Unusual noir thriller. The protagonist, Robert Young, is neither a criminal type or a lawman, but a seemingly ordinary guy who gets his deck reshuffled too many times. He plays a role similar to Fred McMurray’s in Double Idemnity. But Young’s Larry doesn’t descend gradually into depravity like McMurray’s character, he’s made a lifestyle out of it.
He’s unfaithful, but lets his wife (Rita Johnson’s Greta) lure him away from two affairs with goodies (jobs, houses) “I was private property” he admits. We get the usual split between angelic women (Jane Greer’s Janice) and devilish manipulators such as Greta. She seems to enjoy backing him into emotional corners with psychological blackmail. It’s a symbiotic relationship centered on isolation; their house in the desert is not only remote, she makes sure it doesn’t even have a phone.
Susan Hayward’s Verna starts out as a manipulator, a self-described “golddigger”, and evolves into a sincere lover. That’s unexpected, but, since we’re in abysmal noir territory, she dies soon after this revelation. In a very obvious way it’s Larry who’s the golddigger, living off his wife while courting Janice, then Verna, abandoning each, in turn, as it suits him.
His plot to cover the planned murder of Greta by letting the authorities assume that it was her who died in the accident, and not Verna, works, at least for a while. Among the heavy doses of irony in the movie is his discovery that Greta actually is dead. Larry can’t win. If he reveals that it was Verna who died in their auto accident, he compromises himself with Greta. But playing it as he does forces Greta’s hand anyway. Probably, on discovering his incriminating ‘good-bye’ note, Greta retreats to the remote pool to console herself. But she’s so distraught that she loses control of the horse and plunges to her death.
It sure looked like it happened that way. At worst Greta became suicidal, and deliberately fell. I can’t understand why the police would assume that Larry killed the woman. I said ‘the woman’ because they think it’s Verna. Ok, but since they know who Verna is, why don’t they know what she looks like? The corpse isn’t disfigured like the one in the burnt car. And how could Larry throw the horse into the gorge as well as the rider? It’s definitely suspicious that he would mislead the cops about Verna, but there’s simply no evidence for him murdering anyone. Well, that’s partly ‘squared’ by his acquittal.
But he feels trapped, fears conviction, and, with further noir irony, gets himself killed. I was half expecting Verna to show up out of nowhere. I thought the fact that the corpse was found on the driver’s side of the wrecked car meant that it was a ‘stowaway’ or something, and that maybe Verna survived.
No one, Janice excepted, is without blame in They Won’t Believe Me. She’s the only one who really knows what she’s about, and adroitly steers clear of all the mayhem.
The flashback device is another echo from Double Indemnity. It works fairly well here too. What’s different in They Won’t Believe Me is the lack of iconic noir settings; there’s really no seedy clubs, streets, and back alleys. The drama here is psychological. The three violent scenes: the car wreck, the horseback-riding accident (?), and the attempted suicide and subsequent death in the courtroom, have greater impact because they’re all surprises.
Even with some uneven plot bits, They Won’t Believe Me is a very watchable movie, with strong performances all around, nice pacing, and escalating tension. 9/10.