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The File on Thelma Jordon

The File on Thelma Jordon(1950)


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The File on Thelma Jordon (1950) was the final film noir of German migr director Robert Siodmak, who had made his first noir, the richly atmospheric Phantom Lady (1944), on a shoestring and gone on to make such notable noirs as The Killers (1946), The Dark Mirror (1946), and Criss Cross (1949). The File on Thelma Jordon marked the only time Siodmak worked with legendary femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck, in a role that has been described as a more complex version of her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944).

As Thelma, Stanwyck complicates the life of an Assistant District Attorney (Wendell Corey) when she comes to his office late one night to complain about attempted break-ins at the home of her rich aunt. He's in a troubled marriage, and soon the two are having an affair and he's helping her cover up a murder. But unlike the more straightforwardly evil Phyllis Dietrichson, Thelma's motivations and emotions are harder to read. Does she love the hapless D.A., is she using him, or a little of both? Stanwyck, as usual, delivers an intense performance as a woman with a past who is more conflicted than wicked, and for whom it may be too late to change.

Producer Hal Wallis, who had made The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) with Stanwyck at Paramount, wanted to make another thriller with Stanwyck, and commissioned an original story by Marty Holland, from which Ketti Frings wrote the screenplay for The File on Thelma Jordon. The film was intended for director Otto Preminger who had previously scored a huge hit with Laura (1944) in the same genre, and Stanwyck agreed to the project. It would have been her first film with Preminger. But he turned out to be unavailable, so Siodmak took over. Siodmak and Stanwyck apparently either didn't have much rapport, or she didn't need much help by this point. For whatever reason, they didn't really communicate. As Siodmak later recalled, "Barbara always had the character worked out. Before we started shooting she would be sitting in her chair, her eyes closed and her concentration on the scene she was to play," ignoring the hair and makeup people who fussed over her. "One day, before a very difficult scene, I tried to give her some last minute advice. That was the only time she showed any temper. She brushed me impatiently aside. I didn't mind, for I was sure she knew what she wanted to do," he added without rancor.

Strong performances by Stanwyck, Corey, and an excellent supporting cast, along with Siodmak's stylish staging, George Barnes' shadowy, low-key lighting, and Victor Young's dramatic score more than compensated for the film's uneven pace. Particularly effective is the staging of Stanwyck's long walk from the jail through the street to the courthouse. Little seen today, The File on Thelma Jordon is a worthy addition to the noir canon of Siodmak and Stanwyck. Within a few years, Siodmak returned to Europe, and ended his film career in Germany in 1969. He died in 1973. Stanwyck would go on to make several more noirs (Clash by Night [1952], Jeopardy [1953], Crime of Passion [1957]), and worked in films and television until the mid-1980s. She died in 1990.

Director: Robert Siodmak
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Ketti Frings, based on a story by Marty Holland
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editor: Warren Low
Costume Design: Edith Head
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Thelma Jordon), Wendell Corey (Cleve Marshall), Paul Kelly (Miles Scott), Joan Tetzel (Pamela Marshall), Stanley Ridges (Kingsley Willis), Richard Rober (Tony Laredo), Minor Watson (Judge Calvin Blackwell), Barry Kelley (District Attorney Pierce), Laura Elliot (Dolly), Gertrude Hoffman (Aunt Vera Edwards).

by Margarita Landazuri

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