Cast & Crew
Warren Quimby, a pharmacist and night manager at a twenty-four-hour drugstore in Los Angeles, is a devoted husband to his wife Claire, even after he finds evidence that she has been unfaithful to him. Claire, who is more interested in the gifts she receives from her mysterious male friends, than her marriage, shows little appreciation for the long hours Warren works to support her. When Warren finally saves enough money to buy a house in the suburbs, Claire announces that she will not to live outside the city. She eventually leaves Warren to live with her paramour, Barney Deager, who has impressed her with his new car. Refusing to accept Claire's desertion, Warren vows to fight to save his marriage, and goes to Deager's house in Malibu to attempt to win back Claire. Warren finds Claire on the beach with Deager, and when an argument ensues, Deager gives Warren a severe beating, and warns him never to return. Humiliated, Warren returns to his drugstore and tells his co-worker, Freddie, about the incident. When Freddie declares that he would have killed Deager had he been treated in such a manner, Warren takes Freddie's idea seriously and lays out a plan to kill the man who stole his wife. As part of his methodical plot, Warren exchanges his eyeglasses for contact lenses and creates a new look for himself. He then picks a new name for himself, Paul Sothern, and moves into a new apartment, where he plans to live during weekends. While moving some of his possessions into his the apartment, Warren meets Mary Chanler, a neighbor and an amateur photographer, who inadvertently takes a picture of him. One day, Warren dials Deager's telephone number and, while speaking to Deager's valet, Narco, identifies himself as Paul Sothern and makes a vague threat against Deager. Though he devotes most of his time to placing evidence that will divert suspicion away from him as Deager's murderer, Warren begins a romance with Mary. After visiting Deager and pretending to make amends with him, Warren concludes that the time has come to kill him. He returns to the house one last time and finds Deager asleep in his living room. However, just as he is about to stab him, Warren realizes that his wife is not worth murdering for and gives up his plan. Warren then decides to continue his romance with Mary, but complications arise when Claire returns to Warren and tells him that Deager has been murdered. Warren orders Claire to leave, but their quarrel is interrupted by the arrival of police detectives Lt. Collier Bonnabel and Lt. Edgar Gonsales, who know that Claire left the murder scene before the police arrived. During the police interrogation, Claire suggests that both she and Warren were friends of Deager, thus making Warren as likely a suspect as she. After interrogating Narco and learning of the mysterious telephone call from a man named Paul Sothern, the detectives determine to find Paul. Bonnabel later fakes a romantic interest in Claire to get more information from her. Meanwhile, Mary, who has not seen the man she knows as Paul in some time, registers a missing person report at the police department and gives the police the picture she took of him. Bonnabel soon realizes that Paul and Warren are the same person, and after Claire identifies the man in Mary's picture as Warren, he arrests Warren and subjects him to a thorough interrogation. Bonnabel begins to doubt that Warren is the killer, and after releasing him for lack of evidence, he sets a trap for Claire. Bonnabel's plan succeeds when Claire goes to Warren's weekend apartment and tries to plant the gun that she used to kill Deager. Claire is arrested, leaving Warren free to resume his romance with Mary.
Philip Van Zandt
Hayward Soo Hoo
A. Norwood Fenton
Jack D. Moore
Edwin B. Willis
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
This film is introduced and intermittently narrated by "Lt. Collier Bonnabel," the character played by Barry Sullivan. An October 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that M-G-M purchased the rights to John Klorer's unpublished story as a starring vehicle for Robert Taylor and Van Heflin. A pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter indicates that Harry Antrim was cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts list George White as the film's editor, onscreen credits list Albert Akst.