Apology for Murder
Directed by Sam Newfield
Ann Savage made 5 movies in 1945, including the unforgettable Detour. Apology for Murder is a low-rent Postman Always Rings Twice. Only 67 minutes long, it wastes no time in … well, anything. Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) is a reporter on the beat, fond of slipping out of the office and getting plastered in the middle of the day. His editor tries to steer him straight. Kenny goes out to a rich man’s house to try to get the scoop on an upcoming merger. Rich man talks to Kenny, as a woman sits in a chair nearby, legs crossed, beguiling. Kenny is drawn to her like a magnet. He assumes that she is the rich man’s daughter, because the rich man is elderly and she is young and sexy-pants hot. But no, turns out she’s the guy’s wife. Within 15 minutes, she and Kenny have started up a hot affair. She says she married her husband because she loves him (but Ann Savage doesn’t play it that way – her behavior tells the story, not her words). But now she is feeling stifled, and she can’t get a divorce because she won’t get the money she feels she deserves. Wouldn’t it be … convenient … if her husband could come by some sort of accident, so she could collect? At first, she says it almost jokingly, like she couldn’t be taken seriously. But Kenny is the perfect chump. He is obsessed with Toni, and even though he has a moral compass, he is drawn into her web. They begin to plan the murder. Like Postman, it involves a lonely mountainous road, and a car pushed over the cliff. The cops immediately knew it wasn’t an accident, but they arrest someone else who is then put on Death Row. Toni thinks it’s perfect. She has a chilling line about how it’s not THEIR fault if the law fails to arrest the right person – why is that their concern? Kenny starts to fall apart. He still loves Toni, but he doesn’t know if he can live with himself if an innocent man is put to death.
Like I said, the movie wastes no time in any of this. It hurtles along from event to event. It’s really up to the actors to deliver the seedy underbelly of the plot, and they do. Ann Savage plays what I am comfortable in calling a monster. She may look like a human being, but the essential human part has been left out. She plays a damsel in distress for Kenny’s benefit, and it works like a charm. He buys what she’s selling. As the masks fall away and he starts to realize who Toni really is, it’s akin to staring into an endless void.
The only flicker of recognizable humanity in Toni comes during a fascinating closeup during the murder of her husband out on that lonely road. The camera moves in close to her face, and we hear the awful thuds of Kenny smashing in her husband’s head. There are two thuds. With each thud, we see a twitch on her face. It’s subtle, but it’s there. This comes close to being too awful for even someone like Toni. Ann Savage doesn’t overplay her hand, doesn’t overact the horror. A sociopath may have many problems, but keeping their inner lives under control is not one of them. But she betrays herself, with those tiny twitches in her face. But once the deed is done, she feels free as a bird, no regrets. Now it’s time to collect her money. Frank is, ultimately, dispensable. All people are dispensable to Toni.
Watch how she wrings her hands when she says, “I need a drink.”
People betray themselves in all sorts of ways and it’s usually through behavior.
Ann Savage understood behavior.
The film is cheaply made, with noir effects (venetian blinds, dark shadows) that are okay but make you realize how difficult it was to get those effects in noir, how much time and mastery it took to make the shadows distinct from the light, and yet still make sure that the audience can see what they need to see.
Directed by Sam Wood
First read my friend Dan’s fantastic essay on Ginger Rogers’ career. So good!
I’ve seen this movie a bunch of times, it’s one I own. Ginger Rogers plays Kitty Foyle, a “white-collar girl”, living and working in New York City.
The film opens with a funny sequence which shows the history of women in the early 20th century. It’s ridiculous and satirical, and kind of out of step with the rest of the film, which is sheer melodrama. But it’s very funny. We see the courtship rituals of Victorian-era people, we see the early days of marriage, we then see the wife joining the suffrage movement to get the right to vote. Then, women get the vote, and suddenly men no longer give her their seats on the streetcar. That’s the message. You got your equality, now you can stand like the rest of us.
Kitty Foyle hails from a working class background in Philadelphia. She is fascinated by the Main Line society people, and dreams of a Prince Charming who will sweep her away. Her beloved father tells her to wise up, and marry a guy who is actually GOING somewhere. But old dreams die hard. She falls for a Main Line guy, who loves her too, but seems strangely reluctant to take her out in Philadelphia. Is he ashamed of her? You bet he is. I hate Wynn Stafford. He’s weak, stupid, presumptuous. But mostly weak. Kitty can’t see it. She believes in him, and believes that he means what he says.
She is in love with Wynn Stafford for YEARS and basically moves to New York City to get away from him and make her own life. She works in a perfume shop, and lives with two roommates (I love the scene in the apartment, with the two roommates hiding out in the bathtub while Kitty Foyle entertains a guy in the other room. Some things never change. This is the life of roommates in all eras. In order to break up the date out in their apartment, so they don’t have to sleep in the bathtub, the roommates stroll through the main room, hair in curlers, face slathered in cold cream. Love it.)
Kitty Foyle goes through SO MUCH, my GOD, how can so many things happen to one woman in the course of one two hour movie?
Ginger Rogers is very good in the role, with an underlying sense of sadness and disappointment. She doesn’t seem able to believe in love. Wynn is the focus of all of her emotions, and she has become so used to being the Girl Who Gets the Leftovers, that it has impacted even what she looks like. Her joy is tempered. Her excitement never spills over. Ginger Rogers always played women who were realistic about love, she was too much of a wise-cracker to go gaga over anyone. It took a lot to win her over. But people can focus on the wrong person, for sometimes years … unable to move on, unable to progress, because old dreams and old wishes and hopes are wrapped up in that other person. Kitty is dating this kindly doctor (I love the scene where they first meet, where she fakes a faint in the perfume store and he busts her for faking), and yet she can’t commit. She is always somewhat elsewhere. She is always waiting for something else to happen. It’s like she’s living the wrong life. It’s like she’s waiting for her right life to begin. And so happiness is not possible for someone like that. She wouldn’t recognize happiness if it was right in front of her.
The film loses the satirical “let’s talk about women now” bite that its opening sequence set up. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if they had kept on that track, if they had told Kitty Foyle’s story in a more distanced biting way. But that clearly was not the goal. This is a star part for Ginger Rogers (she won the Oscar), and it is a classic example of the prestige that used to surround “the woman’s picture”.
Interestingly enough, the ending still leaves me unsure as to how Kitty will cope with life in the future. There’s a sense that something essential has been smashed out of her in this experience. Nothing will “make up” for her years in the wilderness and what went down. Sorrow has been left to her like a legacy.