The Woman on Pier 13 (1949): Better Wed than Red

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949)

A former member of the US Communist Party in a management
job on the San Francisco waterfront is blackmailed by the Party

It is with some irony that 60 years on it is the greed of bankers and not the ideology of  leftists that has brought global capitalism to the brink of collapse, so take the red-menace propaganda here with a good dose of salt and you have a top film noir.

The Woman on Pier 13 (original title I Married a Communist) was a pet project of RKO boss Howard Hughes and it is said by some was a litmus test to sniff out reds in the ranks.  His meddling delayed the movie’s release until 1951 after HUAC’s halycon days were past, and it bombed at the box office.

The screenplay, which despite criticism by most film critics as being far-fetched, to my viewing is quite solid, has the ‘commies’ work as a bunch of hoods. This conceit makes the script and the story compelling, with both melodramatic and thriller arcs.  RKO stringer Robert Stevenson (Walk Softly, Stranger) does a solid job of directing, with stunning noir visuals by veteran noir cameraman Nicholas Musuraca.

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949)

The cast is particularly strong.  Robert Ryan plays the former commie, and the lovely Laraine Day (The Locket) his wife.  Thomas Gomez is a ruthless commie boss, with Janis Carter (Night Editor, Framed, I Love Trouble) as an undercover commie femme-fatale who mixes politics and love, and William Talman (Armored Car Robbery, The Racket, The Hitch-Hiker, City That Never Sleeps, Big House USA ) is convincing as a carnie moonlighting as a commie hit-man – in his first role.

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949)

The story never flags, and eroticized and violent noir pyrotechnics make for an enthralling and wild roller-coaster ride.  When Ryan is first confronted by his Party blackmailer at a warehouse,  a Party member suspected of treason is trussed and thrown in the Bay to drown while Ryan watches. Later a protagonist is run down by a car in cold blood by hit-man Talman. That same night Gomez pushes a woman out of an apartment window, and the sister of the guy run-down by Talman tracks him down and poses as a wife who needs her husband out-of-the-way Double-Indemnity style.  The scenes between the two are erotic dynamite, and the perversity of  Talman as the wise-cracking hit-man on the make boasting about his latest job make Tommy Udo (Kiss of Death) look like a kindergarten teacher.

A solid downbeat ending after a spectacular shoot-out on the wharves satisfies and has a redemptive focus.

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949)

8 thoughts on “The Woman on Pier 13 (1949): Better Wed than Red”

  1. Hi! Tony,
    What can I say, but what I always say…What a concise, straight forward, review of the 1949
    film Woman on Pier 13. Btw, this film isn’t available on dvd yet, but I do own a pretty decent print of this film and the MGM film “Scene of the Crime” that was recorded for me by one of my supplier(s) of dvds…
    …and I was also lucky enough to find 2 near pristine,”pressbooks” for this film and the MGM’s 1949 film “Scene of the Crime,” both on eBay. (I was “really lucky” to find (purchase) both of them “intact” completely!…usually, they were “cut” to shreds.)

    Like the pressbook, from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960s film “pSyChO” that I purchased on eBay, it looked as if actor Anthony Perkins got a hold it!…It was nearly “cut” to shred.

    Take care!
    Dcd 😉


  2. Correction: “…it looked as if actor Anthony Perkins, got a hold of it!… Because it was nearly “cut” to shred.”

    Tony said,”A solid downbeat ending after a spectacular shoot-out on the wharves satisfies and has a redemptive focus.”
    Tony, I must say that your description of the ending of this film sums, it up perfectly, and place it in the “proverbial” “nutshell.”

    hmmm…When this film is returned to me, I think that I will give it a second look!…Because of your review my interest in this film is “piqued”…

    Dcd 😉


  3. Tony said,”The pressbooks sound fascinating!”
    Speaking of, books…I also have friends in “low” places, trying to secure me a copy of the book Woman on Pier 13.
    . Btw, the paperback copy price can “run the gamut” from..hmmm… $10.00 to $40.00 dollars.

    Dcd 😉
    To whom it may concern: The name deedee is just the letters “Dd” spelled out and I have just omitted the cee.
    Because I don’t want my initials to spell out…(D)ark (C)ity (D)ame anymore.


  4. Hi! Alexander,
    Alexander said,”I must correct that, I see…”
    I think that have already been “corrected” Alexander, once you receive “The Mother Lode” 😕

    Dcd 😉


  5. Alas I have not seen this film either, but Tony does make this “roller coaster ride” most appealing. And what he doesn’t in his wildly enjthusiastic appraisal, the stars and craftsmen do. Robert Ryan and cameraman Nicholas Musuraca for example are consumate artists. Interesting you mention co-star William Talman here in one of his first roles. Talman, as I recall starred in the “Perry Mason” series (which I loved as a teenager) as Mason’s primary district attorney, who always exuded confidence, only to lose in the end.

    In any case, this almost sounds like a comedy the way you related it in the beginning, but it seems to effectively blend a number of elements. Most interesting stuff!


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