The Man Who Cheated Himself
by Alan Rode
Jane Wyatt as a femme fatale whose accidental shooting of her husband prompts her to call smitten police lieutenant (Lee J. Cobb) to help her get rid of the body. Their plans are interrupted, however, when the lieutenant’s brother discovers the murder.
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Lieutenant Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) is a San Francisco homicide dick who is attracted to women like a moth to a blowtorch. His clandestine love affair with socialite Lois Frazier (Jane Wyatt) undergoes a major paradigm shift when she pumps two slugs in a soon-to-be-ex husband bent on mayhem. Cullen is Johnny-on-the spot and quickly orchestrates a coverup for his paramour. The confident and honest cop subsequently becomes engulfed in a quagmire as The Man Who Cheated Himself.
Cullen dumps the body at the airport and sets up an alibi that looks solid. Unfortunately his younger brother, Andy (John Dall), an eager-beaver detective recently assigned to big brother’s squad, starts to raise questions that the elder Cullen has to deflect without drawing attention to himself. Andy doesn’t permit his brother’s stonewalling or even the legit distraction of his alluring new bride (Lisa Howard) to dissuade him from relentlessly sniffing out the contradictions on what appears to be a closed case. Inevitably the worm turns and Andy realizes that his brother is up to his neck in murder and conspiracy. Detective Cullen resolves to bring his older brother in to face the music. After many clever twists and turns, amid nice San Francisco location photography, Cullen and Frazier are nailed in a neatly filmed denouement near the Golden Gate Bridge. As Ed waits to go into court, his former flame wiggles on by while using the patented sweet talk on her attorney. Cullen shrugs and smiles. It was apparently really good while it lasted.
This film is a fast paced and nicely crafted sleeper directed by Felix Feist. During an active career that ended with his death at age 59 in 1965, Feist helmed a number of extremely effective “B” noirs: The Threat, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Tomorrow Is Another Day.
Lee Cobb followed his portrayal of heavy Mike Figlia in Thieves Highway (1949) with another excellent performance as the star-crossed Ed Cullen. While not playing his usual Death of a Salesman or On the Waterfront type of character, Cobb added heft to an interesting role that was much more complex that the typical noir cop. While portraying the detective-lieutenant as an entrapped satyr, he gets to clip off some lively dialogue as well. “She’s no good, but she’s good for me” was his prophetically honest response to Andy’s inquiry about his latest, mysterious girl friend in the beginning of the film. When Jane Wyatt kills her husband, she becomes extremely rattled during the immediate aftermath and offers up that maybe they should just go to the authorities and tell the truth. “The truth will get you twenty years,” snaps Cobb while busily frisking the body.
Jane Wyatt is nicely cast against type as the femme fatale. It is initially a bit disconcerting viewing her in a clinging evening gown instead of her typical adornment of a kitchen apron, dutifully handing a martini to one of her many screen hubbies. While she is no Babs Stanwyck, Wyatt was a trouper with terrific looks. She settles in and gives a credible performance that makes you wonder why she was so relentlessly typecast.
John Dall was exactly right as the younger brother. Dall was a talented actor who was extremely effective when used correctly (Gun Crazy) and not miscast (Spartacus).
The Man who Cheated Himself is an under-appreciated and little known gem. The only available VHS copy is from an old print that was in pretty poor condition. Please let me know if anyone has a line on a 35 or 16mm copy of this film.
Alan Rode is a film noir aficionado living in San Diego, CA.
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