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.
3 thoughts on “Strange Impersonation (1946): Dirty science”
In the perverse and wicked spirit of Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE, this haunting cult noir by Anthony Mann offers up some dark ironies and splendid femme fatale maneuverings. You are dead-on with your assertion that this is cinematic economy of the highest order, negotiated by a master craftsman who is well-noted for his expertise at details and mise en scene. Agree that Brenda Marshall and the ladies take center stage, and all things considered this is absolutely a “juicy tale of revenge.” The framing device is a bit annoying I’ll admit, much as it was in THE GREAT FLAMARION the previosu year, but it doesn’t detract too much from the riveting story at hand. As always you have written with insight and appreciation! I first saw this film two years ago at the Anthony Mann Festival, and have since aquired the Kino DVD.
Hey Sam. Thanks for that reference to Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE. Reminds me of that eerie noir from David Florey The Face Behind the Mask (1941) starring Peter Lorre.
Story is half-baked from start to finish, acting from William Gargan and Brenda Marshall is atrocious (and though playing chemists they do not have any chemistry together), and the ending is as laughable and conservative (better get married, little lady, and forget about your ambition…) as I was afraid it would be. Sorry to say, but that was one of the worst b-movies from the catalogue of classical film noir I’ve ever watched.