director W. Lee Wilder
viewed: 05/13/2012 at the Roxie Theater, SF, CA
The first film of a triple feature that I watched at the Roxie last Sunday as part of their “I Wake Up Dreaming” Film Noir series, The Pretender was a solid example of “Poverty Row” American post-war darkness. Directed by W. Lee Wilder, Billy Wilder’s brother (didn’t know about him before this), it’s not the most compelling of thrillers, but has its noirishness pretty well on display.
I don’t know why but I was thinking to myself that if this film were to be re-made today, it would be a comedy rather than a thriller. Basically, the main character, Kenneth Holden (Albert Dekker), is an investment broker who has a sweet set-up with a young heiress, the daughter of a dead friend of his. He hopes to woo her to cover the many bad deals he’s made but when she doesn’t seem interested, he puts out a hit on “whoever” she plans to marry, as on display in the society section of the newspaper. When she changes her mind and decides to marry him on a whim, he’s basically fingered himself for death and though he tries to call off the hit, he swerves into a prolonged and lugubrious paranoia.
When he tells the local crime boss what’s up, the crime boss laughs in his face, that he should have put a hit out on himself. And that’s the thing, it’s pretty funny. All the dinners he turns down, all the new staff that he fears, hoarding his own food in his room, fearing every stranger…it’s all good noir but it’s also highly ludicrous.
There are a lot of little good things in the film, from incidental characters adding flavor to rather clever development of the local baddies. It’s a certainly enjoyable film. It was the one of the three that I was least interested in, but it was good, a good start to a triple feature.