pretending on a precipice

[This film played in the Roxie Theater‘s film noir festival “I Wake Up Dreaming: The French Have a Name for It.”  It played in a triple bill with Detour and Une si jolie petite plage.]

The Pretender (USA, 1947), directed by W. Lee Wilder–Billy’s older brother–is a rather nasty piece of work, as thematically uncomfortable as it is visually ravishing. The film involves a slimy financier (Albert Dekker) who embezzles money from a beautiful heiress (Catherine Craig) who trusts him unquestioningly; as personal financial losses quickly pile up for Dekker’s character he scrambles to cover his tracks with a desperation that becomes closer and closer to outright hysteria.  Along the way he implicates himself in a series of shady underworld dealings and, most insidiously, attempts to marry the unsuspecting Craig for her money.

When a mafia deal goes awry, Dekker finds himself inadvertently caught up in a potentially deadly trap of his own devising, and the film embarks on a perilous balancing act,
negotiating the audience’s desire to have him get his comeuppance for his generally villainous actions with the impulse of wanting him to escape punishment for a crime he didn’t actually commit.  Once again, what distinguishes this Republic production is the gorgeous and complex lighting schemes and visual effects provided by John Alton; the score also heavily features the theramin–apparently among the first to do so–which is used to creepy, nightmarish effect.  Another nifty demonstration of what can be accomplished on a tight budget and a bit (a lot?) of creativity.

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3 thoughts on “pretending on a precipice

  1. I had no idea Billy had a brother — (a seemingly kept secret,
    ha,ha ?) ~~ DPs..what would directors do without them?
    Along w film editors… ~~ no other “art form” depends on
    such collaboration. Not to mention the poor scripter.

    1. I had no idea either until this festival, where this and a Gang Buster’s episode starring Detour‘s Anne Savage and Tom Neal played was shown, which was also directed by Wilder. It seems he has an extensive enough list of credits, so it’s interesting that he seems to have fallen completely off the map. I would have thought that he would at least rate a mention simply for his family pedigree!

      And there’s nothing like noir (or noir-ish films) to demonstrate there was a lot more to filmmaking in the studio era than just the director!

      1. There must have been Yg Billy vs Older bro competish.
        Ezra Goodman in his (1961) “50 Year Decline & Fall of
        Hollywood” mentions bro once. But I didnt realize he was
        related. Kael & Dwight MacDonald debunk the “dir-is-all”
        theory, which Sarris embraces w blinkeredness.
        Of course, Sarris’ view was taken up x young directing twits,
        who need a “floor-plan” to validate themselves.

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