Accused of Murder (1956)

Accused of Murder (1956) is a gangster gangland-killer witness nightclub singer full color semi-static murder film noir from the bemusing and hard to grasp color film noir cycle of the 1950s.

Accused of Murder emerges from the shadows of 1950s American cinema as a non-quintessential example of the film noir style, directed with precision attention to color and its processes by Joseph Kane and featuring a semi-stellar cast led by David Brian, Vera Ralston, and Sidney Blackmer.

At the heart of this Republic Pictures produced and distributed work of noir art narrative lies the enigmatic figure of nightclub singer Ilona Vance, portrayed with captivating allure and alluring captivity by Ralston. When crooked attorney Frank Hobart meets his untimely demise, all eyes turn to Vance, the last person to have seen him alive. As the accusing finger of suspicion points in her direction, Vance finds herself entangled in a web of deceit and intrigue, fighting to clear her name and unravel the truth behind Hobart's demise.

She is the perfect noir foil! The mystery woman. Enter Lt. Hargis, a relentless pursuer of justice portrayed with steely determination by David Brian. Determined to unearth the real culprit behind Hobart's murder, Hargis embarks on a perilous journey into the seedy underbelly of the city, where dark secrets lurk behind every shadow and betrayal lies around every corner.

As the investigation unfolds, tensions rise and loyalties are tested, leading to a thrilling crescendo of suspense and revelation. With each twist and turn of the plot, the true nature of Vance's innocence becomes increasingly uncertain, forcing both characters and audience alike to confront the darkness that lies within the human soul.

Against a backdrop of smoky nightclubs and dimly lit alleyways, "Accused of Murder" weaves a spellbinding tale of crime and punishment, love and betrayal. With its gripping storyline, atmospheric cinematography, and powerhouse performances, the film stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the film noir genre—a timeless reminder of the fragility of innocence and the relentless pursuit of truth in a world shrouded in shadows.

Warren Stevens in Accused of Murder (1956)

As I delve into the mesmerizingly mundane annals of color film noir, I am struck by the enigmatic interplay of contradictions that shape its narrative landscape. Here, amidst the vibrant hues and dazzling Technicolor palettes, the traditional tropes of noir find themselves locked in a delicate dance with the demands of a changing cinematic landscape.

Indeed, the clash of tones and moods within these colorful canvases creates a palpable tension—a discordant symphony of light and shadow that defies easy categorization. In the lush landscapes of the 1950s, where every frame is saturated with the brilliance of full-color saturation, the conventions of noir struggle to find their footing, grappling with the demands of a medium that is at once dazzling and disorienting.

The result is a bending of genres—a twisting and turning of narrative threads that defy traditional expectations. In one moment, we find ourselves ensnared in the seductive allure of the femme fatale, her crimson lips and smoldering gaze casting a spell of intrigue and danger. In the next, we are plunged into the murky depths of moral ambiguity, where heroes and villains blur into indistinguishable shades of gray.

Virginia Grey in Accused of Murder (1956)

Yet, amidst the chaos and confusion, there is a strange beauty to be found—a certain elegance in the collision of disparate elements that gives color film noir its distinctive charm. It is a world where every shadow hides a secret, every glimmer of light a promise of redemption—a world where the boundaries between reality and illusion blur with mesmerizing clarity.

As I continue to unravel the mysteries of these fascinatingly dull histories, I am reminded of the power of cinema to challenge our perceptions and expand our horizons. In the contradictions and tonal clashes of color film noir, I find not just a reflection of the past, but a glimpse into the ever-shifting landscape of cinematic expression—a testament to the enduring allure of storytelling in all its myriad forms.

Lee Van Cleef in Accused of Murder (1956)

In the smoky haze of the nightclubs and the labyrinthine streets of the city, Accused of Murder unfolds with a mysterious and crystal clarity that belies the murky depths of its narrative. As gangsters and enforcers lurk in the shadows, and the relentless pursuit of justice collides with the allure of deception, the stage is set for a tale of intrigue and betrayal. Shadows are thin on the ground however as this is color noir.

David Brian in Accused of Murder (1956)

The opening scene sets the tone, as Ilona Vance takes the stage for her debut performance, unaware of the sinister forces at play behind the scenes. Watching from the shadows is Frank Hobart, the man who orchestrated her rise to stardom, only to meet his untimely demise at the hands of his own treachery. His fatal misstep, a double-crossing of a dangerous mobster, sets in motion a chain of events that will forever alter the course of Ilona's life.

As the investigation into Hobart's murder unfolds, the spotlight falls on Ilona, the last person to have seen him alive. With suspicion looming over her like a dark cloud, she finds herself thrust into a deadly game of cat and mouse, where the stakes are life and death.

Barry Kelley in Accused of Murder (1956)

Enter Lieutenant Hargis, a seasoned investigator with a cautious demeanor and a keen eye for detail. Paired with his impulsive subordinate Sergeant Lackey, the duo forms a dynamic duo whose contrasting methods and perspectives provide the backbone of the unfolding drama. As they navigate the treacherous waters of the criminal underworld, their investigation uncovers a tangled web of lies and deceit, where truth is a rare commodity and betrayal lurks around every corner.

Amidst the chaos and confusion, a weary hostess emerges as a key witness, her tired eyes betraying a world-weary cynicism that belies her importance to the case. With her testimony hanging in the balance, the fate of Ilona Vance rests in the hands of those who seek to uncover the truth behind Hobart's murder.

David Brian, Lee Van Cleef and Barry Kelley

It seems evident that Accused of Murder aspires to capture the glossy and refined aesthetic reminiscent of a Ross Hunter production, a hallmark of Hollywood glamour and sophistication. Virginia Grey's presence, known for her appearances in Hunter's films, undoubtedly contributes to this perception. However, despite its intentions, the film falls short of achieving the desired level of polish and elegance.

