Robert Young plays against type as a materialistic cad who strings along a trio of beautiful women - much to their everlasting regret - in They Won’t Believe Me, a slick, cynical film noir that’s flown under the radar for far too long. Susan Hayward, Jane Greer, and Rita Johnson play the deceived dames and Irving Pichel directs with a firm yet stylish hand. A brand new 4K restoration and lossless audio rejuvenate this absorbing thriller that deserves to be rediscovered. Recommended.
If you lead a less than virtuous life and then find yourself on trial for murder, you might find the deck stacked against you. That's the premise of They Won’t Believe Me (the title says it all), a slick, effective, surprising, and often overlooked film noir from director Irving Pichel. Actor Robert Young, a perennial screen good guy and the TV father who always knew best, plays against type as Larry Ballentine, a serial womanizer who can't get over his first love...money. Greed may be good for Gordon Gekko, but it gets Larry into all sorts of trouble, and might ultimately send him to the electric chair.
The story opens in a stuffy courtroom, where Larry stands trial for murder. The prosecution has just wrapped its case and now it’s time for Larry to take the stand in his own defense. His attorney (Frank Ferguson) states up front that Larry is hardly a reputable character, calling him "a bad husband and a bad citizen" who's "violated half a dozen moral laws, lied, cheated, and betrayed those who loved him." But is he a killer? As the stone-faced jurors listen to Larry tell his story and try to determine his innocence or guilt, the viewer sits in judgment, too, and watches a revealing flashback peppered with plenty of twists and turns.
Larry's feature-length recap of this critical period in his life begins in a cozy Manhattan restaurant, where he’s romancing beautiful magazine writer Janice Bell (Jane Greer). The two discuss their longing for each other and it all seems above board until we learn Larry is a married man. His wife Greta (Rita Johnson) is also very beautiful, but more importantly (at least to Larry), she's an heiress with a seemingly bottomless pocketbook who's willing to pay any price to hang onto her beloved husband. Larry promises Janice he’ll leave his wife, but when Greta ups the financial ante and secures him partial ownership of a brokerage firm in California - far, far away from Janice - he can’t resist the lucrative offer.
Larry unceremoniously dumps Janice, but not long after he and Greta move to sunny SoCal, he takes up with his gorgeous alter ego Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward), a self-professed gold-digger who was busy plumbing the pockets of Larry's partner prior to his arrival. Verna also knows how to manipulate Larry, and when their relationship heats up, complications multiply, as the beleaguered Larry finds himself finessing three strong, controlling women, managing his conflicting desires, and ultimately facing the consequences of his bad decisions. Rarely does the phrase “oh, what a tangled web we weave” better fit a situation.
Giving anything else away would spoil the fun of this finely crafted film that’s elevated by a literate script and the lyrical direction of Pichel, who never quite got his due in Hollywood. They Won’t Believe Me ranks as one of his better efforts, along with the classic Claudette Colbert-Orson Welles weepie Tomorrow Is Forever. Here, Pichel deftly mixes suspense, intrigue, romance, and wry humor to create a richly satisfying noir that’s more elegant than gritty.
They Won’t Believe Me didn't make many waves at the box office at the time of its release, and Young (unfairly) shouldered much of the blame. Critics and audiences alike struggled to accept the affable actor as a cad, but his nuanced performance adds dimension to what could be a cardboard character and engenders surprising sympathy for a man who really doesn't deserve it. The portrayal nicely complements another impressive offbeat turn by Young in Crossfire, a far more renowned noir produced just prior to this film.
1947 proved to be a breakout year for Hayward and Greer as well. Both actresses had been climbing the industry ladder for a few years, but hadn't yet achieved full-fledged stardom. Their stellar work in They Won't Believe Me, coupled with Hayward's no-holds-barred performance as a singer on the skids in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (which earned her her first Best Actress Oscar nomination) and Greer's deliciously duplicitous portrayal in the iconic film noir Out of the Past, catapulted both women onto Hollywood's A list. They're also stunningly photographed by cinematographer Harry J. Wild, who helped Marilyn Monroe skyrocket to superstardom in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Hayward and Greer both supply plenty of smoldering sexuality, but it's Rita Johnson who brings much-needed warmth to this icy tale. Yes, Hayward and Greer overshadow her, but the supremely talented Johnson makes sure she's not overlooked. As the patient, indulgent, and far-too-forgiving wife, she tugs the heartstrings, but she's no doormat. Greta knows what she wants and how to get it, and Johnson incisively juxtaposes the character's calculating actions against her genuine love for her no-good husband, as evidenced by the clip below.
All three women steal the spotlight from Young at various times, but he holds his own, maintaining his grip on an engrossing picture that grips its audience from beginning to end. The jury might not believe Larry, but you can believe me, They Won't Believe Me is a buried noir treasure that keeps you guessing until the movie's final shocking and ironic moments. And thanks to Young, Hayward, Greer, and Johnson, it holds up remarkably well more than seven decades after its premiere.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
They Won’t Believe Me arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Warner Archive produces another stunning black-and-white transfer that beautifully honors this noir classic. A brand new "HD master sourced from a 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements of the original 95-minute release version" yields a sharp yet lush 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 rendering that’s distinguished by deep blacks, bright yet stable whites, a wide grayscale, and a lovely grain structure that preserves the feel of celluloid. That bit about the original 95-minute release version is important (critical if you’re a fan of the film) because back in the 1950s RKO cut They Won’t Believe Me down to 80 minutes for its re-release so it could more conveniently fit on the lower half of double bills. That shortened version quickly became a TV staple, but thankfully the complete film was restored for its DVD release and remastered again for Blu-ray.
Excellent contrast enhances depth, background details and costume textures are easy to discern, and breathtaking close-ups showcase the glamor and allure of Hayward, Greer, and Johnson. Exterior scenes appear well balanced, superior shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, and only a few stray nicks and marks mar the pristine source material.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track provides wonderfully vibrant sound. Though for the most part They Won’t Believe Me is a quiet, slow-burn noir, when notable sonic elements kick in, they make a distinct aural statement. Excellent fidelity heightens the impact of Roy Webb’s melodramatic music score, and all the dialogue is clear, well prioritized, and easy to comprehend. A bit of faint surface noise can be detected during a couple of pregnant pauses, but distortion is absent and no pops, or crackle intrude.
No supplements - not even a trailer - are included on the disc.
They Won’t Believe Me may not enjoy the same level of renown as more notable film noirs, but it’s a nifty little mystery that’s slickly directed and enlivened by a quartet of stellar performances. Robert Young, Susan Hayward, Jane Greer, and Rita Johnson all shine in this absorbing thriller that builds to a shocking - and ironic - climax. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation strangely lacks supplements, but the brand new 4K master and crisp lossless audio more than compensate for their absence. Recommended.