Monday, June 11, 2012

They Won't Believe Me (1947)

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. TCM for all the good it does for classic films - airs a butchered version of the RKO noir They Won't Believe Me!

Instead of the 95 minutes watching a man behave badly we're stuck with a neutered lead not really doing anything all that wrong. The cut 80-minute one turns a top-shelf film noir into a watered-down flim flam. Cutting 15 minutes from a film can do that - especially if the cuts were designed to remove all the “immoral” decisions in it. Hell, the 80-minute cut should be shown before the full version to film students as a lesson on how a bad edit can ruin a film.

And I know this may annoy some - but the uncut version isn't easy to find and watch. Former home video releases of They Won't Believe Me! and even the fairly recent Italian DVD release of the noir are all 80 minutes (despite labels) - and they look like the same print TCM airs frequently. Even TCMs site lists the movie as running 95 minutes. Clock it when it airs tomorrow and you'll see what I mean. It ain't. Or better yet - don't watch it and wait for Noir City to roll into town and see it on the big screen in it's entirety. The uncut version is sometimes screened by Eddie Muller (at Noir City). Video pirates can find the full version on the “gray market” online.

There is some hope for the rest: Noir fans at the Back Alley mention that the WB Archive wants to release the full version on DVD but apparently they have some issues with the original print (as of right now). If they did release it it'd be one that would be snagged up by true film nuts. It's a film that would have fit perfectly on the (now apparently abandoned) WB Film Noir DVD box sets that they used to put out. It's a better movie than most of the ones they included on the last few sets.

The film

The plot is a variation of Double Indemnity. And I mean that as a compliment. It fits nicely with "A" pictures like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice but retains that RKO look and feel (slightly cheap and gritty with familiar actors peppering the edges). That would include Out of the Past released 1/2 a year after They Won't Believe Me!

Robert Young plays Larry Ballentine -- a young playboy who marries rich. He finds himself bored with is wife and begins an inappropriate relationship with one of his wife's friends (Jane Greer). When we first are introduced to Larry and Janice it's in a courtroom with Larry on trial for murder. It quickly moves to a flashback showing the two on a Saturday afternoon meetup at a New York City bar. They drink crazy frozen drinks that you'd never think about ordering when you're alone. They're flirty and touchy - as they discuss their plans to build a boat together. (The unedited cut shows that this relationship is clearly more than friendship, but the damned re-edit makes it look like Larry is kinda slow and is only interested in the toy boat not one of the “queens of film noir” batting her doe eyes next to him.)

Larry - after downing a few drinks - stumbles home to be confronted by his wife's aunt and friends who think he's a heal. His wife, for a change, is actually beautiful and very understanding. You'd expect the old battle axe like Edward G. Robinson's missis in Scarlet Street. She's actually quite a catch - refined and rich, yes. But understanding and tolerant of her untrustworthy husband. He doesn't see it that way.

Things happen and the next week he tells her he's leaving her for Janice. Greta (Rita Johnson) convinces him otherwise and Janice is out of the picture.

Larry continues to work for his wife's company. He's only there because his wife owns a sizable share of it. He is lazy --as expected --and not liked by his partner Trenton (familiar face Tom Powers.) Underling Verna Carlson catches Larry's eye one day. Before he can finish a voice over talking about how he's been “too close to the flame and is now power shy when it comes to beautiful women” he's asking her what kind of perfume she likes. Verna (Susan Hayward) is another unique twist on a film noir character. She's a gold digger for sure. But she admits it. And the second she doesn't get her way with Larry she starts something up with his pug face (and probably also married) partner Trenton. Ruthless but she never becomes the femme fatale you'd expect. In fact, there's no true murder in the movie (if you can believe the possibly unreliable witness telling the story). There's shattered lives and suicide thanks to Larry's selfish, heartless nature. But no real crime. I kept waiting for Verna to talk Larry into killing his wife. Instead, she turns out to be fairly decent - like the other two woman in the film. Only Larry is the letch.

There are some nice visual touches in the movie and the final scene at the farm house with the horse is a jolt. I would guess you could credit camera man Harry J. Wild for most of the film's look - he certainly shot his share of noir including Pitfall, Nocturne, Station West, The Threat, His Kind of Woman and many, many more. Director/actor Irving Pichel didn't do anything remarkable in the film-noir world outside of this one (which is great), but turned out the enjoyable Quicksand in 1950.

The cast of They Won't Believe Me! Is strong. Robert Young is remembered by men of a certain age as Marcus Welby, M.D. Here he's quite good as the playboy with a wandering eye. Jane Greer is only months away before Out of the Past is released. She's at the height of her beauty. Finally Susan Hayward is given some of the best lines. She's quite something when she's trying to reel in Larry by cutting down his rich wife and flashing a smile that is so suggestive it should be illegal - only Gilda's hair flip is more powerful.


Hayward and Young's best bits are exorcised from the 80 minute cut including a kiss at the opera (with Larry's wife not too far away.)

Noir of the Week has been going for seven years now. There aren't many top shelf noirs we haven't talked about yet. This is one. They Won't Believe Me! Is a good stiff drink if you can find a bar that serves it straight up.

Written by Steve-O


  1. Great write-up! I've watched this film several times but never realized, till I read your review, that it had been so badly cut. No wonder I always felt as if something was missing. I hope that the full film will be released on DVD soon. I may be mistaken, but wasn't the woman played by Susan Hayward called Verna, not Vera?

    1. thanks for your comments. And you're right... Verna not Vera. Corrected!

  2. This is one of the greatest noirs of all time, and you're absolutely right -- the 80 minute cut is a disaster. Luckily for me, I was able to see it uncut at the Thalia Theater in NYC many years ago in 35mm, and it made an indelible impression.

    Irving Pichel's direction is immaculate, and Robert Young is very interestingly cast against type as the ne'er do well husband. It's sad that this isn't available on DVD; and you're right about the Italian DVD - it's still cut.

    I just assumed that someone had tackled this on NOTW a long time ago; this truly is, from first frame to last, an absolutely superb film -- not just an excellent noir, but a brilliant, tough piece of filmmaking, easily in the same class as Jacques Tourneur's OUT OF THE PAST.

    I can only hope that the WB Archive follows through with putting this out, even with potentially damaged footage. It's a missing gem in American film history. If anyone out there has a decent copy of the uncut version, I sure would like to hear from them.

  3. Most amusing review, with nuggets of very interesting information. Pity the edited film isn't as good as the clip would lead you to believe.

    **Larry is kinda slow and is only interested in the toy boat not one of the “queens of film noir” batting her doe eyes next to him**

  4. Good review. I will look for this movie soon. Any time I can find a "new" noir movie, I like to jump on it. Thanks again for your insights.

  5. Nice job Steve - and congrats on seven great years!

    1. Thanks... I keep it going with a lot of help from you and other contributors.

  6. I have the old laserdisc release of "They Won't Believe Me," that was issued about 20 years ago by Image Entertainment. The print of the film used for the LD edition is not the best, and was obviously mastered from an inferiour source (perhaps a 16mm copy of the film) but it is indeed the full-length version. I timed the LD carefully, and he film clocked in at 94 minutes. As well, I did a general scene-by-scene comparision against the TCM version to verify the LD containted the missing content. The print that TCM used is certainly beautiful, but I will hang on to my less-than-perfect, but uncut, laserdisc copy of this great film until an uncut DVD is available!


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