Strange Impersonation, a 1946 programmer from Republic Pictures is a weird confection that has you engaged throughout. An early Anthony Mann effort, the picture uses its 68 minutes with economy to tell a lurid story of blackmail, deceit, and attempted murder, where the dames hold all the cards.
A dark female trio calls the shots in a scenario that becomes more preposterous with each frame. Based on a story by Ann Wington, who also penned the original story for Mann’s The Great Flamarion from the year before, the film uses a framing device that noir aficionados will not fail to recognise early on, and to a degree may limit their enjoyment of a rather juicy tale of revenge that – without the cop-out framing – resolves itself with a rather dark twist. Mann does a respectable job with few flourishes, and only towards the end does he start to reveal his potential for noir lighting and expressionist angles.
A female chemist in a pharmaceutical company is working on a new anaesthetic, and decides to test it on herself outside-hours, aided by her female assistance, who has eyes for the chemist’s fiancé. In a melodramatic turn of events arson precipitates a double-cross worthy of the most demonic femme fatale, which then using a formula involving blackmail, an accidental death, and plastic surgery, leads on to a mission of deceit and revenge, which comes unstuck with a dark devilish irony. The male cast is by the board, while three b-actresses deliver the real goods. The chemist played by Brenda Marshall starts off demure and serious – she wears oversized glasses to press the point – but when the melodrama kicks in a darker self takes over and she is now not only of ambivalent virtue but decidedly hotter. Hillary Brooke is excellent as the two-timing assistant cum femme-fatale, and Ruth Ford (Lady Gangster 1942) is decidedly seedy as a low-life blackmailer who takes on more than she can handle.