In San Francisco a middle-aged cop attempts to cover-up a murder committed by his rich girl-friend and being investigated by him and his rookie detective brother.
The only film ever produced by Jack M. Warner Productions, The Man Who Cheated Himself is a superbly crafted b-noir of 81 action-packed minutes. Under the tight control of director Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Tomorrow Is Another Day, This Woman Is Dangerous ) even minor exposition scenes are focused on moving the compelling narrative forward. The film is shot both with economy and flair by Russell Harlan (Gun Crazy, The Thing from Another World, The Blackboard Jungle, King Creole, Rio Bravo). A solid script from Seton Miller (Dust Be My Destiny, Ministry of Fear, Convicted) deftly handles the tense sub-text.
The performances are solid all-round. The cop is played Lee J. Cobb, his girl-friend by Jane Wyatt, with John Dall, of Gun Crazy fame, in his last film role as Cobb’s brother. Cobb’s acting is inspired as the hard-bitten cop who by his own admission has let a woman he can’t trust get “under his skin”. Wyatt impresses as the femme-noir, and Dall is convincing as the brother who suspects Cobb is hiding something.
Most of the film is shot on the streets of Frisco in deep focus and this gives the picture a gritty realist feel. The highlights are three brilliant scenes: one in the middle and two at the end of the movie.
In the first, in a typically noir twist, the murder weapon, which had been thrown into the river, surfaces as the gun used to gun-down a store-keeper in a robbery. While serving as the catalyst for the brother’s suspicions, the scenes where the hood is trailed and caught is a bleak unsentimental vignette of a young man’s fall into criminality. The emotional power behind this sequence is left to the audience to develop. The final interrogation scene is stunningly shot and lit from a low angle.
In the second, Cobb and Wyatt, holed-up in an abandoned prison at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge, are hiding from Dall who is searching the long hallways and metal stairwells. Cobb and Wyatt are concealed atop a guard tower out of Dall’s direct sight when the wind takes Wyatt’s scarf. This McGuffin brilliantly deepens this already tense sequence as the scarf wraps itself against a pillar, and then taken again by the wind floats down into the prison’s central courtyard as Dall enters it.
Lastly, the final scene in the picture in a court-house has to be one of the most brutally frank and downbeat endings in the noir canon. Played without words, the two pratoganists’ actions and expressions deliver an acid resolution totally devoid of pretence or sentiment, and marked only by Cobb’s weary bemusement as he ponders his fate, after seeing his distrust finally vindicated.
A fantastic movie and a great noir.