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Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart), a mild-mannered druggist, becomes insanely jealous and consumed with homicidal thoughts after his wife Claire (Audrey Totter) abandons him for another man. Soon he begins to concoct a new identity for himself that will serve as an alibi for the double murder he is planning. Once the beautiful and warmly sympathetic Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse) enters his life, however, Quimby finds himself increasingly distracted from his initial plan. In an ironic twist of events, a homicide does occur - Claire's lover is found murdered at his beach house - and Quimby becomes the prime suspect.
Tension (1949) is a tautly directed B-movie gem that features one of the screen's most calculating and self-serving femme fatales, a role that was tailor-made for Audrey Totter who had already established herself as a duplicitous screen presence in such suspense thrillers as Lady in the Lake and The Unsuspected, both 1947. Although Tension was Totter's last film noir she goes out in style as Claire, slinging a non-stop barrage of insults and demeaning remarks at her husband. Even her explanation for her infidelity puts the blame on him: "I've got what I'm looking for and I'm gonna grab it while I've got the chance. A real man. There's nothing to talk about. It was different in San Diego - you were kind of cute in your uniform. You were full of laughs then. Well, you're all laughed out now."
Interestingly enough, Totter was a good friend in real life with another popular screen femme fatale - Gloria Grahame, an actress who had a reputation for being "difficult" on sets. "While making Tension," according to Eddy Muller in Dark City Dames, "Totter was warned that she might be tapped to replace Grahame on In a Lonely Place (1950), then in preproduction at Columbia. Grahame's casting, opposite Humphrey Bogart, represented her biggest chance to date, a break she was given by husband/director [Nicholas] Ray. "I'd heard that things were rough between them," Audrey says, "and that I should be prepared to step in if it got out of hand. I'd dated Nick before he met Gloria. We were introduced by John Houseman, who I knew from my radio days back in New York." But Totter was never called in as a replacement for Grahame on In a Lonely Place. Instead, she finished production on Tension, which earned her rave reviews from many critics but was virtually ignored by moviegoers. Nevertheless, the film is a great showcase for Totter's talents and this being a MGM production it's a class act all the way, from John Berry's expert direction to Harry Stradling's atmospheric cinematography to Andre Previn's tense, dramatic score.
Unfortunately, John Berry's career in Hollywood was cut short by his political associations and after completing the film noir drama, He Ran All the Way (1951) starring John Garfield, he was blacklisted and relocated to Europe where he continued making movies in France and England. It wasn't until the early seventies that Berry ventured back to America where he directed Claudine (1974), a critically acclaimed romantic drama starring Diahann Carroll as a single mother of six children who dreams of leaving their ghetto home for a better life. The film should have led to better directing opportunities but it didn't and Berry eventually returned to France where his work was held in higher regard by European film critics and moviegoers.
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: John Berry
Screenplay: Allen Rivkin, from an unpublished story by John Klorer
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Leonid Vasian
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editing: Albert Akst
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Richard Basehart (Warren Quimby), Audrey Totter (Claire Quimby), Cyd Charisse (Mary Chanler), Barry Sullivan (Lt. Collier Bonnabel), Lloyd Gough (Barney Deager), Tom D'Andrea (Freddie), William Conrad (Lt. Edgar Gonsales).
BW-92m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford