[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ssistant D.A. Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) drunkenly stumbles into the office of investigator Miles Scott (Paul Kelly). Cleve admits he is avoiding his wedding anniversary party because he cannot abide his overbearing father-in-law Judge Blackwell (Minor Watson). When Cleve’s wife Pam (Joan Tetzel) calls Miles asking if he’s seen Cleve, Miles lies and says he doesn’t know where he is. Miles leaves for the night with Cleve still pouring drinks for himself. An attractive young woman named Thelma Jordan Barbra Stanwyck) enters and reports that she spotted a prowler around the home of her wealthy Aunt Vera (Gertrude W. Hoffman) where she is staying. Cleve begins to make passes at Thelma and convinces her to join him at a restaurant bar. Although she knows he is in a troubled marriage, Thelma is drawn into a furtive affair with Cleve. Cleve’s wife Pam realizes he has been distant recently and suspects there may be another woman. But Pam has faith that Cleve will come around if only for the sake of their two young children.
One night Aunt Vera is murdered during the robbery of an expensive necklace. Investigators discover that Thelma is the beneficiary of her aunt’s will. They also find out that she is connected to career thief Tony Romano (Richard Rober) D.A. Pierce (Barry Kelly) charges Thelma with murder. Though Cleve discovers that Thelma hasn’t always been truthful with him, he can’t believe she is guilty of murder. Still, he wants to cover up his affair to prevent his reputation from being destroyed.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ketti Frings, the screenplay of The File on Thelma Jordan is unique in the film noir canon because the femme fatale and the man drawn into her web are extremely flawed rather than evil. Thelma’s growing love for Cleve eventually leads to a redemptive act. Thelma is light years away from the murderous Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944). Barbara Stanwyck, who played both roles, shows remarkable range and subtlety as Thelma. As Cleve, Wendell Corey is a self-destructive everyman who pursues Thelma even though he knows it could ruin his marriage, his career and his reputation. The standout performance comes from character actor Stanley Ridges as Kingsley Willis, the hot-shot criminal attorney who defends Thelma. The combination of Ketti Frings’ dialogue and Ridges’ nuanced performance comes through beautifully. When Thelma says, “You haven’t asked me once if I’m guilty.” Willis responds: “Why should I? I know you’re not… To me the world is full of innocent lambs and I’m their lawyer.”
German-born director Robert Siodmak, who had collaborated on projects with his writer/brother Kurt and writer/director Billy Wilder before immigrating to America, was perhaps the most consistent director of projects now classified in the genre of film noir. He possessed a strong visual sense influenced by German expressionism. His films in the genre began with Phantom Lady (1944) and continued with the classic The Killers (1946) based on a Hemingway short story. He followed those films with Cry of the City (1948) and Criss Cross (1949), perhaps the most tragic and fatalistic film in the genre. With The File on Thelma Jordan Siodmak concluded his cycle with a story that combined tragedy with the possibility of redemption.
EXTRAS: No extras but the transfer looks sharp and clean with blacks, whites, and a full range of grays. There is some minor dust and dirt on the negative but the picture looks good. My review is based on the Blu-ray which has higher definition than the DVD, but both would be derived from the same master so the DVD should also be good.
DIR: Robert Siodmak. PROD: Hal B. Wallis. SCR: Ketti Frings, story by Marty Holland. CIN: George Barnes. ED: Warren Low. SCORE: Victor Young. CAST: Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly, Joan Tetzel, Stanley Ridges, Richard Rober, Minor Watson, Gertrude W. Hoffman. GENRE: Crime thriller/Film noir. B&W. Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1. Running Time: 100 min. Paramount Pictures. Blu-ray/DVD distributor: Olive Films (http://www.olivefilms.com)