Strange Impersonation (Anthony Mann / U.S., 1946):

Anthony Mann and surrealism. A definition of the medium is offered ("dreams and fancies, normal and otherwise"), the director promptly adds a spark of cruel combustion: The chemist-heroine (Brenda Marshall) is mixing solutions in the lab, her fiancé (William Gargan) sneaks up behind her and the liquids burst into flame. Her latest project is an experimental anesthetic, she tries it on herself and conjures up the narrative over the course of one oneiric hour. A room ablaze segues into a bandaged figure, the usurper responsible is the assistant (Hillary Brooke) who covets her position and her man. The charred face is revealed beneath a black veil and lit from below, peevish extortionist (Ruth Ford) and wormy ambulance-chaser (George Chandler) figure in the switcheroo, a noir maelstrom opens up. "How's the osmosis?" "You oughta know!" The instructive crossroads with Lang (Fury and The Woman in the Window are visible, The Big Heat is predicted) has doppelgängers and imbalances and clinical surfaces and disfigured flesh, the feminine view of inner life (cp. Cukor's A Woman's Face) points toward Les Yeux sans Visage and Mulholland Drive. (Mann himself upgrades the shadowy ménage in Raw Deal.) Proposals and betrayals, plunges from balconies and a protagonist under the interrogation spotlight for her own murder—several months of hard images that dissipate with the end of an evening nap, "that's the trouble with time." A rare domain keenly sketched, down to the old Christ turned plastic surgeon (H.B. Warner) who raises a bony finger for a bony moral: "You can change your face... but you cannot change yourself." In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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