Saturday, April 15, 2017


I looked through my DVR and saw that Tension is available on DVD from the TCM Shop (the same DVD can be had at Amazon), so I figured I'd watch that one in order to have something to blog about today.

Los Angeles police lieutenant Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) tells us a good portion of the story in narration. He's a homicide detective who likes to up the tension on the people in a case until the key people snap and the details are revealed, enabling him to find the killer. And boy has Bonnabel got a doozy of a story this time....

Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a pharmacist at one of those all-night drug stores, working the night shift because somebody's got to be open to handle any emergency prescriptions that have to be filled. He's also doing it because the money's good and he wants to buy a house to satisfy his wife Claire (Audrey Totter). They're living in an apartment above the pharmacy, and she doesn't like it. Then again, she doesn't like much of anything, since she's perfectly willing to leave her husband behind to spend evenings with people like Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough) and his beach house.

Eventually, Claire leaves Warren for good to live with Barney, and Warren's none too happy about it. But he's the stereotypical 98-pound weakling, complete with glasses, while Barney is a much biger and more virile man. One day, however, Warren gets an idea while at the eye doctor. Soft contact lenses are a new thing, and Warren figures if he gets himself a set, he can completely change his identity, and use the new identity to kill Barney and leave Warren in the clear!

To that end, Warren takes the name Paul Sothern, and takes an apartment in a complex along with shutterbug Mary (Cyd Charisse in a non-dancing role). She falls for him, and eventually the feeling is mutual. And then the day comes when Warren intends to carry out his plan to murder Barney. He goes to the house, only to find that Claire is out with yet another man, meaning that Claire is going to treat Barney the same way she treated Warren. That seems to Walter like punishment enough for Barney, so why compound it by murdering him. Just get a divorce from Claire and let other people suffer with her.

When Warren gets back to his apartment over the pharmacy, apparently planning to come clean to Mary or something because he can't go on as Paul, he's in for a surprise. Claire shows up, saying that Barney has been murdered! Now, we know that Warren didn't do it. But since everybody knew this Paul Sothern had threatened Barney, all the suspicion is going to fall on Paul, which ultimately means it's going to fall on Warren....

Tension is entertaining enough, despite the fact that it's wildly unrealistic. Richard Basehart is quite good as somebody much wimpier than he played in He Walked By Night, while Audrey Totter gets to be a fun over-the-top as the nasty, nasty wife. Surely Warren would have figured out long ago that she wasn't worth marrying, but noooooo.... Barry Sullivan as the head detective, and William Conrad as his partner, are both more than adequate in supporting roles. There's nothing special here that hasn't been done in other noirs, but it all does work, and is more than worth a watch.

No comments: