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With: Barbara Stanwyck, John Lund, Jane Cowl, Phyllis Thaxter, Lyle Bettger, Henry O'Neill, Richard Denning, Carole Mathews, Harry Antrim, Catherine Craig, Esther Dale, Milburn Stone, Griff Barnett
Written by: Sally Benson, Catherine Turney, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 98
Date: 02/21/1950

No Man of Her Own (1950)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

I, Fraud

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cornell Woolrich's 1948 novel I Married a Dead Man (originally published under his pseudonym William Irish) has been filmed many times, but -- despite its wimpy title -- this film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck is probably the definitive version.

The story is an almost perfect coincidence. A pregnant woman, Helen (Stanwyck), boards a train with just a few coins left in her pocket and no idea what she's going to do. She meets a friendly couple; they offer her a seat. The young woman is also pregnant. The women go to the restroom together, the young woman lets Helen try on her wedding ring, and reveals the juicy tidbit that she has never met her husband's family, and indeed, they have no idea what she even looks like. At that point, the train crashes, and the young couple dies. Helen is whisked to the hospital, mistaken for the young pregnant woman, Patrice.

Stanwyck beautifully expresses her inner torment (with a bit of interior monologue) as she decides to keep up the ruse, for the baby. It's a perfect setup, except for the fact that one other person knows who Helen really is. To make matters more complicated, she feels a little romantic spark with the dead man's brother, Bill (John Lund).

Most of the strength of the movie rests on Stanwyck -- one of the greatest of all screen actresses -- and her ability to sell this story. She rarely rests or accepts her situation. In several scenes, she lets her guard down -- such as a scene in which she's testing a new ball-point pen in a shop and accidentally writes "Helen" instead of "Patrice" -- and then falls into a twist of rage and fear for forgetting her situation for an instant.

The director, Mitchell Leisen, is not among Hollywood's most celebrated. Today he is probably best known for comedy/romances like Midnight (1939), and two Preston Sturges screenplays, Easy Living (1937) and Remember the Night (1940). No Man of Her Own is his only film noir, and he seems tentatively intrigued with shadows. The film's final sequence has a couple of striking single shots: Bill climbing a crooked staircase, engulfed in steam from a passing train. Then there's the throwaway bit of dialogue about how the dead man's body made it onto the train -- but his head didn't. If Leisen had a dark side, this one of the few times he was able to let it out.

Meanwhile, Woolrich stories had been, and continue to be adapted for movies and TV, including Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (1943), Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), and Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968).

Olive Films released this item from the Paramount vaults. It has no extras, but the quality is fine, and it's most welcome.

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