For Reel

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949)
July 26, 2015, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Stevenson
3 Stars
The Woman on Pier 13The eccentric Howard Hughes took control of RKO in 1948 and brought with him his obsessive fear of the “Red Menace”, firing much of the work force and investigating those who were still employed by the studio. The Woman on Pier 13 is a demonstration of the communist paranoia that plagued Hughes, a film that pre-dated the McCarthy trials and boasted the original title I Married a Communist. The communists in the film don’t exactly function as a political group, but rather as a sort of mafia–the film’s discourse revolves around the suggestion that once you’re a member of the party, you’ll never be allowed to leave. Robert Ryan plays the vice president of a shipping company who is exposed as a former member of the communist party when his ex-girlfriend (Janis Carter) resurfaces, destroying the new life he’s carved out for himself. A man being haunted and destroyed by his past is a fitting narrative device for a film noir picture, and indeed cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca revels in providing the expected long, deep shadows that paint a waterfront shipping dock. Despite the talents of those behind the scenes and on screen, however, the film is dated and forgettable, with Ryan’s character under wrought and his wife, played by the wasted Laraine Day, almost a nonentity. There’s a saving grace late in the film with the first screen appearance by William Talman, playing a carnival worker and hit man. Talman’s screen presence is as disquieting as any character actor of 1950s noir, and here he brings the same deranged, manic performance that he would later bring to Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker.

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