Wicked Woman, 1953. 9/10

Kind of a variation on the Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice woman-getting-the-unwanted-spouse-out-of-the-way premise.

This time it’s Beverly Michaels wrangling a job from bar owner Richard Egan; Billie (Michaels) wants to get Matt (Egen) to cash out the bar business from under his alcoholic wife, Doris (Evelyn Scott). The plan is fairly clever in that Billie impersonates Doris in order get what she and Matt want.

In supporting role are Percy Helton as boarding house denizen with a Billie-crush, Charlie; And Robert Oberloh as Lowry, Bernadette Hayes as landlady Mrs.Walters, and Frank Ferguson as the bar’s cook, Gus.

Charlie starts leering at Billie right off; she looks like a taller version of Marilyn Monroe. Jeepers, Charlie gets to walk by her open door and chat, but she’s about as pleasant as a hammer. She actually deigns to accept his invitation to dinner. Just “Don’t do me no special favors, buster.”

Anyway, she has to come up with a story for Dora–but it works. Hired. As soon as soon Matt gets a load of her he’s impressed. “Does your wife show up here at night?” Umm, why? Doesn’t take long to find out…Billie can seduce a guy with a cigarette. Meanwhile, Matt and Dora get into it about Dora’s drinking.

The other boarders aren’t as nice as Charlie. Next night at the bar Billie plays a ‘Mexican’ song incessantly. Which is a lead up to her laying on Matt a well-detailed Acapulco elopement plan. They make out. Back at the house, Charlie proves himself useful–he’s a tailor. Down at the bar the employment agency guy hits on her; she decks him!

More incredibly, Matt is not only in Billie’s corner, but into her “who cares about Dora?” Billie tries again to talk him into the Mexico deal. That is, to sell the place and split with her. He actually back-pedals; he’s not ready to betray Dora.

But, he comes to Billie’s place later. They plot; to get Dora drunk, and…get her to sign a sales contract. They’ve got a buyer, Lowry, and a deal. The other end of it is Billie’s role-playing. But, after she makes arrangements, there’s a snafu. They can’t get Dora messed up to sign, as it’s got to be done in an attorney’s office.

And Billie won’t accept Matt without the big payoff. Anyway, they’ve got a plan B. Get her drunk the night before. Then, Billie poses as Dora to sign; Dora will be occupied sleeping it off. Matt tries to coach Billie on Dora’s background; the girl’s sort of a blockhead. A fly in the ointment is good old Charlie, who overhears them conspiring.

The scene in the attorney’s office is tense. It does work well enough to get the paperwork done. Unfortunately, they have to wait until escrow closes. The problem is they’re “living on dynamite” until then. Charlie knows the set-up; Billie’s job is to hang out with him so he won’t rat her out.

The pace has picked up. And it’s pretty intense at the old bar. Also at the boarding house: the ‘date’ with Charlie. I guess she survives that; next night, both she and Matt are shaky. Oh, man, Lowry is coming to check out his new place. The good news is, escrow closes the next day.

Billie’s next charade is to schmooze Lowry, and hope he just takes a quick look around and splits. Shazam! Dora pops in, mucking things up like concrete. They just barely pass muster with Lowry. What else can happen? A boardinghouse Charlie appearance, that’s what; insinuating himself like the creep that he is. Back at the bar, Dora wants the key to their safe deposit box. Hmm. That means she’ll probably find out about their recent cash flow enhancement.

Matt shows up at Billie’s–just in time to see Charlie pecking away at her (this guy couldn’t even kiss his mom normally). Matt think the worst–that she’s two-timing him with Charlie. Anyway, in the light of day, Matt’s busted. The bank figures out the Billie/Dora deception; Dora isn’t a happy camper, but both Lowery and the bank just throw up their hands and say whatever.

Billie’s exit is a reprise of her entrance–a bus trip–this time out of town. As tough and tense as this movie is, no one gets killed; even an obvious case of fraud never gets outside of an attorney’s office. The deliberate underplaying of overt criminal action helps us focus on the psychological drama.

Billie clearly dominates every scene she’s in; it’s easy to see why Matt falls for her, and why he’d just as soon Dora just disappear. But, although he’s weak, he’s really not a bad guy. The same could be said for Dora. Billie certainly is ‘wicked’; almost stereotypically. She hardly delivers a civil line for the duration of the movie (unless it’s part of a ploy).

This film does just about everything right. We know right off the bat that Billie’s going to create some sort of mess; she’s sort of like a wild card that gets tossed into the game, turning the tables. The role of fate in film noir is everpresent, an intangible yet unavoidable force. Much like the dark-and-stormy-night of mystery movie fame, we have here sudden danger in the form of Billie.

Wicked Woman has consistently good performances, an interesting plot, great pacing, and plenty of tension. 9/10.

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