A Woman's Secret (1949)

A Woman's Secret (1949)
is a jealous woman murder melodrama with film noir pretensions, which casually mixes the woman genre with the thriller to create a mood movie. It's a good nod of the hat towards the notion of the Woman's Picture, much beloved of the forties filmmaking frater-hood, who when they were not feminising fatality, had plenty other background tropes to develop into motion pictures. Behold the enigma that is the screenplay of this cinematic endeavor, shrouded in mystery as thick as the fog veiling the forlorn streets of a noir tale. The aim, if indeed there is one, remains an elusive specter, teasing viewers with its ambiguous intentions. Is it a whodunit, a labyrinthine maze of deceit and treachery? 
Nay, for the veil is lifted early on, revealing Marian (O'Hara) with a finger on the trigger, dispelling any notion of mystery. 

Gloria Grahame in A Woman's Secret (1949)

Indeed, a film need not be confined to the rigid boundaries of genre to captivate and enthrall. Yet, alas, A Woman's Secret (1949) languishes in a murky limbo, unable to find its footing amidst the shifting sands of narrative ambiguity. Even the luminous presence of the incomparable Gloria Grahame fails to illuminate the murky depths of this cinematic enigma.

Director Ray, renowned for extracting triumphant performances from his leading ladies, has here assembled a cast that teeters on the precipice of miscasting. Jory and Douglas, both cloaked in the mantle of middle age, seem ill-suited to portray the youthful allure that surrounds O'Hara and Grahame. And spare a thought for poor Bill Williams, relegated to a one-note role that feels as out of place as a square peg in a round hole.

As the narrative unfolds, the ill-advised intrusion of comedy relief from the cop's wife disrupts the delicate balance, as if the hand of some unseen studio higher-up had intervened, disrupting the delicate equilibrium. It is a baffling interjection, as if a discordant note had pierced the symphony of the film's narrative arc.

Maureen O' Hara in A Woman's Secret (1949)

It strains credulity to imagine that the hand of esteemed director Ray could have guided this muddled affair. Indeed, it seems he merely went through the motions, a puppeteer reluctantly pulling the strings of a marionette cast adrift in a sea of confusion. One can only lament the missed opportunity, for even the most skilled navigator could not hope to steer such a rudderless vessel to safe harbor amidst the tempestuous seas of cinematic storytelling.

A Woman's Secret emerges from the depths of melodrama, its noir-style mystery woven from the intricate threads of a Vicki Baum tale, brought to life with a flourish by the dynamic trio of Maureen O'Hara, Melvyn Douglas, and Gloria Grahame. Yet, under the direction of Nichols Ray, their performances veer perilously close to the edge of melodramatic excess, overshadowing the film's narrative with a sense of flamboyance.

Nor does it wear the cloak of noir, that shadow-drenched realm where morality treads a precarious line and darkness seeps into every crevice. No, the atmosphere here is far too conventional, lacking the brooding intensity that characterizes the genre. And what of love, that perennial theme woven into the fabric of cinematic romance? A possibility, perhaps, yet the tangled web of affection leaves the viewer adrift in uncertainty, unsure of who truly holds the key to another's heart.

O'Hara, in her role as the tough ex-singer turned promoter, unleashes a tempest of emotion reminiscent of Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce," wielding her anger like a weapon in a tumultuous sea of conflicting emotions. Yet, beneath the surface tumult lies a sweetness that flickers intermittently, adding depth to her portrayal. Her moments of respite are punctuated by the dulcet tones of her singing voice, a respite denied to Grahame, whose vocals are dubbed.

Luke Jordan: You know one of these days you're going to be singing that song on Broadway and I'm just going to be walking up and down the theater.

Marian Washburn: Picketing?

Luke Jordan: No, I just won't have enough dough to buy a ticket.

Marian Washburn: Oh, That be easy to fix, I just have you wait sit in my dressing room. Then maybe I'll have you get rid of the people that'll be waiting for my autograph.

Luke Jordan: Make way of Miss Washburn.

Marian Washburn: Then I let you pinch so I can wake up. 

In the end, this sorry excuse for a film noir is nothing but a shadowy alley leading to disappointment. The writers must've thought they had a dynamite plot twist up their sleeves, but what they delivered was as thrilling as a stale cigarette in a dingy dive bar. No surprises, no intrigue, just a hollow echo reverberating through a dimly lit room.

It kicks off with the promise of something gritty and gripping, O'Hara's usual firebrand persona simmering beneath the surface as she claws her way through the seedy underbelly of the music scene. But then, like a shot ringing out in the dead of night, the momentum comes to a screeching halt. We're left with a tangled mess of melodrama, O'Hara's anguished flashbacks spinning a web of despair as we're dragged through the murky depths of her past.

