Jigsaw, 1949. 7/10

Unusual film noir. There’s great cinematography, with shots of wind-blown desolate streets, shadowy staircases, and the abstractly-lit maze of the museum. Franchot Tone gives his suave, but tough charisma to his role as assistant district attorney Malloy.

Most of the performances are nicely-done, with layers of snappy 40s dialogue animating every exchange between Malloy and Barbara (Jean Wallace). Winifred Lenihan’s Mrs. Hartley and Barbara are shifty operators; Barbara is bait, so to speak, for dissuading Malloy’s investigation of the extremist group headed by Mrs. Hartley.

Malloy is also side-tracked from the widowed Caroline (Doe Avedon). It does seem odd that she’s ready to fall for Malloy so soon after her husband’s murder, although it’s established early on that he’s the couples’ friend. After the masterfully-done denouement in the museum, the tidy, happy ending for Caroline and Malloy overworks the plot somewhat.

The plot’s sketchy because it involves deception. Mrs. Hartley, by trying to get rid of anyone in the Crusaders’ way, thinks she can compromise Malloy. When that doesn’t work, she tries to get rid of him too. If we can buy that the ‘fixers’ in town can make things happen, then Malloy can certainly be set up as special prosecutor, and lured out of harm’s way by Barbara.

The righteous denunciations of the Crusaders are hardly necessary, as it’s obvious that the hate-mongers are blowhards. In fact, most of the attention given to the group emphasizes that it’s real goal is soaking their adherents. That’s the best way to undercut their message. The extremist aspect is more or less a backdrop for the noir atmosphere.

Other than a bit too much focus on the first victim’s widow, which slowed things down, Jigsaw is a fast-paced, thrlling noir–almost everyone ends up either injured or killed. Tone’s and Wallace’s chemistry, and the creepy settings make this worth a look or two. 7/10.

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