Fri 8 Aug 2014
WITHOUT HONOR. United Artists, 1949. Laraine Day, Dane Clark, Franchot Tone, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett. Re-released as Woman Accused. Screenplay: James Poe. Director: Irving Pichel.
Without Honor was directed by Irving Pichel and written by James Poe, a distinguished writer for radio and film. (Though Poe wrote the screenplays for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Lilies of the Field and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, he won his sole Oscar for Around the World in Eighty Days.)
For genre lovers Poe also is especially notable as a radio scriptwriter for classic series like Suspense and Escape (perhaps his best known adaptation is the brilliant nail-biter “Three Skeleton Key,” starring Vincent Price).
Without Honor followed the Alfred Hitchcock film Rope into theaters by one year, and the influence on the latter film on the former seems clear, with Without Honor playing as a feminized, suburbanized version of the classic Hitchcock film.
Laraine Day stars as Jane Bandle, a San Fernando valley housewife whose dalliance with businessman Dennis Williams (Franchot Tone) has been uncovered by a private detective employed by her rat fink brother-in-law, Bill Bandle (Dane Clark), who is still angry that she once spurned his advances and has been eying his chance to exact revenge.
Williams has come to the Bandle house to inform Jane that with a detective on their tails, it’s all over between them — he won’t divorce his wife as he had promised. A distraught Jane, who when Williams dropped in to lower the boom had been preparing shish kabob for her husband’s dinner (d’oh!), grabs a skewer and hysterically threatens to commit suicide on the spot. Williams grapples with her and ends up getting stabbed in the chest.
After Williams collapses in the laundry room, a panic-stricken Jane shuts the door on him but finds that the worst is yet to come: her snake-in-the-grass brother-in-law has invited Williams’ wife, Katherine (Agnes Moorehead), to come over the Bandle bungalow to discuss a certain matter of marital infidelity. Oh, yes, and Jane’s husband, Fred (Bruce Bennett, aka former thirties film Tarzan Herman Brix) should be along any minute now too….
This film has gotten its share of criticism over the years, but I enjoyed it. The performances are quite good, in my view. Tone is his customarily sophisticated self, but it’s Dane Clark who dominates the film, as a highly memorable etching in sleazeball venom. A rather censorious New York Times, which didn’t like the film, allowed nevertheless that “Mr. Clark does such a thoroughly good job in developing the revengeful brother into a full grown monster that one can almost forgive and commiserate with Laraine Day, despite her guilt of marital indiscretion.”
Laraine Day mostly spends the film looking terrified, though she does this well. Agnes Moorehead lends an interesting performance as a not entirely unsympathetic Beverly Hills matron. Bruce Bennett is convincing as Day’s somewhat dim husband. Essentially a post-war kitchen sink women’s melodrammer, Without Honor nevertheless also offers genre fans a pleasing repast of crime and suspense.