A Woman’s Secret, 1949. 5/10

Maureen O’Hara plays singer Marian, who thinks she’s shot her friend, fellow singer and protege Susan (Gloria Grahame). Luke Jordan (Melvyn Douglas) is Marian and Susan’s friend and manager. Detective Inspector Jim Fowler (Jay C. Flippen) investigates the crime; Mary Philips is his wife, also Mary. Friends (and one-time fiancees) of Susan are portrayed by Bill Williams as Lee Crenshaw and Victor Jory as Brook Matthews. A Woman’s Secret has been compared to All About Eve, as both films concern a mentor/protege pair of women.

The story starts out with a snit between Susan and Marian–which ultimately bears on their rivalry for Luke. They both go upstairs. The maid hears a gunshot, Susan’s been shot. Marian summons a doctor. That doctor, in his pjs, must’ve flown: anyway, the police must be on the same wavelength, because they’re on the scene awful quick too–at least they managed to get dressed.

Strangely, she doesn’t want to call her lawyer. Instead, she calls Luke. He calls Brook Matthews, an attorney, also in his pjs. Anyway, he fills Matthews in on the case; apparently Matthews was engaged to Susan. Luke thinks he owes it to her to represent Marian. Meanwhile, at the station, she gives a statement to the police.

Which means a flasback to the previous night’s action from Marian’s point of view. We see that Marian had continued to badger Susan, as though she owns Susan, or her career at least. She cannot abide Susan going off on her own. The symbiosis got tighter when Marian lost her voice; thus Susan represents a sort of alter ego for Marian.

Luke takes Inspector Fowler to lunch to see what he thinks about the case. Another flashback, this time Luke’s; how he met Marian, in her singing days. He then recalls when she lost her voice. I don’t see the point of these scenes–it’s already been explained. There’s a semi-goofy bit where he doesn’t propose to her, even though neither would mind if he did.

Then we see how Susan came on the scene as a destitute innocent, in hock to fortune tellers, no less. Actually, she’s sort of a godsend; a prodigal singer to plug in for Marian. Anyway, at the hospital, Luke meets Lee Crenshaw, a guy who knew both of them during the war, the guy who gave Marian the gun she used on Susan.

Now we get Fowler’s domestic scene. His wife has ideas on the case. Luke comes calling; why he discusses the case with Luke is an interesting question. Luke admits he was in love with Susan. Yet another flashback to Paris, to the time when Luke came to visit the two women there. Interestingly, Marian feels bad, at this early stage, for taking Susan too tightly under her wing. Actually, Susan has left Marian and gone to Algiers for a job. Upset that this means he’s going to want to go there immediately, Luke laments “Can’t I stay in Paris long enough to get in an argument with a waiter?!”

Apparently, she was duped about the job. Luke tries to talk her into going back to Marian. There’s a Casablanca-esque bit of ‘playing it again Sam’ that begins in Algiers and ends aboard a toney luxury liner; Susan’s entertaining the swells there. We meet Matthews there as well. Marian and Luke talk him in to representing her. Brook’s mom is in attendance–Luke drops an iceberg-sized hint that he will propose to Susan, evidently to boost her credentials, so to speak. But then he immediately insists to Marian that he was kidding. What a jerk!

Back to the present time at Fowler’s; soon enough the busybody Mary looks for secret passageways with a magnifying glass at Marian’s. Why was she let in? She even gets the maid to agree not to tell her husband. Anyway, everyone else (at least ten people) gather at the hospital–Susan’s coming around. Luke and Lee have had a tussle there. It’s about the gun.

It was Susan’s gun, not Marian’s. Could that mean that Susan shot herself (accidentally)? Finally, we get to Susan. It’s her turn for a flashback. But, instead she clams up; Brook insists that both women have the same story (how would he know?)–but neither Luke or Fowler agrees with him. On the side, there’s Louisiana business to clear up; that’s Crenshaw’s home. They adjourn to Susan’s hospital room. Aha! She was “getting married” to Lee.

Now, finally, her flashback: she was reading Lee’s telegram in her room that night, burns it, and gets out the gun…Marian enters. Susan just wants her to leave her alone, but she keeps on. As expected, Susan’s holding the gun as they struggle, and, it goes off, very accidentally. Marian was holding it, but it certainly could also be said that she was trying to stop Susan from shooting one or both of them. Anyway, Marian’s off the hook. More goofy Luke stuff; he’s had a few good one-liners, but he’s not all that funny. Now, Marian’s proposing to him, and we end with them making out in a cab.

Wait a minute. What’s Lee’s relationship to Susan? His telegram “tell me whether you think you’re being funny ( ) but believe me I’m completely serious.” Serious about what? Were they married or not? There’s way too much coyness about the plot. Matthews was engaged to her too at some point. There’s no follow up to either situation.

For Susan, there’s three guys to consider : Luke, Brook, and Lee. She was supposedly engaged to Brook, maybe married to Lee, and for a few minutes, engaged to Luke. Even though we expect more, none of this stuff adds much to the main plot–the rivalry between Susan and Marian. The symbiosis theme was far more interesting than which guy Susan might or might not be with. In fact, the lover subplots could’ve been woven handily into the main plot. It’s clear that both women were interested in Luke (he was kind of sort of engaged to both of them at odd times), but even that hotpoint was more or less put on the back burner to warm up the other subplots.

We get the worst of both worlds with the Paris/Algiers scenes. Luke seeks out each of them, but there’s no exploration of the love triangle per se (this has Luke’s bogus engagement announcement), the focus instead is on some legitimate steps toward independence for Susan. I’d be happy without that entire flashback of Luke’s. The movie ends up being both too long, for these and other questionable scenes, and not long enough to tie the plot together.

The comedy was decent in spots, but, as I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, there can’t be effective comic relief if there isn’t a serious drama to seek comic relief from. There is serious drama here, but it’s left on life-support while the subplots chew up huge patches of plot. The worst part of A Woman’s Secret is Mary Fowler’s role. Why is Fowler’s wife even a character? In a movie already weighed down by distractions, she completely hijacks the plot.

There’s plenty of decent, even very good amateur detective movies from the ’30s and ’40s, but that’s a completely different genre. To make it a plausible amateur and/or husband and wife crime mystery, then have the Fowlers as main characters. That could be the makings of a slick comedy mystery. But not with Mary Philips, not with this script, and not on top of the three main characters (Susan, Marian, and Luke).

The Mary Fowler character brings up a related problem. I can certainly buy a guy discussing a case with his wife, at least in general terms, but certainly not to the extent given here–and it’s not just talk, Mary becomes a de facto detective. The compromising of police procedure is just as obvious with Luke. What detective would have an interested party over to his house to discuss an ongoing case? Just how are they friends anyway?

A Woman’s Secret has an interesting premise, and, with the tie-in to symbiotic relationships, a fairly unique psychological theme. But most of the good stuff is buried with extraneous characters, unnecessary flashbacks, unresolved plot issues, and an uneven tone. Might be worth a look, but not recommended.

Farmermouse had more luck getting cabs than Luke, because he simply clambered onto their running boards when they parked. He gives this five ocean liner votyages, 5/10.

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