Vera Ralston in Accused of Murder (1956)

Perhaps it is the reliance on studio sets or the limitations of the art direction that imparts a certain television-like quality to the production. While director Joseph Kane maintains a steady pace throughout the film, ensuring that the story never overstays its welcome, there remains a lingering sense of artificiality that detracts from the overall cinematic experience.

Lee Van Cleef in Accused of Murder (1956)

Indeed, the plot itself is rather thin, lacking the depth and complexity that one might expect from a noir thriller. There is a distinct absence of ambiguity, with the narrative unfolding in a straightforward manner that leaves little room for surprises or twists. Even attempts to inject a last-minute twist towards the conclusion fail to elevate the story beyond its predictable trajectory.

The screenplay, penned by W.R. Burnett, who adapts his own novel, fails to imbue the narrative with the same punch and intrigue found in some of his other works, such as High Sierra and The Asphalt Jungle. Despite the pedigree of its source material, Accused of Murder ultimately struggles to rise above its television-like presentation and simplistic storyline, leaving audiences yearning for a more gripping and compelling cinematic experience. Yearning yawning yearning!

The perplexing decision of Republic Pictures to venture into the realm of color filmmaking within the confines of what would otherwise be considered a "B" crime drama prompts one to ponder the motivations behind such a choice. However, the answer becomes clearer upon closer examination of the film's origins—it serves as yet another vehicle for Vera Ralston, whose ties to Herbert Yates, the head of Republic at the time, undoubtedly played a significant role in the decision-making process.

It is indeed a missed opportunity, for had Ralston's role been entrusted to the likes of Marie Windsor or Audrey Totter, two stalwarts of the film noir genre, and filmed in the stark contrasts of black and white cinematography, Accused of Murder could have emerged as a gritty and atmospheric noir classic. Alas, the allure of color and the demands of star power prevailed, resulting in a film that struggles to find its footing within the confines of its genre.

Elisha Cook Jr in Accused of Murder (1956)

Nonetheless, despite what some people might possibly at times describe as or feel are shortcomings, Accused of Murder still manages to hold some merit, thanks in part to its compelling storyline and the presence of noir stalwarts such as Barry Kelley and Elisha Cook. Their performances inject a dose of authenticity and intrigue into the proceedings, offering glimpses of the noir magic that might have been.

For fans of the genre-style known as color noir, or Color Film Noir, Accused of Murder remains worth a watch, if only to experience the story and encounter the familiar tropes and archetypes that define the world of color film noir as well as the difficulty of filling widescreen photography and finding appropriate color palettes, here a serviceable blue does well.

While it may not reach the heights of its regular classic film noir counterparts, it nevertheless serves as a testament to the enduring appeal of the genre and the captivating allure of its characters, even in the face of artistic compromise.

As a trusted confidante to the aging Sidney Blackmer, her proximity to his demise casts a suspicious shadow upon her innocence. Caught in the crosshairs of suspicion, she finds herself implicated in his untimely demise, having been seen conversing with him moments before his life is abruptly cut short by a fatal bullet to the head. Despite the glaring lack of motive on her part, the menacing presence of mobster Warren Stevens, with his unmistakable scar, looms large as a prime suspect deserving of closer scrutiny.

Yet, amidst the swirling currents of intrigue and suspicion, she retreats into the background, disappearing from the spotlight for extended intervals. It is during these moments of absence that a colorful array of characters emerges, drawn into the tangled web of deceit and betrayal that surrounds the enigmatic circumstances of Blackmer's murder.

As the plot thickens and the investigation deepens, each character brings their own unique perspective and agenda to the forefront, adding layers of complexity and intrigue to the unfolding drama. From the cautious Lieutenant Hargis to the impulsive Sergeant Lackey, from the weary hostess to the elusive mobster, each individual plays a pivotal role in unraveling the mysteries that lie at the heart of the case.

Warren Stevens in Accused of Murder (1956)

Amidst the shifting sands of suspicion and uncertainty, she remains a silent observer, her true intentions shrouded in mystery. Yet, as the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, it becomes increasingly clear that the truth may lie hidden beneath layers of deception and deceit, waiting to be unearthed by those brave enough to venture into the shadows of the unknown.

In the end, "Accused of Murder" stands as a testament to the enduring allure of the film noir genre, where moral ambiguity and shades of grey give way to a gripping tale of crime and punishment in the city's darkest corners.

Accused of Murder (1956)

Directed by Joseph Kane

Screenplay by Robert Creighton Williams

W. R. Burnett

Based on the novel Vanity Row

by W. R. Burnett

Produced by Joseph Kane

Starring David Brian

Vera Ralston

Sidney Blackmer

Cinematography Bud Thackery

Edited by Richard L. Van Enger

Music by R. Dale Butts

Color process Trucolor

Production by Republic Pictures

Distributed by Republic Pictures

Release date December 21, 1956

Running time 74 minutes


Wikipedia Article 


Country United States


David Brian as Lt. Roy Hargis

Vera Ralston as Ilona Vance

Sidney Blackmer as Frank Hobart

Virginia Grey as Sandra Lamoreaux

Warren Stevens as Stant

Lee Van Cleef as Sgt. Emmett Lackey

Barry Kelley as Police Captain Smedley

Richard Karlan as Chad Bayliss

Frank Puglia as Cesar Cipriano

Elisha Cook Jr. as Whitey Pollock

Ian MacDonald as Trumble

Greta Thyssen as Myra Bayliss

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