I’ve seen Janis Carter as the female lead in two of Columbia’s “Whistler” pictures, The Mark of the Whistler (1944) and The Power of the Whistler (1945), but I couldn’t have picked her out of a lineup of other glamorous B-movie blondes from the ’40s until I saw her as the death-obsessed femme fatale with a heart of ice in Henry Levin’s Night Editor (1946).
The part she plays in Richard Wallace’s Framed is more nuanced and less irredeemably evil than the role she played in Night Editor, but she’s still a nasty piece of work.
Framed starts out with a bang. We see Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford), his hat pushed back on his head, looking scared and exhausted, behind the wheel of a runaway truck. The first minute of the picture looks like an outtake from Thieves’ Highway (1949) or The Wages of Fear (1953). Mike careens around mountain passes, fighting the gears of the truck every inch of the way, and pumping the brakes to no avail.
It’s a great way to start the picture, and it’s fast-paced and suspenseful enough for the viewer never to stop and wonder why Mike doesn’t try to run the truck off the road just outside of town instead of driving straight down Main Street and smashing his front fender into a parked pickup truck.
Mike Lambert isn’t a guy who thinks things through before doing them. He’s a classic noir character — smart and resourceful, but bullheaded and cursed with a single fatal flaw. In Mike’s case, it’s his habit of getting blackout drunk at all the wrong times, a condition he accepts the way other men accept the weather. “I told you I never remember what I do after I’ve had a couple of drinks,” he says, as though it’s just another one of those things, like not being able to remember people’s names or biting your fingernails.
Mike is an out-of-work mining engineer. He took the job driving the truck with no brakes to make a few bucks, but the truck owner’s refusal to pay him and his citation for reckless driving leave him stranded in the little California town with no choice but to do some time in jail, since he’s flat broke and can’t pay the fine.
A beautiful guardian angel appears in the form of pretty blond waitress Paula Craig (Carter). She pays Mike’s fine for him and even lends him money to get a room in town. It’s not hard to see that she must have ulterior motives, but Carter plays her role well, and has good chemistry with Ford, so it’s easy to sit back and let yourself be lulled for a little while into feeling as though you’re watching a laid-back, romantic drama in which everyone will live happily ever after.
And for awhile, things seem to be going Mike’s way. He befriends the kindly, bedraggled old man (played by Edgar Buchanan) whose truck he hit, and who just happens to have a mining claim he needs help with. Mike also does a good job of keeping Paula at arm’s length with matter-of-fact statements like, “Don’t count on anything I said last night. Liquor blanks me out.”
Soon enough, Paula’s evil schemes become apparent to the viewer, if not to the booze-addled Mike. She’s only working in a greasy spoon to troll for a patsy that she and her boyfriend, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan), need for a scheme they’ve got cooked up. And Mike fits the bill.
Framed is a programmer that benefits greatly from having a rising star like Ford in the lead role. It’s a B movie that’s clearly cast in the same mold as Double Indemnity (1944) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but I think it succeeds wonderfully on its own terms. The script by Ben Maddow (based on a story by John Patrick) evolves naturally as it chugs forward, and never seems too contrived. Shifting loyalties and the yearnings of the main characters drive the story forward, and it never felt as if plot points were being checked off.
Richard Wallace, the director of Framed, was a hard-working studio hack. His career as a director spanned from 1925 to 1949 (he died in 1951), during which he made 46 features and 15 shorts. Of the films he directed that I’ve seen, Framed is one of the best. It’s a brisk tale of love, lust, and betrayal that might not quite qualify as a classic, but it’s never boring.
Hi Adam –
Great posts on “The Devil Thumbs a Ride”, “The Brasher Doubloon” and “The Arnelo Affair”!
I’m currently working my way through Raymond Chandler’s novels and recently picked up “The High Window” without realizing it was the original story for “The Brasher Doubloon”.
Apparently Eddie Mueller has recorded a yet unreleased DVD commentary on “Brasher”. When I spoke to him at Noir City Chicago in ’09, he mentioned that he hopes to someday offer download-able audio commentaries to select films independently, since some studios are getting extra stingy with Dvd extras.
I was lucky to see “Framed” at the first Noir City Chicago a couple of years back. I recall there being a few unintentionally funny moments in the flim that cracked the audience up. I also agree that it’s a riot to watch Janis Carter chew the scenery in this flick and “Night Editor”.
I just picked-up a copy of “The Woman on Pier 13”, so it’ll be interesting to see her along side Robert Ryan.
I was curious to watch “The Arnelo Affair” after reading your review last month. And since I’ve been a sucker for voice-over narration since “Raw Deal” and John Hodiak since “Desert Fury”, I think I was already programmed to like this flick! Although I agree that the direction was somewhat flat for most of the movie (and Frances Gifford seemed to possess one facial expression throughout the entire film) I have to say that I loved the scene near the end where Tony is riding in the car with the detective and is forced to listen to his speech. Great ending!
FYI – Check out the IMDB synopsis on Frances Gifford. Very sad story…
It reminds me somewhat of the actress Helen Walker from “Nightmare Alley” and “Impact”.
Thanks for the kind words, Brett.
I did know that about Frances Gifford, at least the basic details. It’s very sad. Life was not kind to a number of glamorous actresses from golden age of Hollywood (e.g., Frances Farmer, Gene Tierney, Veronica Lake). I didn’t know about Helen Walker, though. (I just looked up her bio.) I think I’ve only seen her in Call Northside 777. I’m looking forward to seeing Nightmare Alley soon, though. I really like Tyrone Power and think he’s an underrated performer.
I think the idea of downloadable audio commentaries is a great one. Especially now that so many DVDs have separate “rental” and “purchase” options. Even if there is an audio commentary, it might not be on the disc if you’re renting it from Netflix or whatever.
I’d love to hear Eddie Muller’s commentary on The Brasher Doubloon. I’d also like to see a nice print of that film some time. I was only able to find it on YouTube, and it looked and sounded like a third-generation VHS rip, which was a shame, since John Brahm has a really great visual sense.
Your reviews are great. It’s always interesting to learn a bit about movies that I’ve never seen before. I’m, sadly, not that familiar with films of the golden age of Hollywood, but I’m working on that.
Thanks, Aaron. I’ve loved all eras of cinema since I was a kid, but I’ve realized since I started doing this project just how many classic movies I’ve never seen. And even doing it this way, there are at least three movies I can’t find or don’t watch for every one I watch and review. If I watched everything I’d probably still be writing about movies from 1947 three years from now.