We kick off Indicator’s typically gorgeous Columbia Noir #2 boxset with a really fine effort: Richard Wallace’s Framed, featuring Glenn Ford, a new ‘star’ at the time in his first ‘above the title’ credit, and Janis Carter in a surprisingly nuanced femme fatale role. I’m not entirely sure what I expected – one can never be certain, really, what to expect coming to these features ‘blind’ when they are over half a century old- other than what might be guessed from the stark title, but it actually turned out to be quite subtle. Its relentlessly efficient, telling its story and not getting at all side-tracked with any sub-plots and nor does it divert into back-stories or flashbacks, which could feasibly have been a temptation (we never know much about our lead, Mike Lambert (Ford) even though he seems to be running away from something, and likewise there seems to be more to temptress Paula (Carter) than what meets the eye). This results in a film that intrigues long after it finishes, and I liked it a lot.
Mike Lambert arrives in town in eventful fashion, crashing a freight truck with no-brakes into the back of another. This post-credits sequence is almost like a tease for the later The Wages of Fear; Lambert took the job as a way of getting to the town as its situated in mining country, and he’s a mining engineer looking for work. The trucking company is a shady outfit putting its crews at risk with dodgy trucks, and it refuses to compensate the owner of the vehicle Lambert crashed into. It sums up the efficiency of the film in that it uses this scene to quickly establishes Lambert’s character- once Lambert has eventually managed to extract the wages he is owed from his slimy boss, he hands it over to the guy whose vehicle was damaged, righting the wrong that the trucking company won’t. Clearly Lambert is a man with a moral compass who leans on doing what’s right.
So when Lambert stumbles into the wrong restaurant with the wrong waitress, and comes under her scheming eye, we know that this is a good guy who will be a foil for Paula and her banking executive lover Steve (Barry Sullivan). What we don’t know is if its Lambert’s moral code that will prove to be his undoing as Paula seduces him, nor indeed if Paula has charmed the wrong guy, not appreciating how dangerous it is for her to try seduce a genuine good guy.
Janis Carter proves something of a surprise. Ford at this point is a known commodity (The Big Heat, The Undercover Man etc) but I’d never seen Carter before and she really impresses. In many ways its an underwritten role -scheming temptress caught between two lovers with a $250,000 fortune hanging in the balance- that could have been a typically noir one-dimensional evil femme fatale, but there’s a subtlety to her character, not ruthless enough to do what needs to be done in order to successfully walk into the sunset with the cash. Her weakness for Lambert (she has an opportunity to poison him but fails to see it through) proves her undoing. I’m not entirely sure if its scripted shades of character or just simply Carter not having the ability to fully convince as the cold-hearted bitch that the best noir bring to screen, but I’d prefer to think the former. Carter is beautiful and engaging and seems to have some depth as an actress- looking her filmography up afterwards I was surprised, and disappointed, to see that she didn’t have as successful a film career as I would have expected, and Framed is possibly her signature role, eventually moving to New York and a television career before retiring from the profession entirely. Hollywood can be a cold and ruthless place I guess and its not the first time that I’ve seen impressive actresses in old films whose careers never reached the heights that they might have done (most recently Gia Scala in The Garment Jungle).
The cast of Framed is entirely excellent, the script sharp and, as I have noted, totally efficient with no waste at all (it totals just a lean and taut 83 minutes). It manages to pull some genuine twists, with a few moments in which I thought I was one step ahead and then undermining my confidence with another surprising turn. There’s possibly one or two ‘conveniences’ that undermine it from being a genuinely great noir but on the whole I thought it was a solid, engaging thriller that I really enjoyed and look forward to returning to someday. One of the most endearing facets of noir is that one can enjoy the films even more the second time around, and I’m confident such will be the case with Framed. Certainly an excellent opener for this Indicator set.