D: Felix Feist C: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall
FILM NOIR differs from drama in that it has no heroes and no villains – everybody is a bastard. At its best, as in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) it’s something like Greek tragedy. A recurrent theme is the guilty lovers often planning the demise of a troublesome spouse. Whereas the men are mostly driven by lust, the women are cool and calculated, thus introducing the element of temptation. The antihero may start out as a stand-up guy, or even a pillar of society like a policeman or an insurance agent, but once under the influence of the particular femme fatale, he gradually sinks into a quagmire of crime and deception, ending up betraying or being betrayed by a valued colleague (who is of course merely doing his job). He usually has no delusions about the moral character of his accomplice, but is nevertheless unable to resist, underlining the purely sexual nature of the relationship – predictably he ends up taking the fall. In fact, one of the main problems of THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF is that Jane Wyatt really isn’t all that sexy, and so her lover’s covering up for her seems more like a friendly gesture, and a rather superfluous one at that. After all, Jane’s husband was planning to kill her, and so a plea of temporary insanity would seem a much more logical step for a seasoned cop than risking his career and a murder rap. Is he a sociopath, who thinks he can get away with anything? No, apparently he’s a conscientious civil servant with a rather limited imagination. He also seems a bit dim. After all, his tenacious kid brother only gets wise to him after having followed him to Wyatt’s apartment. So he couldn’t stay away from her? Are we talking about the same woman? In fact, it all begins to look increasingly like a death-wish, as Lee J. Cobb goes through the motions, planning to flee the city after having given his brother ample time to blow the whistle and arrange for plenty of roadblocks. It’s a testimony to the ability of the director FELIX FEIST that he manages to keep you interested all the time, right up to the de rigueur chase-on-a-landmark ending. There are lots of tricky forensics and double-entendres along the way, and the black-and-white cinematography is suitably stylish.
Or maybe you prefer THE MAN WHO CHEATED LIFE? Or perhaps THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, THE MAN WHO LIVED AGAIN or THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE? Or THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES or just THE MAN WITH TWO LIVES?