Woman on Pier 13, The (aka I Married a Communist) (1949): Stevenson’s Political Noir Drama, Starring Robert Ryan and Larraine Day

Robert Stevenson directed The Woman on Pie r 13, a compromised and ultimately ineffective blend of agit-prop with film noir, starring Laraine Day and Robert Ryan.

Grade: C (*1/2 out of *****)

The Woman on Pier 13
I Married a Communist movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The movie previewed in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1949 under the title I Married a Communist but, but the poor response led to the changing of the title.

Robert Ryan plays Brad Collins, a San Francisco shipping executive, who recently married Nan Lowry Collins (Laraine Day) after brief courtship.

After their honeymoon, the couple meet Christine Norman (Janis Carter), an old flame of Collins, who’s immediately disliked by Nan.

Once involved with a communist group in New York, Collins becomes the target of the cell, whose brutal leader, Vanning (Thomas Gomez), who had ordered alleged FBI informer be drowned after interrogation.

A friend of Collins and former boyfriend of Nan, union leader Jim Travers (Richard Rober) cannot understand why Collins has become unreasonable to deal with. Travers is concerned about the possibility of communists in the union taking it over.

When Nan is kidnapped and taken to the hidden communist headquarters in Arnold’s warehouse, Collins tracks her location and gains admittance though manipulation.

In the climactic shootout, Bailey and Vanning are killed.  Collins, fatally injured, dies in the arms of Nan, just when she reaffirms her love.

The original story by Slavin and George was announced as RKO’s first production after Howard Hughes became the studio’s head. Several directors, including Joseph Losey, turned down the film, and Nicholas Ray departed shortly before production began. Though a liberal, Robert Ryan agreed to be cast out of fear for his career.

In spite of Hughes’ insistence that “I Married a Communist” was an effective element of marketing, negative response to the moniker led to a new one, “The Woman on Pier 13.”

Critics, then and now, complained about the movie’s distorted information about the portrayal of communism and its real and perceived influence in the U.S., in order to to reaffirms the American Way of Life.

Greeted with unfavorable reviews, the film was a commercial failure, losing about $650,000 at the box-office.

It is shown today as a sampler of  an unsuccessful political film noir, worth revisiting largely due to the visuals by one of the genre’s expert cinematographers, Nicholas Musuraca.

Laraine Day as Nan Lowry Collins
Robert Ryan as Brad Collins, aka Frank Johnson
John Agar as Don Lowry
Thomas Gomez as Vanning
Janis Carter as Christine Norman
Richard Rober as Jim Travers
William Talman as Bailey, younger henchman


Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Jack J. Gross
Screenplay by Robert Hardy Andrews and Charles Grayson, based on story by George W. George and George F. Slavin
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Roland Gross
Distributed by RKO Pictures

Release date: October 7, 1949 (Preview, L.A.); June 3, 1950 (U.S.)

Running time: 73 minutes