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Smart Woman

Smart Woman(1948)

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teaser Smart Woman (1948)

Constance Bennett's film career was winding down fast when Smart Woman came out in April 1948. This was her last true starring role, as just four feature film appearances and a handful of television credits lay in her future. Bennett also had a hand in the development and making of Smart Woman; although she is uncredited as producer, the film was the second to be spearheaded by her company, Constance Bennett Productions (following Paris Underground [1945]). In mid-1948, Bennett had a deal in place with Republic for a further series of films which she would produce and star in, but the deal was scuttled when Bennett's fifth husband, Air Force colonel John Coulter, was transferred to Germany, and Bennett and her two children moved there with him.

Smart Woman (which has nothing to do with the 1931 film of the same title starring Mary Astor) was distributed by Allied Artists, a recently formed subsidiary of Monogram Studios designed to handle higher-budget productions -- although for the poverty-row Monogram, "high budget" was a relative term. Still, the extra money explains why Smart Woman is much more polished and glamorous-looking than the usual Monogram title. The story finds Bennett as a defense attorney locking horns (and finding romance) with a special prosecutor (Brian Aherne), as he fights a crooked district attorney (Otto Kruger, providing his trademark subtle menace). The plot hinges on whether Bennett will be forced to reveal her former marriage to the racketeer she is defending (Barry Sullivan).

Reviews were excellent. In addition to much praise for the high-caliber cast, including the re-pairing of Bennett and Aherne, who had previously starred together in Merrily We Live (1938), critics found the story immensely satisfying and technically accomplished. "A smartly done story of political corruption," said The Hollywood Reporter. "Clever basic story idea is well developed in an intelligently written script which has the good sense to remain plausible and realistic in the face of some tall situations... Constance Bennett takes a colorful part and plays it to the hilt, at the same time that she displays a typically intriguing Bennett wardrobe."

Variety deemed Bennett "excellent, ...smartly gowned by Adrian," and lauded the film's "thrills, love interest, tension and neatly spotted comedy relief. Story employs the much-used murder trial climax but gets a new twist to it... Picture classes as a top-grade supporting feature that will stand top billing in the sticks and nabes. Hal Chester's production again demonstrates that he has a knack of getting high value out of low budget."

Chester, the film's credited producer, was best known at the time for producing the Joe Palooka film series for Monogram; a few years later, he would set up shop as an independent producer in England, where he turned out several movies including the Jacques Tourneur-directed Night of the Demon (1957), one of the finest horror films of the era.

Smart Woman was shot by Stanley Cortez, one of the great cinematographers, who also photographed The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Since You Went Away (1944), and, later on, The Night of the Hunter (1955).

Co-screenwriter Alvah Bessie would soon be blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten, virtually ending his career. Bessie was also a novelist, much praised by Ernest Hemingway. He had written the story for the great combat film Objective, Burma! (1945), for which he was Oscar®-nominated, and also was co-writer of the fine film noir Ruthless (1948). After his blacklisting, Bessie wrote another film, Passage West (1951), credited to his "front," Nedrick Young, and became a publicist and book reviewer.

Smart Woman was the third of just three features directed by Edward A. Blatt, following Between Two Worlds (1944) and Escape in the Desert (1945) (the latter a remake of The Petrified Forest [1936]). Blatt had previously worked as a dialogue director at Warner Brothers, with credits including They Died with Their Boots On (1941), Across the Pacific (1942) and Watch on the Rhine (1943). Variety praised him for Smart Woman, declaring "Edward Blatt has paced the action smartly, put dramatic emphasis in the right spots and obtained full value from the able cast."

By Jeremy Arnold

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