Maureen O' Hara in A Woman's Secret (1949)

We're treated to a glimpse of her lost dreams, her shattered aspirations, and a love triangle so convoluted it would make Raymond Chandler himself scratch his head in confusion. Douglas, the charming pianist with a penchant for witty one-liners, adds a glimmer of hope in the darkness, but even his presence can't save this sinking ship.

And then there's Grahame, the femme fatale with a voice like honey and a heart like ice. She weaves her spell, entangling O'Hara and Douglas in a web of deceit and desire, leaving us grasping at straws for a shred of redemption.

Jim Fowler: [to Luke] Mrs. Fowler never seems to realise that crime goes on twenty-four hours a day.

Mary Fowler: When I was a little girl, that's what my mother told me about marriage, only I've found out it isn't so.

Jay C. Flippen in A Woman's Secret (1949)

But when the so-called "secret" is finally revealed, it lands with all the impact of a wet noodle hitting the floor. A film with a cast this stellar should've been a knockout, but instead, it's a dismal failure, the fault lying squarely at the feet of the lackluster screenplay.

It's as if the script looked like pure gold on the page, but when it hit the silver screen, it crumbled like a crumbling facade, leaving us to sift through the wreckage in search of something, anything, resembling substance. In the end, we're left with nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment, a bitter pill to swallow in the unforgiving world of film noir.

Jay C. Flippen in A Woman's Secret (1949)

There is an effort to make a crazy cracking script full of snap such as: "there's never a busy number in Lafayette." Snappy but crappy.

The narrative unfolds with O'Hara's confession to shooting Grahame during a heated altercation, her recollection unfolding through the prism of flashback. Alongside her, Douglas, portraying the affable piano accompanist, adds a touch of wit and charm, his clever quips punctuating the film's darkest moments. His portrayal stands as the film's most grounded and believable, offering a beacon of stability amidst the storm of uncertainty.

Alas, the story falters at the midway point, as the mystery languishes in ambiguity and the plot meanders through a labyrinth of flashbacks and exposition. Williams' appearance, though brief, adds little to the narrative, his role wasted amidst the film's convoluted storytelling.

Moves to comedy might explain the ongoing snap, of something that is starting to look great on paper, but likely not noir.

Marian Washburn: [Susan faints] Luke! She fainted.

Susan Caldwell: [Luke claps] Oh.

Luke Jordan: I won a bet! They don't say, "Where am I?"

A tighter script, devoid of the excesses of flashback, might have salvaged the film from its descent into narrative disarray. Yet, as it stands, A Woman's Secret promises much with its promising outset, only to lose its way amidst the tangled web of backstories and unresolved mysteries. Indeed, the film stumbles and falters, its path obscured by the shadows of its own convoluted narrative, leaving viewers yearning for clarity amidst the confusion.

Susan Caldwell: I think I'll take a little water first. It clears your throat you know.

[gulps water for twelve seconds]

Luke Jordan: All clear?

She lived in a world where shadows danced with secrets, and every whisper carried the weight of betrayal. Paranoia wasn't just a state of mind; it was a survival instinct, etched into her soul like scars from a street brawl.

Every glance, every fleeting shadow in the corner of her eye, sent shivers down her spine. She knew the walls had ears and the alleys had eyes, and trust was a luxury she couldn't afford. The air was thick with suspicion, thick enough to suffocate even the bravest of hearts.

She walked the streets with a steel grip on her purse, her eyes darting from side to side, searching for the enemy lurking in the shadows. Behind every smile, she saw deceit; behind every gesture of kindness, she sensed manipulation. Paranoia wasn't a choice; it was a way of life, a shield against the daggers of deception that lurked in every corner.

In the late 1940s, being a paranoid woman meant living on the edge of a knife, teetering between sanity and madness with each passing day. It meant never letting your guard down, never showing weakness, never trusting a soul. In a world where danger lurked behind every shadow, paranoia was the only friend she could rely on.

Gloria Grahame in A Woman's Secret (1949)

Which kind of film noir is this?

A Woman's Secret (1949) is so hybrid within the folds of the 1940s woman genre, whether it be lousy husband, wifelet-seeker-hero, paranoid woman, theatrical woman, malaised home-maker or a simple woman's picture, that it washes by on the strength of its scent of crime, and so finds itself on many film noir lists.

For clarity A Woman's Secret (1949) is not a film noir, but does hinterland within a few of the tropes and topics of the genre, the dark and shady aspect of whcih was never much of interest to Nicholas Ray, not all of the time at least.

A Woman's Secret (1949) is an RKO Nicholas Ray jealous woman murder mystery melodrama with Maureen O'Hara, Gloria Grahame and JC Flippen.

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