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teaser Manhandled (1949)

Paramount Pictures in 1949 had its big releases like The Heiress, The File on Thelma Jordan, Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the Biblical scorcher Samson and Delilah, Bob Hope's The Great Lover but they filled out their schedule with a number of lower budget B pictures, many of them produced by their in-house Pine-Thomas Unit. Consisting of producers William Pine and William Thomas nicknamed the "Dollar Bills" (for the way their films always made a profit) this unit specialized in smaller scale genre pictures. Releasing their films under the Paramount banner since the early 1940s, Pine and Thomas knew how to pack a punch with their movies, starting with their titles that included such genre efforts as Flying Blind (1941), I Live on Danger (1942), Tornado (1943), They Made Me a Killer (1946), and 1949's crime drama Manhandled. The latter is a convoluted murder mystery with noir elements about a secretary with a secret who is working for a psychiatrist and gets caught up in a murder case.

Based on a story by L.S. Goldsmith entitled The Man Who Stole a Dream, Manhandled's screenplay was written by Whitman Chambers, a prolific mystery and crime author who published over twenty novels and many short stories. Chambers was no stranger to Hollywood, with many screenplays to his credit, plus uncredited contributions to 1944's classic drama To Have and Have Not. The director assigned to Manhandled was veteran Lewis Foster, a multitalented writer, director, composer and songwriter with an impressive collection of credits (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939], The Farmer's Daughter [1940], The More the Merrier [1943]). His directing assignments were a mixed bag of mostly B-grade titles, but Lewis was a more than competent talent who knew how to put a picture together.

The rest of the technical credits for Manhandled were also solid. Cinematography was assigned to Ernest Laszlo, a Hungarian immigrant to America who started in pictures as a camera operator on Wings in 1927. Laszlo's career started slowly as he amassed a resume with titles like Dear Ruth (1947), Two Years Before the Mast (1946) and others. After Manhandled, he went on to movies like the film noir classic D.O.A. (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), and The Naked Jungle (1954). Laszlo later had major successful collaborations with directors Robert Aldrich (Vera Cruz [1954], Apache [1954], Kiss Me Deadly [1955]) and Stanley Kramer (Inherit the Wind [1960], Judgment at Nuremberg [1961], It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World [1963], Ship of Fools [1965]). Laszlo received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography for his aforementioned films with Kramer, and also for later films Fantastic Voyage (1966), Star! (1968), Airport (1970), and Logan's Run (1976).

Often the casts in Pine-Thomas pictures weren't strictly A-level; yet Manhandled's chief draw was the presence of one of Paramount's top-ranked females, Sarong Queen Dorothy Lamour, here playing outside of her usual comfort zone. The lovely Lamour had become incredibly successful for her exotic jungle maiden roles and in musical and light comedy roles, most prominently as the female foil for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in their series of Road movies.

Manhandled starred two male leads with considerable charisma, the stalwart Sterling Hayden as a honest, no-nonsense insurance investigator, and Dan Duryea as a crooked ex-cop turned private eye. It was an early effort for Hayden who doesn't appear until near the mid-point and is handicapped by a poorly written role that doesn't capitalize on his strengths. On the other hand, Dan Duryea had amassed a collection of impressive credits prior to Manhandled, playing mostly no-good types with a particular relish that was irresistible. His role here as a cocky and corrupt P.I. Karl Benson was tailor made for Duryea, complete with the character's leering romantic attention to Dorothy Lamour he's only playing her for inside information - and a truly shocking murder-by-automobile that Benson commits, all the while insolently chomping on his trademark chewing gum.

Despite the solid production job and acting talent, Manhandled didn't quite hit the mark. Reviewers and audiences found the plot involving psychiatrists, architects, jewels, murder, authors and a hapless female office assistant too confusing to be completely effective. Despite Dorothy Lamour's popularity, no one wanted to see her as an ordinary secretary, even though she gives a competent performance. Contemporary audiences coming to the movie with its reputation as a relatively uncelebrated film will find that Manhandled does not disappoint, but the pleasure is mostly in watching the interesting group of actors Lamour, Duryea and Hayden find their way around the movie's complications.

Producers: William H. Pine, William C. Thomas
Director: Lewis R. Foster
Screenplay: Whitman Chambers, Lewis R. Foster; L.S. Goldsmith (novel "The Man Who Stole A Dream")
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Art Direction: Lewis H. Creber
Music: Darrell Calker
Film Editing: Howard Smith
Cast: Dorothy Lamour (Merl Kramer), Sterling Hayden (Joe Cooper), Dan Duryea (Karl Benson), Irene Hervey (Ruth/Mrs. Alton Bennet), Phillip Reed (Guy Bayard), Harold Vermilyea (Dr. Redman), Alan Napier (Alton Bennet), Art Smith (Detective Lt. Bill Dawson), Irving Bacon (Sgt. Fayle).

by Lisa Mateas

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