Take One False Step (1949)

Take One False Step (1949) is an innocent-man-accused murder mystery comedy-toned film noir by Chester Erskine, which follows decent upstanding citizen Andrew Gentling (played by William Powell) as he negotiates the criminal backdrops of San Francisco, trying to clear his name from the frame, and deal with a rabid dog bite in the process.

In town for a conference, Powell's character bumps into an old flame in the form of Shelley Winters, and she relentlessly hits on him until he drives her home, and she disappears, leaving him suspected of murder.

It's a murder without a body however, and an ordinarily tense noir setup falls into place and the hacks of film noir will argue that it winds up lacking in the tension that is traded for comedy.

Take One False Step (1949) might serve to remind us of cinema viewing habits in the years before television took off, with its slightly offbeat mixture of crime, comedy, romance and fantasy. Film noir, more than any other form, allowed for the expression of and exploration of fantasy, often placed in a suburban context, with the fantasy expressive of the strictures of this free and momentous style of living.

There is the fantasy of crime, which is within the drama of the dream, an expression of freedom, in the most existential sense of the word. That is, it's an expression of the fact that criminals are free of the moral strictures and structures that have allowed this American Dream to succeed.

Thus, the criminal is a character expressive of freedoms that naturally arise from the controlling mechanisms that have created the Dream.

Marsha Hunt in Take One False Step (1949) 

In Take One False Step (1949) a further fantasy is evoked in the rekindling of a war time relationship between the characters played by William Powell and Shelley Winters. Interestingly the age difference between these two actors is quite typical of the unquestionably male dominated normativity that Hollywoodland shared with the world. The male is in this case 28 years older than his female lover.

Shelley Winters and William Powell in Take One False Step (1949)

The one false step of the title of this picture is suggestive of noir in toto, in that one small decision towards deviation from the path of the Dream, can lead to a spiralling disaster of murder, damage and nocturnal plunging into the crime world. 

It is typical of the patriarchs in this film that they are the normative and guiding forces of society, and even though William Powell's character remains faithfully moral to the Dream and faithfully moral to his wife, he is still somehow dragged into this bizarre mystery, much like Dick Powell in Pitfall, or later, Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction.

Extra-marital-marital urban paranoia in Take One False Step (1949)

Shelley Winters on the other hand is an irremediably flawed female, drunk and wanton, even so far as to be wishing that World War Two was still on, as it afforded her romantic opportunities, and on top of these stupidities, she practises deceit, emotional blackmail, and is a doorway to unpredictable danger. 

In light of this she is indeed a femme fatale, but not a knowing one. Instead she is woman as virus, woman as danger, analogous to the rabies that Powell's moral patriarch contracts, a hazard of dangerous play, a force of wickedness from stupidity, one of the worst kinds of female portrayal there is noir, evil with no agency.

The bold sliding into the rough and tumble gem of a sub style that is film noir (slash) comedy and the silly credit sequence which involves a variety of feet making 'false steps' goes to suggest something more ditzy than noir, and as an odd combination it does not always work, generally being forced into the scenes with the two lackadaisical detectives played by Sheldon Leonard and James Gleason, who don't enact any procedural other than to tune up at crime scenes, make a few sarcastic comments and hope for the best.

To top this off the needy and winsome character brought to life by Shelley Winters is not much in the film at all, which is mostly concerned with a normatively noir set of detections as the innocent lead works to clear his name.   

San Francisco Noir in Take One False Step (1949)

This woman prone to acting on drunken impulses, and embedded in the kind of histrionics that lead to the film's cliffside climax. The noir lies on the surface of this slightly curious movie, with the innocent man in over his head trope played to the full. 

But there are other aspects, such as the comedy, and the occasional lack of clarity which signal the production's home as a place filler in the constantly running cinemas of the 1940s, where films were not an event but a necessity and where most of this was new, the ever evolving idea that to sit in that cinema was to dream.

All that matters in this context is the false step itself, the warning of film noir. This is no uncompromising noir vision however, it is the lighter side of noir, combining violence and squashed bodies, failed dreams and evil schemes with a light view that somehow the reality here is that life is a lighter-hearted affair than fate seeks to argue.

In contrast there are vastly underused leading actresses in Take One False Step (1949), in Dorothy Hart and Marsha Hunt. Instead of spending time with them and perhaps encouraging the female seeker hero trope, Powell's character spends time with his boring professor friends, and instead of thugging it out, Powell has a fight with a dog, quite brutal in its way, eventually beating it with a candlestick.

Shelley Winters in Take One False Step (1949)

Take One False Step (1949)

Directed by Chester Erskine

Genres - Crime, Drama, Mystery-Suspense, Comedy???, Film Noir  |   Run Time - 94 min.  

Well folks if you are this far into the drama and fascinating circumstances of this little hit, Take One False Step (1949), you will be aware that noir cognoscenti and cinephiles, screen-knowers and  noireuax in general do persist with the fact that Tony Curtis is in this movie. 

Many have scanned for him as you will too, said on some web locales to be playing a character known as Hot Rodder, or similar.

Our guess is that Tony Curtis is visible in the camera movement towards the SQUAD ROOM in this establishing shot. Tony is under the letter S. 

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