Let’s talk about Ann Savage whom a few of us know as the malevolent female lead in
the 1946 Detour, the nearest Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) or director Edgar Ulmer came to making a classic movie.
When I was based in London, the Présence du Cinéma guys came in from Paris to hire
fifty movies from the Sixteen Millimeter Distributors. I set them up in the
Grasshopper Group Cinema. On a break, a few diehards picked a couple of titles out
of the six foot stacks of prints against the wall to have a second look at - Detour,
which no one had previously heard of, was elected, a highlight of the event. This
pattern I found to be repeated wherever that then unknown film turned up.
Ann Savage would make production line movies for fifty years. She was in a
Boston Blackie and a Cisco Kid and Andre de Toth's first movie. In 2007, idiosyncratic Canadian film maker Guy Maddin brought her out of a sixteen-year retirement to appear his My Winnipeg.
Suddenly after all her forgotten B movies, Ann Savage had recognition.
One result was that an enterprising public domain DVD maker brought out an Ann
Savage box set - three features and some half hour religious TV eps., not exactly a
towering monument to her talent but still welcome.
Apology for Murder is included, said to be the film she made after Detour, and using
several of the same personnel. Include musician Leo Erdody and designer Edward C.
Jewell. It has all the features of a PRC cheapo and no one would call it a masterpiece.
In fact, casual viewers would likely dismiss it as garbage. It is however a more
interesting study than most films of its day - or any day.
Reporter Hugh Beaumont crashes the mansion of magnate Russel Hicks and is
abruptly dismissed. “What I plan is of no interest to the Daily Tribune.” However
Beaumont encounters Hicks’ younger wife Savage - introduced as a nylon covered leg
straddling an arm chair. It’s not long before the pair are having secret liaisons. For a sex-based film there is minimal sex. She recruits him to her plan to murder Hicks and inherit. “He expects me to walk out with nothing!”
Now it doesn’t take an intense familiarity with film history to recognise that Fred
Myton’s “original story” is retreading Double Indemnity. In fact, they were going to call
the film “Single Indemnity” until they heard from Paramount’s lawyers.
Director Sam Newfield (a.k.a. Peter Stewart or Sherman Scott) rolled out five of these
a year, mainly for his producer brother Sigmund Neufeld who ran PRC. Most were
drab production line efforts though, like several of these hack-working forties directors, he
was capable of better things. See Adventure Island done the next year, Newfield's Technicolor re-make of Paramount’s pioneer Ebb Tide.
The leads are more than adequate. Savage, whose unconventional looks they don’t
always take the trouble to photograph attractively, smolders with B movie greed.
(“Anyone who’d go for a dame like that can’t be very bright”). Can’t see Trudy
Marshall, Sheila Ryan, Jan Wiley and the rest of her peer group managing that, though
Jean Parker her career in decline did provide an impressively murderous gangster’s
moll in the stark Hugo Fregonese-Leonard Goldstein Black Tuesday a few years later.
Featured players - Hicks, Norman Willis, Charles D. Brown & Pierre Watkin are
familiar face pros. They’d show up in serials and never let on that they could do these
in their sleep, delivering their lines clearly and with adequate conviction probably on
the first take. Unfortunately, next level down the day players are dreadful, damaging the
competence the production is attempting to display. Silent movie star Eva Novak (in
For the Term of His Natural Life and some of Tom Mix’ best films) makes no
impression in her walk-on as Hicks’ maid.
Apology for Murder is largely ambition free. The murder and the car crash are played
on Savage’s reaction in close up which may be an effective cost cutting measure but is
also a cheat. They do shots as simple as a car parked in the street in front of Ray
Smallwood’s process screen and after that economy you’ve got to wonder about them
hiring in a dozen extras to mill about in the newspaper office. The cut-in opticals announce their arrival with a quality drop before we get fades or dissolves. On the other hand cross cutting yokel Budd Buster’s breakdown with Hicks’ car approaching generates some genuine suspense.
Newfield is not above indicating that he has absorbed the lessons of film noir & Edward Hopper (neither of whom he’d quite possibly heard of) by the single shot of Beaumont in hat and raincoat at night outside the bungalow window watching through the Venetian blinds as Savage makes out with lawyer Willis inside in their brightly lit room.
The fact remains that the Cain plot and Newfield’s shepherding it through its one week
schedule make this a surprisingly watchable example of low level filmmaking. Sixty
years later it arrives seeped in forties noir associations. I enjoyed it a whole lot more
than I did I Ring Doorbells, the PRC film François Truffaut admired.
I once challenged Jean-Luc Godard to name the Monogram titles he was sufficiently
impressed by to dedicate À bout de soufle to them. He couldn’t do it. It was easy to be
a pundit in those days. Has anything changed?