Cornered (1946): Dmytryk’s Film Noir, Second Teaming with Star Dick Powell

Directed by Edward Dmytryk, Cornered is a film noir replete with twists and turns about vengeance and political scheming. 

This was the second teaming of the director and actor Dick Powell after their successful collaboration the year before on Murder, My Sweet, a better and more commercial picture.

Set after the end of WWII, the twisty, globe-trotting tale, was written by John Paxton with uncredited work from Ben Hecht.

Laurence Gerard (Powell), a former P.O.W. Canadian RCAF flyer, is looking for the person who had ordered the killing of his freshly married bride (only 20 days), a member of the French Resistance. His father-in-law Étienne Rougon points to Vichy collaborator Marcel Jarnac, a man who had presumably died in 1943.

Jarnac was careful about his anonymity, and the police have no description of him, but his associate compiled a dossier, Gerard finds a burned fragment of it, alongside an envelope addressed to Madame Jarnac, his widow who’s now living in Buenos Aires.

Upon arrival in Argentina, Gerard is met by Melchior Incza (Walter Slezak), a stranger who seems to know a lot about him. The suspicious Canadian initially rejects Incza’s offer to help, but he accepts invitation to a party hosted by Mme Jarnac’s associate, wealthy businessman Tomas Camargo (Steven Geray).  While mingling with the chic social set, he meets Camargo’s uncle, lawyer Manuel Santana (Morris Carnovsky), and the widow herself (Micheline Cheirel).

A note is delivered to Gerard informing him that Jarnac is leaving the country that night under the name of Ernest Dubois. But it’s a forgery, and Gerard is stopped from shooting the wrong man. It turns out that Dubois (Edgar Barrier) is actually an associate aiming to capture Jarnac and his secret Nazi organization.

When Jarnac (Luther Adler) finally makes an appearance, he delivers a political speech on America’s failure to see its injustice across the world.  In their fight, Gerard hits Jarnac to death, while holding the paper about the latter’s link to Camargo, which would expose the entire organization.

Several of the filmmakers–Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott, Morris Carnovsky, and Luther Adler–would be blacklisted. The movie’s political argument against Fascism, which HUAC claimed reflected their personal views, was held against them.

Continuing the transformation of his screen image from a plesant musical star (with tenor voice), Powell renders an even tougher and dower performance here than he did in Murder My Sweet as the cynical loner bent on revenge .

Like its predecessor, Cornered was successful at the box-office, earning a profit for the studio.

Cast

Dick Powell as Laurence Gerard
Walter Slezak as Melchior Incza
Micheline Cheirel as Mme. Madeleine Jarnac
Nina Vale as Señora Camargo
Morris Carnovsky as Manuel Santana
Edgar Barrier as DuBois, insurance agent
Steven Geray as Señor Tomas Camargo
Jack La Rue as Diego
Gregory Gaye as Perchon, Belgian banker, Jarnac’s accomplice
Luther Adler as Marcel Jarnac