Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         



THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF. 20th Century Fox, 1950. Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, Lisa Howard. Screenplay: Seton I. Miller & Philip MacDonald. Director: Felix E. Feist.

   The Man Who Cheated Himself is a 1950 film noir set in San Francisco. Directed by Felix E. Feist, the movie reunites Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt, who starred together in Elia Kazan’s Boomerang (1947).

   Lt. Ed Cullen (Cobb) and his younger brother, Andy (John Dall) are cops working homicide. Ed’s been around the block for a while; he’s tough, cynical, and a committed bachelor. Andy’s new to the homicide division. The kid’s got good looks, ambition, and an inquisitive mind. He’s a Boy Scout, hardworking and perhaps a bit too pure of heart for the job. And unlike his brother who’s a notorious skirt chaser, the younger Cullen is eager to settle down with his lovely new bride.

   Andy Cullen’s first homicide case gets underway after witnesses spot a car pulling out of the airport, leaving a bullet riddled body in its wake. As it turns out, the man who was killed turns out to be the estranged husband of the woman with whom Ed Cullen is carrying on an illicit affair. Complicating matters for the enterprising young detective is that he and Ed are pretty close, both figuratively and literally. Not only do the two share an office, they also live in the same apartment.

   The movie itself begins with Howard Frazer (portrayed by Harlan Warde) sitting at his desk with a newly acquired gun. Although he’s able to hide the gun before his estranged wife, Lois Frazer (Wyatt), enters the room, Frazer accidentally lets the sales slip fall to the ground. They argue. He leaves for the airport, headed to Seattle for something to do with salmon fishing.


   After Howard Frazer leaves the house, Lois finds both the sales slip and the gun. She’s beside herself, petrified that her husband is plotting to murder her. Fortunately for her, she’s got a direct link to the police in her paramour, Lt. Ed Cullen (Cobb), who heads over to the house and tells her to calm down. That’s then things begin to go awry for Cullen, transforming the cynical cop into a corrupt one.

   Soon, Howard Frazer comes back into the house, apparently looking for his gun. It’s not exactly clear whether he came back to rob the house or to murder Lois. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Lois has his gun and she uses it to plug her husband in the chest a couple of times, killing him. At that moment, would-be divorcee’s action hysteria prompts Lt. Ed Cullen to dispose of both the body and the gun. The thing is, he really doesn’t need much convincing.


   As one might suspect, Cullen’s plan to get rid of Howard Frazer’s body doesn’t work out quite as planned. His car is spotted leaving the airport where he dumps the body, and his attempt to throw the murder weapon off the Golden Gate Bridge into the water doesn’t work out exactly as planned, either. Making matters even worse for him is his brother who’s eager to solve the crime no matter where it leads him. Andy Cullen even postpones his honeymoon to work on the Frazer murder case.

   The film’s penultimate scene features a cat-and-mouse chase between the two brothers in Fort Point, an American Civil War-era structure set underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s one particularly visually stunning scene in which Andy Cullen walks through a long hallway with flanked with many open doorways. Alfred Hitchcock would go on to make ample use of Fort Point in Vertigo (1958).


   During the final scene, if not before, one begins to suspect that Lois’s hysteria was just a big act. The question of whether she was using Ed all along in a plot to get rid of her husband remains unanswered, leaving viewers to make up their own minds. Viewers likewise will have to decide for themselves whether Wyatt was a good fit for the role of Lois Frazer, who seems to be capable of only two emotional states: complete hysteria or complete control.

   The plot of The Man Who Cheated Himself is not particularly unique, at least within the detective or film noir genres. It’s Cobb’s acting that makes the film worth viewing. Look, in particular, for the scene in which Cullen, after dumping Frazer’s body, is driving across the bridge. Cobb’s facial expression at that moment epitomizes his all his hard-boiled character’s doubts and fears. He’s crossed several lines, and boy, does he know it.

   Given Cobb’s acting and the appealing San Francisco setting, it’s unfortunate that a remastered copy of this film isn’t available. Neither the audio and visual quality of the DVD I watched (from Alpha Video) is very good, with moments in which the sound is garbled, making it somewhat difficult to catch all of the dialogue. I also didn’t find the soundtrack to be all that memorable. That said, The Man Who Cheated Himself is a solid film noir well worth watching at least once.