Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Unsuspected (1947) New York Noir

Directed by Michael Curtiz, written by Charlotte Armstrong (novel), Bess Meredyth (adaptation) and Ranald MacDougall (screenplay). Great cinematography by Elwood Bredell and music was by Franz Waxman.

The film stars Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield, Ted North, Jack Lambert, and Audrey Totter. WOW, this turns out to be a very entertaining, who-done-it, where you kinda know/guess who-done-it but don't really care because it's a great ride with very witty dialog getting to the end with quite a number of unexpected twists along the way. 

Another plus for me is its New York references and location shots, Grand Central Station, the 3rd Avenue el, a three tailed PAA Lockheed "Connie" Constellation, Peekskill, Croton, the Queensboro Bridge, The Hell Gate Bridge, Wards Island, The Sawmill River Parkway, and the old main terminal at Laguardia Airport to name a few.

The story starts out with a murder in a Croton Mansion belonging to millionairess Matilda Frazier (Caulfield) who at the onset we learn has been lost with all hands in a fire at sea. Living at the mansion is Matilda's uncle and ward to her estate, popular writer, and radio mystery/true crime show host Victor Grandison (Rains), along with his other niece Althea Kean (Totter) and her drunkard husband Oliver (Hatfield) who don't have a penny between them.

Althea (Totter) and  Oliver (Hatfield)

Grandison (Rains)

Matilda (Caulfield) and Steven (North)

Mr. Press (Lambert)
Jane Moynihan (Bennett) in booth directing radio program

The murder victim is Victor's secretary who is strangled while she is on the phone to Althea, the murderer arranges the study to make it appear that the secretary has committed suicide by hanging herself. Various clues and facts are quickly displayed and piled up at the front end of this that you are so flooded with information that it is chore of a mystery just trying to figure out what is relevant and what is not.

Secretary Roslyn (Barbara Woodell)

We cut to Manhattan and Victor's radio program where we meet producer Jane Moynihan (Bennett), and as Victor is doing his spiel on the murder that was faked as a suicide in his mansion, we zoom in on a speaker and in turn cross-fade to a steam locomotive emerging from a tunnel then to a portable radio in a New York Central passenger car heading north where Steven Francis Howard (North) is listening apprehensively to the details of the case and then we rotate out the window and see Oliver superimposed by reflection on the town of Peekskill rolling by. 

Next we leave the train and zoom up Peekskill's main drag to the exterior of Hotel Peekskill and in turn find ourselves inside a darkened hotel room that has a shrouded figure (Lambert) on a bed listening to a radio also with Victor's program. The room is lit only by the flashing light of the hotel sign and the letters viewed from the window spell "KILL", "KILL", "KILL" and iconic Noir sequence if there ever was one.

The Hotel Peekskill sequence:

At a surprise birthday party for Victor a stranger Steven Francis Howard (North) arrives claiming to be Matilda's husband. He claims that right after Oliver jilted Matilda three days before their wedding marrying Althea, Matilda married him on the rebound. He has a marriage certificate to prove it and he is also heir to an oil fortune, so that eliminates a shady motive for the claim.

Althea (Totter) & Howard (North)
Howard and his millions are more attractive to Althea than her alcoholic hubby and she "vibrates" towards Howard causing Oliver to imbibe even more. Now on top of all this we discover by telegram that Matilda was rescued by a radio-less fishing boat that finally made port in Brazil and she is winging it home to Laguardia Airport. This one is a must see for how well everything meshes.


New York City (circa 1947)

LaGuardia Airport

Gasometers (gasholders) just North of the Queensboro Bridge

Queensboro Bridge at 59th Street  Manhattan

Toll Booths on Henry Hudson Bridge

Henry Hudson Bridge over the Harlem River

Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street

old style wooden N.Y. State parkway lights

Motorcycle cops on Vernon Blvd. along Queensbridge Park with 59th Street Bridge in the b.g.

Below is a still from the final chase sequence, it's a shot taken from Astoria and looking across the East River towards The Hell Gate and Triboro Bridges on Wards Island. Being originally a native New Yorker from Astoria when I first viewed the film I recognized fa very familiar location. Its the North end of Shore Blvd at or beyond 20th Ave right near the Con Edison Astoria Power Plant and it's Gas Holders.

Below the large black arrow pinpoints the approximate location of the two motorcycle cops. The thinner black arrow shows the angle of the view behind the cops towards the Hell Gate and Triboro Bridges. In the aerial photo below the two gas holders lay along 20th Avenue, Shore Blvd runs along the East River at the bottom. Marine Terrace is the housing development along the East River. The road at the right is 21st Ave. the next road to the right out of the picture is Ditmars Blvd which runs along the north border of Astoria Park. 

*In addition, what I originally thought was just a dump in the film, (the debris filled spot where Mr. Press (Jack Lambert) dumps the trunk with the unconscious body of Steven Howard (Ted North) by the clamshell crane feeding a fire), was probably the demolition of the old houses that used to occupy the site between the arrow and the dark line of trees (see below), that used to occupy the site of Marine Terrace Apartments  (below).

Google Sat View today of same location the gas holder locations are the two pools.

Again the film has a pretty good chase sequence at the end but of course it's movie geography that anybody familiar with NYC and environs will get a laugh out of. 10/10

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