Jigsaw (1949): “like the last act of Hamlet”

Jigsaw (1949)

Jigsaw is a rollicking thriller so camp you forgive the preposterous plot and thank the heavens for bringing it your way. A weirder movie you could not imagine. Franchot Tone is a NY special prosecutor pursuing a murky underground hate group with tentacles in the highest echelons of the city’s elite government and business circles. Tone’s delicious turn has shades of his acerbically ironic portrayal of a PI in the excellent I Love Trouble from the year before.

But the dames steal the picture. Winifred Lenihan, an actress who only ever appeared in this movie and another obscure picture from 1931, is a delight as a middle-aged socialite with a hidden agenda, while another stringer Jean Wallace (Kiss Me Deadly) has you enthralled as a sexy – and intelligent – blonde cabaret singer with sinister connections.

Jigsaw in more ways than one. The only movie made by production company Tower Pictures Inc., this b-picture was made by a bunch of journeymen, who through the quirky finger of fate came together to pack into 77 minutes an entertainment set in a Manhattan so darkly baroque, it seems almost self-consciously noir. From the opening panoramic shots of an isolated city street to the seamless and exciting climax in a darkened art gallery at night, impenetrable shadows haunt the streetscape of a city almost subterranean in its ambience. Add out-of-left field tracking shots that harken to the craft of Max Ophuls, director Fletcher Markle, who co-wrote the screenplay, and his DP Don Malkames, fashion a mise-en-scene of real panache. The script is both corny and intelligent, with a disarming amorality. A crusading journalist killed by the bad-guys is still warm when Tone makes a move on the widow who is also more hot than cold.

To add to the puzzle, you have a bunch of A-listers in uncredited bit parts. Names like Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda, John Garfield, Marsha Hunt, Burgess Meredith, and Everett Sloane.

It takes a while to get moving, but once it kicks in, look out. A must-see.

6 thoughts on “Jigsaw (1949): “like the last act of Hamlet””

  1. “From the opening panaromic shots of an isolated city street to the seamless and exciting climax in a darkened art gallery at night, impenetrable shadows haunt the streetscape of a city almost subterranean in its ambience. Add out-of-left field tracking shots that harken to the craft of Max Ophuls, director Fletcher Markle, who co-wrote the screenplay, and his DP Don Malkames, fashion a mise-en-scene of real panache.”

    Great descriptive language and use of persuasive reference points Tony! I have not seen JIGSAW, nor can I say I remember much about it aside from knowing the title. You have me very excited though, as I much approve leaving the box and much appreciate the presence of the excellent Franchot Tone, who was one of the great three lead stars of the 1935 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, and an actor with screen presence, class and charm. I remember him well from a Twilight Zone episode called “The Silence” and from some other films from the 40’s. Looks like the crime elements and the femme fatale are hear to establish the noirish foundation and the naturalistic visual look, with those perverse elements that would give this film a special fascination for sure. I love hearing that a “darkly baroque Manhattan” is on display here, and the script projects a “disarming amorality.” Quite the list of actors too in bit parts!! A must-see indeed and a wholly terrific review that had me hanging on every word.

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  2. Hey Sam. Thanks for your visit. I must admit I have a soft spot for Franchot Tone, and this perhaps colors my perceptions. His scenes here with Jean Wallace have a spark that recalls the early Bogart/Bacall scenes in The Big Sleep.

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  3. Correction: Caroline Riggs is the sister not the widow of the murdered man. Tone’s character remarks at the very beginning that Charles Riggs is about to become his brother in law. I have to admit due to sound quality that I was a little confused about the relationship as well. Except I thought that Charles and Caroline were a couple and Tone was Caroline’s brother. After Tone kissed Caroline, I realized my mistake. Lol.

    Some of political rhetoric of the “hate mongers” made me wonder if they were currently employed with Donald Trump’s campaign. We have come so far…

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    1. Thanks Noir Fan. If you’re right a rewrite is certainly needed. Forgive me if I check it out first though 😉 The print I watched on late night TV was on the edge of falling apart. The fifth columnists were definitely in Trump territory…

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  4. I also thought that she was his sister! And if not, where was the sister who was going to marry the murdered journalist? I thought it was a serious, even brutal, picture, but the cameos undercut a lot of that for me. Not a good idea at all.

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