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They Won't Believe Me

They Won't Believe Me(1947)

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teaser They Won't Believe Me (1947)

Larry Ballentine (Robert Young) is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Verna (Susan Hayward), and insists on taking the stand in his own defense. In the course of his testimony, we learn that he married his wife, Gretta (Rita Johnson), for her money but was unfaithful to her, often initiating affairs with other women like Janice (Jane Greer). Once he begins an affair with Verna, however, he makes plans to leave his wife for her, withdrawing all of Gretta's money from the bank. But Larry's master plan falls apart after Verna is killed in a freak car accident and her body is burned beyond recognition. From this point on, Larry sinks deeper and deeper into a nightmare of his own making which climaxes in an astonishing act at his courtroom trial.

An often overlooked little gem among "B" movies, They Won't Believe Me (1947) has enough twists and turns for several suspense thrillers and part of its effectiveness is due to the team that put it together - all expert practioners in the film noir genre. First, Joan Harrison served as producer. A first-rate screenwriter, Harrison worked on the screenplays for four Alfred Hitchcock films including Rebecca (1940) and produced the director's famous TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as several highly regarded film noirs - two with director Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, 1944; Uncle Harry, 1945). Joining Harrison were director Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game, 1932); screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, who wrote Nocturne (1946) and The Big Clock (1948); cinematographer Harry J. Wild, who previously lensed Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Cornered (1945); and composer Roy Webb, whose intense music scores for film noirs like The Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and Crossfire (1947) were highly influential.

The most inspired aspect of They Won't Believe Me, however, is the casting of Robert Young in the role of Larry Ballentine. During his early career at MGM, Young was frequently seen in romantic comedies and historical dramas, playing debonair, often carefree bachelors or men from high-society backgrounds. Probably even more people remember him as the easygoing dad from the TV series, Father Knows Best, or as the kindly family doctor known as Marcus Welby, M. D., the popular ABC series that ran from 1969 - 1976. But in They Won't Believe Me, Young plays one of the worst heels in the history of cinema. A liar, a thief, a coward and worse, Ballentine is completely lacking in moral character and yet Young makes him a sympathetic, almost tragic protagonist. Even when the often implausible plot developments threaten to capsize the film's already convoluted narrative, Young's performance grounds the film in reality; his portrayal of a three-time loser whose greed and sexual infidelity prove to be his undoing is one of his best, least seen performances.

Young is ably supported by three outstanding actresses: Rita Johnson as his long-suffering wife, Gretta; Susan Hayward as his money-hungry secretary, Verna; and Jane Greer as the former lover who suspects him of murder. At the time, Greer was trying to break away from being typecast as femmes fatales at her studio, RKO. She later said, "'Baddie' roles I attribute to my dark hair. When I lightened it, my face softened and They Won't Believe Me came along, thanks to Joan Harrison, producer." The audience and critical response to Greer after They Won't Believe Me was released was so positive that RKO gave her her own studio dressing room and cast her in an A picture opposite Robert Mitchum - Out of the Past (1947). True, she was cast as another villainess but her performance in it guaranteed her screen immortality - as one of the most lethal femmes fatales in the film noir cycle.

Producer: Joan Harrison, Jack J. Gross
Director: Irving Pichel
Screenplay: Jonathan Latimer, based on a story by Gordon McDonell
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Film Editing: Elmo Williams
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Young (Larry Ballentine), Rita Johnson (Gretta Ballentine), Jane Greer (Janice Bell), Tom Powers (Trenton), George Tyne (Lieutenant Carr), Susan Hayward (Verna Carlson), Don Beddoe (Thomason).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

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