Though he had several starring roles and a long, successful career, Franchot Tone rarely had a part that allowed his wit and intelligence to shine through. That is why it is a shame that this film noir from 1948 is not readily available (never on VHS, DVD or TCM). In a rare screening at the SIFF Theater in Seattle last night, a lucky audience had the chance to enjoy one of Tone’s most charismatic performances.
He is a Raymond Chandler-style private eye on the trail of his client's mysterious wife, but like in The Big Sleep (1946), the plot isn't really the point. Tone plays the Marlowe type with a lighter touch than Dick Powell and less world weariness than Bogart. The business at hand is serious, but he can't help being amused by the characters he meets while he searches for answers. And they are a rich bunch. Glenda Farrell plays the Girl Friday role with her typical wit and sharp tongue, Janis Carter is surreally outrageous as a mysterious trophy wife, and there is a scene in a diner with a saucy waitress that could probably stand on its own as an amusing short subject. Raymond Burr also shows up in a bit part, though his appeal is so strong that you'll wish he had more to do. If you've get a chance to see this, don't miss it; it doesn't deserve its place in near obscurity.