by throwing her from the top of the building.

The poster is suggestive of the social function of film noir, something which would be replaced within a decade by the horror picture — the idea of full social regression to violence and immorality.

Sterling Hayden in Manhandled (1949)

The cinema was long recognised as a place for these types of action, what might be called violent dreams. These can be dreams of anything, but it in noir cinema it was always illicit and strange, fantastic and criminal, not just against the law but contrary to social morality and the laws of the table family. 

Comparing film noir to the more popular genre of the Western, we find in the light of the plains and its American tales a world of courage, self-reliance, male toughness and female sweetness. More than any other form, film Westerns carried the values of American Dream, and its heroes were likeable, trustworthy and admirable.

The function film noir provides in moral thinking is to scatter the pieces and confuse matters. For example, it is common in noir that we feel sympathy for the perpetrator of a crime and less for the victim. In this manner, the dark alleyways of film noir are analogous to the dark alleyways of morality where our sympathies follow different paths. 

Alan Napier in Manhandled (1949)

Dan Duryea's character is the star of the film and proves that the Hollywood noir factory had become adept at dealing with the Production Code. Perhaps if viewers had no idea what was going on, and who was bad and who was good, and whose actions led exactly to what, then immortally could not be pinned down and nobody could pass judgement or chose what to censor?

In this constantly grey area, Dan Duryea's character Charlie Benson is no cluck. No cluck is he! Benson is in charge of his morality as much as he controls the crimes he commits, a perfect film noir hero in as much as we are attracted to him, and the path he guides around, behind and above the moral codes.

Karl Benson: You've got nothing to worry about Charlie- I didn't murder anybody for this ice.

Charlie, a Fence: I ain't sayin' you did - I'm just sayin' this junk is hot. They're specially designed pieces and they're registered with some insurance company - you can bet on that. Get rid of 'em - that's my advice.

Karl Benson: Stop playing' me for a dope and give me the eleven hundred.

Charlie, a Fence: Play it smart, like I said - fast.

Karl Benson: You're not talking' to a cluck, Charlie. You're talking' to a guy who knows all the angles. I got everything planned out, very very carefully.


Dorothy Lamour and Art Smith in Manhandled (1949)

In the purest of noir, but also in its most impure forms such as exposed in the snaky plot of  Manhandled (1949), viewers find themselves in an America where their moral bearings are more like ball bearings— rolling free. For the duration of the movie, the national States-dwellers of the late 1940s could allow themselves to side with amoral people who lived in a world the same as theirs — an urban world where the the defects were emphasised. 

Vacuum Cleaners in Film Noir Manhandled (1950)

Notable nominally noir collector's items in classic film noir mode always include the spotting of a vacuum cleaner in a film noir production, for which Manhandled (1949) provides an example for this most important category.

Dan Duryea in Manhandled (1949)

In this way a desire for more wealth becomes the slippery path to fraud and thievery. A marital upset becomes a wife-murder and fear of the unknown becomes a descent into all manner of urban hells — each one a fantasy.

Nobody can in fact say how they will cope in these situations, which is incidentally one of the motivational emotional drives which keeps the horror films confronting murky situations and bringing audiences back for more. For this reason, there may be something to be said for film noir filling the emotional airspace now fully occupied by horror.

Once the lights are out however, and the silver screen is replete with noir — with charming and alluring Dan Duryea — moral complacency is switched off and uncertainty grips the conscience.

Dan Duryea in Manhandled (1949)

There is a terrifically brutal scene in Manhandled in which Dan Duryea chases Harold Vermilyea down an alleyway in an automobile — a great example of motor car noir and the vehicle being used as a murder weapon — and mashes him to death against a wall. 

What is so perfect about this exciting incident is that by this stage in the action, the audience is so invested with Duryea and his badness that it is hard to have the necessary sympathy one should feel for the victim of such a nasty crime. 

And in a perfect film noir twist, Vermilyea's character Redman turns out to be the only witness to the innocence of the crime for which Duryea's character is later going to be found guilty. The tangled and impenetrable plots of film noir are thus for good reason. There are baffling and complex situations which in the cold light of day might seem ridiculous — but this is noir. It's a nightmare and it's a dream.

For viewers sobered by the grim pursuit of justice through these tortuous and intricate moral mazes, Manhandled (1949) offers a perfect reminder at the head of the film. Indeed it is a perfect noir opening — rain-washed window panes dissolve to reveal the creeping feet of a murderer, who sneaks up on a woman making her self attractive at a mirror. She turns and screams — and is killed.

And this is next revealed to be a dream. The rhetorical excesses of all the greatest noir filmmaking  match the melodramatic contents of its stories. Manhandled (1949) seeks to remind us that we are in a dream from the moment the lights lower, and not toe expect anything else.

This is in part another reason for film noir's constant recourse to and fasciation with psychoanalysis. Emotions run high, and are often so extreme as to lead to murder. The interludes of rational thought are rare, and the American viewer of the 1940s is shown many fears concerning urban, romantic and technological life.

Art Smith, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Lamour and Irving Bacon in Manhandled (1949)

What is curious about this poster for Manhandled are the expressions of fear, violence and sex. There is clearly an inversion of the idea of the woman being carried to the bedroom, or across the marital threshold by the man. 

Then there is the absolutely unnecessary revealing of the victim's pink petticoat as she hovers over the precipice. As a gendered image there are a plethora of certainties revealed. There might be the male idea of discarding a woman once she is shown to the male as a sexual object. There might be the female fear of being abandoned, tossed into the void. Note that the cops are near but they are never going to be able to help. There might be a power dynamic portrayed — the next time she is picked up by him they are both going to be thinking of this violent moment — which they assure each other will never happen — by dint of the fact that it only happens here — in this film noir.

Finally there is the threat of male violence, for this might be the inevitable outcome of a world which holds high the values of marriage and coupling. This might be the film noir end-of-the-road destination of yet another strand of the almighty and eminently corruptible American Dream. 

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