Manhandled (1949) is another one of those films you’ve probably not heard much about — and if you have, you probably heard about it from one of those film critics who didn’t have anything good to say about it.
Stupid film critics. *sigh*
Thankfully I was spared such dim views from dimwits because I’d never heard of Manhandled before watching it on TCM the other night; and I missed most of Robert’s pre-film talk to boot, vaguely catching something about it being a rare Dorothy Lamour film because she was out of her usual sarong (& that it was one of her last films due to the dreaded “aging” that nixed many a beautiful woman’s Hollywood career). So overall, I had few, if any, expectations.
This was a good thing — but it also added to the confusion too. For Manhandled is one film that nearly defies categorization.
There’s intrigue and danger in this vintage who-dun-it of a psychologist’s secretary (Dorothy Lamour) who divulges too much about the patients & her work… When a man confesses his dreams of killing his wife, you might surmise who will end up dead; but from then on out, who knows?
Manhandled does everything it can to keep you on your toes.
You might be pretty sure Dan Duryea (Lamour’s supposed boyfriend) did it; he does have the murder victim’s missing jewels…
But what about the victim’s husband — the patient who confessed his dreams of murder?
The police are sure it’s Lamour. (Why her more than the psychologist himself? Duryea helps with that!) Sterling Hayden, as the insurance investigator trying to recover the missing jewels, doesn’t seem to want to believe the secretary could have done it; but maybe he’s too quick to judge…
You’ve got good cops playing the “bad cop” to Hayden’s “good cop” treatment of innocent Lamour — and Duryea, the former cop now gum-chewing gum-shoe, who’s full of artificial sweetener (if not crap). Just try to figure it out — and how the film will end!
A black & white film, with much of the style & moody substance of film noir, Manhandled also throws in some comedy — and not the wry, dry, sort either. Manhandled throws you oddball quirks (like when Irving Bacon as Sgt. Fayle charmingly hops into a room just before the door closes), reoccurring gags (the police car has no breaks), and even a few down-right odd situations (like when Detective Lt. Bill Dawson, played by Art Smith, nearly falls asleep on his feet, passing for a drunk). For many of the other viewer-slash-reviewers, the comedy is Manhandled‘s downfall; they want the movie to be a traditional film noir — or at least a straight-up, straight-laced suspense-filled mystery thriller. But both hubby & I found the comedy, even the unnecessarily disarming. It was part of the confusion, the slight of hand; it may have been a distraction, a deviation from formulaic film, but, like Tarantino’s work, in a way that adds to the film.
Whatever you think of the film’s blending of noir & comedy, it’s the dialog which makes & moves this sophisticated film. Some lines are arguably continuity errors, saying things that weren’t exactly told to them; but these lines serve to reinforce the complicated happenings to the viewer. Best of all are how a few lines are used to cover pages of context.
For example, when Duryea goes to get a kiss from Lamour, he asks her if she “doesn’t like him, kitten” to which she replies that she likes him fine, but she’s just not willing to make a second mistake… This clarifies the earlier scene in which Lamour is seen affectionately speaking to a photograph of a little girl; you now know that the child may be her daughter, but Lamour is no fallen woman — her poor circumstances are due to a shove from a cad. Especially important when watching a film made under Code influences.
Perhaps it’s not so odd that I would adore the film & its dialog…
Manhandled was based on a story, The Man Who Stole a Dream, by L.S. Goldsmith and the screenplay was written by Whitman Chambers, a man who authored over twenty published novels and many short stories in the mystery & crime genres. Chambers also had many screenplays to his credit — plus uncredited contributions to one of my favorite films, To Have and Have Not. (Another film I’ve had to defend from critics.)
In any case, Manhandled is an excellent film.
I won’t say anymore about Manhandled; you ought to enjoy it for yourself. Which will be difficult as the film apparently, sadly, is not available on DVD (other than what appears to be pirated copies) — you’ll have to keep an eye out for TCM’s next showing of Manhandled.