The Unsuspected (1947):

Unlike such fellow émigrés as Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Robert Siodmak, Michael Curtiz rarely allowed flourishes of personality to emerge from underneath the anonymous flow of Hollywood machinery -- accordingly, the pronounced Germanity of this noir whodunit, with its assorted UFA tropes (shadows slinking around walls, entrapping lighting, characters shifting like sand), is less evidence of any Curtiz obsession than manifestation of a neurotic cinematic zeitgeist. The unsuspected of the title is debonair radio personality Claude Rains, whose velvety reading of crime yarns over the airwaves serves as cover for his real-life murderous activities (the show's self-reflexive branches with directing go wastefully unexplored). Camped out in Rains' mansion are acidic niece Audrey Totter, her alcoholic husband Hurd Hatfield, and mysterious stranger Ted North, who claims he was married to shipwrecked heiress Joan Caulfield. That Caulfield is still alive and has no recollection of North is no spoiler, but just the tip of the cumbersome intrigue whipped up by screenwriters Ranald MacDougall and Bess Meredyth. Synthetically atmospheric, the movie is not without its visual fireworks -- during an early Rains broadcast, the camera detaches itself from the studio to track into one of the speakers and dissolve into train compartments, rain-soaked streets and grubby hotel rooms to contemplate the usual suspects listening in. Yet it's a testament to Curtiz's stalwart impersonality that he can alternate this venomous clan with the cozily patriarchal Americana of Life With Father in the same year. With Constance Bennett, Fred Clark, Harry Lewis, and Jack Lambert. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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