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Not all film noir thrillers are about corrupt cops, femme fatales or hard-luck losers on their way down. Cornered (1945), for instance, departs from the typically urban milieu of a big city like New York or Los Angeles to explore a secret world of former Nazis and their collaborators in Buenos Aires just after World War II. Laurence Gerard (Dick Powell), a Canadian pilot recently released from a POW camp, is on a mission of revenge. He's searching for Gerald Jarnac, the man responsible for the death of his French wife, but there's a major obstacle. Nobody seems to know what Jarnac looks like or the location of his hideout.
The story for Cornered was loosely derived from a twenty page treatment by veteran Hollywood scribe Ben Hecht. Director Edward Dmytryk suspected one of Hecht's collaborators as being the true author of the outline while Hecht most likely pocketed the bulk of the $50,000 payment for merely providing the title and little more. Regardless, Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott deemed the treatment to be unusable and brought on other writers to rework the screenplay, while maintaining the basic premise.
Scott immediately hired the author of The Last Mile and his original choice from the beginning, writer John Wexley. A hard line Communist Party member, Wexley gave the dialogue a distinctly socialist stance, thinly disguised as antifascist drama, much to the chagrin of Dmytryk and Scott. While they too had ties to the Communist Party, Dmytryk and Scott did not want to weigh down the drama with party-approved rhetoric. Wexley was soon relieved of duty, and John Paxton was hired to tone down the Communist propaganda and punch up the antifascist angle, while adding more action and tightening up the pace of the story.
Prior to the filming of Cornered, Dmytryk flew to Buenos Aires to research the town and to consider possible exterior shooting there. He quickly learned that Evita Peron, wife of Argentina military dictator Juan Peron, had confiscated all available film negative for her own film productions. "In time," he noted in his biography It's a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living, "the script of Cornered was completed, and a cast was assembled....My script girl, Ellen Corby, played a tiny bit in the film. Like most contrived pictures, it was not completely satisfactory, though the last reel and a half is a first-class example of what suspense ought to be and nearly makes the whole effort worthwhile. Though not in the same class as Murder, My Sweet , the film grossed more money because the exhibitors were now completely aware of Dick Powell's new image and had all climbed on the bandwagon."
Shortly before Cornered was to be released, Wexley summoned Dmytryk and Scott to a Communist cell meeting where he lambasted them for erasing the Party lines from the film and then demanded their removal from the Red ranks. In effect, Wexley and the Party faithful were upbraiding Dmytryk and Scott for practicing creative freedom. According to Dmytryk, this incident led to him quitting the Communist Party in Hollywood.
Despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil, Cornered proved to be a bigger box office success than Dmytryk's first and previous collaboration with Dick Powell, Murder, My Sweet. Robert Porfirio in an essay on the film in Film Noir noted that "Although Dmytryk does not embellish Cornered with all the expressionistic devices of Murder, My Sweet, the film has more graphic ingenuity than the average postwar thriller. In it, Dick Powell achieves his finest delineation of the tough guy, adept enough at quick action and cynical dialogue but romantic enough to cry at the memory of his lost wife."
Producer: Adrian Scott
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: John Paxton, John Wexley
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: Joseph Noriega
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Roy Webb, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Dick Powell (Gerard), Walter Slezak (Incza), Nina Vale (Senora Camargo), Micheline Cheirel (Mme. Jarnac), Morris Carnovsky (Santana), Edgar Barrier (DuBois).
BW-103m. Closed captioning.
by Scott McGee