Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's always the little things that trip up a killer....

The Scar (aka "Hollow Triumph" and "The Man Who Murdered Himself") (1948)
Starring: Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett
Director: Steve Sekeley
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

John Muller (Henreid), a career criminal on the run from vengeful gangsters after a botched casino robbery, finds the ultimate hideout: He remakes himself to take the place of a successful psychoanalyst who bears a strong resemblence to him. However, John fails to take into account that when you take over someone's life, you get the good with the bad.

"The Scar" is a somewhat far-fetched film-noir crime drama, but it's well-filmed, well-acted (with a couple of slips into over-the-top melodrama), and tense from beginning to end.

Henreid gives an interesting performance as a sociopathic schemer who finds an apparent path to safety and a new life; while co-star Bennett gives a nuanced performance as John's love interest--a character who starts out seeming like a fairly typical secretary for this kind of movie, but which ends up as one of the deeper and interesting characters in the film. What's more, the romance between the two characters actually feels genuine--something very rare in movies--and this makes the viewer feel true sympathy with Bennett's character at the end of the movie.

Another thing that makes the film interesting is the recurring theme that no one really cares enough about anyone but themselves to truly notice the world around them. This is what lets John Muller steal a man's life in every sense, and in a suitably ironic twist, this tendency toward total self-centeredness also ends up contributing to John's undoing.

After a near-perfect execution of everything leading up to it, the movie falters a bit at the ending. Given that crime hardly ever pays in movies, John clearly will not manage to live happily ever after in his stolen identity. However, the main reason for his Bad End comes about due to what feels more like Script-Dictated Character Stupidity rather than a natural consequence of events; John had the information and means to solve the biggest probem facing his new identity, yet he doesn't even make an attempt to do so before it's too late. (I could justify this lapse with some character psychology and the overall themes of the film--John was too arrogant and greedy to deal with the issue, or he was too self-centered for the full magnitude of the problem--but it still doesn't make the ending feel quite right.)

This is a near-perfect crime drama with an excellent script and decent performances. It's well-worth seeking out, particularly if you're a fan of the film noir subgenre.

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