I’m guessing that if someone else besides Mark Stevens played the detective in “The Dark Corner” (1946) it would be better known today. Nothing against Stevens, who is fine but comes off a bit bland. Cast someone with an interesting face like Dana Andrews or Richard Conte in the role, and you would have a noir for the ages.
Stevens isn’t a total demerit however, and what we have is really nifty little noir, filled with enough colorful characters, gloriously moody black and white photography and on-location shooting to make it a prime entry in the post-war noir sweepstakes.
Stevens plays Bradford Galt (a terrible name for a detective, don’t you think?), who years before had taken the rap for his former partner Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger). Jardine is now a big-time lawyer carrying on an affair with Mari Cathcart (Cathy Downs), younger wife of Hardy Cathcart (now that’s a name!), the city’s most prestigious art dealer.
Cathcart is played by Clifton Webb, who I will happily watch in anything. It was first role after his star-making turn in “Laura” (1944) and his Hardy Cathcart possesses as keen a wit as Waldo Lydecker, if not as barbed. Waldo had to bow to no one, but Hardy has to make nice to his customers. But he’s still the magnificently superior Clifton Webb we all know and love. Some people have said how it was an honor to have been insulted by Groucho Marx. Me, I would have liked to have been sneered at by Clifton Webb.
It looks like Jardine is looking to ensnare his old partner in another web of murder and deceit, with the help of Stauffer (William Bendix), an ex-detective with a penchant for white suits. Galt has a loyal secretary Kathleen (Lucille Ball) who helps clear him of a murder charge.
I’ll admit to not seeing all of Lucy’s movies, but I’ve never seen her as warm as she is here. She’s not the manic Lucy we all know, but a quiet, working girl possessing lots of street smarts. Her honest working girl character stands in strong contrast to all the upper class duplicitous characters here.
Galt also keeps a bottle of booze which he keeps in his bottom desk drawer, which is one of my favorite staples of detective fiction. I had a grin a mile wide when he pulled out that bottle. All detectives should have a bottle of rye in their desk drawer. I’ve thought about becoming a detective just so I can keep a bottle of rye in my bottom desk drawer, and I don’t even drink.
Director Henry Hathaway rarely made a film that I haven’t liked. He may not be a critic’s favorite – not enough of an “auteur” - but his films move with nary a wasted scene. His films are always so unfussy, and I mean that in the best way possible. Hathaway had scored a monster hit the year before with “The House on 92nd Street”, a semi-documentary film, based on a true story about how the FBI cracked a nest of Nazi spies in the early years of World War II.
“The House on 92nd Street” was celebrated for its use of on-location shooting, a rarity at the time, and in “The Dark Corner” Hathaway and his camera crew returned to the Big Apple’s streets for some fascinating on-location photography, even a car chase through the busy downtown streets. I’m not talking “The French Connection” here, but pretty good all the same.
I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, because there are some intriguing twists to be had here. Without giving anything away, what I liked about this movie is how tight the script is. So many mystery movies feel there has to be a never-ending series of twists and revelations that sometimes the story’s main focus gets lost. Here, everything happens for a reason and makes sense. It’s not contrived and one can see how the events could happen as they are playing out.
A good script, taut direction, moody photography, a fine cast and the always watchable Clifton Webb make “The Dark Corner” a real winner.