The Man Who Cheated Himself, 1950. 9/10

A superb noir thriller. Lee J. Cobb and John Dall square off as brothers and fellow policemen in this breathlessly paced, well-written and well-acted film. Normally I can’t stand Dall’s jack-o-lantern grin, but it’s bearable here as part of his counterpoint to Cobb’s brute intensity. The two women are as different as the men; Dall’s Lisa Howard is sweetness and sunshine, Jane Wyatt’s Lois a selfish, manipulative schemer.

It’s ironic that Dall’s Andy, the younger, and presumably naive brother, has by far the better private and public life. Cobb’s character, on the other hand, junks everything to cover up for Lois’s murder of her husband. She’s frantic and seemingly delusional in her first scene with Cobb. Even though she’s right that her husband intends to kill her, she immediately declaims responsibility for killing him. As Cobb chooses to play a double game ‘investigating’ the murder, we sense the tension he undergoes, as well as his brother’s growing skepticism.

The young guy who Cobb tries to frame for the murder convincingly portrays a somewhat stereotypical down-on-his-luck type. He also complicates the plot, as he has committed a murder, just not the one in question. So, in the middle of the movie, Cobb looks like he just might get out from under the murder after all. Cobb’s menacing demeanor, which winds up tighter as the plot ensnares him, makes us forget that he’s an accomplice, not the actual murderer.

The last scene at Fort Point is great. Claustrophobic and desolate, it captures hauntingly the iconic noir atmosphere. The corridors and passageways lead Cobb and Wyatt ultimately into handcuffs. The title points in a few directions: Cobb has cheated himself by going along with the cover-up, he’s also the man whose lover ‘cheats’ her husband for.

The only quibble with The Man Who Cheated Himself involves disposing of the husband’s body. It is a nice recycling of the husband’s alibi to use the airport, but who would be dumb enough to drop a body in plain view of witnesses? Especially if you’re a detective. Use the Bay, so the body can ‘sleep with the fishes.’ Anyway, if you can stand this miscue, along with John Dall’s rubber-band grin, this is a fine noir movie. 9/10.

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