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.