A reassurance they made quality movies 67 years ago. This one is The Man Who Cheated Himself, from 1950. All right. I said they made good movies, not good titles. It’s a nice view, featuring Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt, but it still has a number of flaws. I caught it streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the go-to place for old movies. Details are from Wikipedia.
The opening scene shows a man unpacking a new handgun he has purchased for himself. We have to wonder what he plans to do with it. We see him loading it with six cartridges and secreting it on a bookshelf. Then he scoops up the packaging and tosses it into the fireplace, to be consumed. Except viewers see a piece of paper fall to the floor unnoticed. We will later learn this is the gun’s inspection ticket from the manufacturer.
Next the man goes outside onto the balcony and closes the French doors. Then he uses a tool to jimmy the lock and let himself in. Then he closes the door and puts away the tool. His suspicious wife is knocking on the other door and wondering why he has it locked.
The wife, Lois Frazer (Wyatt), has it out with her husband, Howard Frazer (Harlan Warde). We won’t be seeing him, because he’s going to get killed early in the film. Anyhow, Lois is the one with all the money, which is why Howard married her. Now all that is over, and divorce preparations are in work. Howard is off to catch a flight to Seattle, where he expects to do some salmon fishing. Before leaving he advises Lois that she really should change her will so he won’t get all her money if something happens to her. Heh, heh.
Now Lois spots the inspection ticket and realizes Howard has plans for her. She phones her friend, her very close friend, Police Lieutenant Edward Cullen (Cobb). But Edward does not answer the phone. Edward’s younger brother Andy (John Dall) does. He tells Lois Edward is out of the office. She says she will call back. Andy is moving into his new office as a police detective. He hopes to learn a lot from his brother. He does.
When Lois finally gets Edward on the phone, she tells him about the gun. She thinks Howard is up to something. She wants Edward to come over immediately.
Edward and Lois have something going together. Lois does this a lot. Howard is her second husband, and Edward is scheduled to be the third.
When Edward arrives at Lois’ sumptuous home, she tells him she found the gun. Edward tells her to go get it, and after she picks up the gun she hears somebody entering by way of the French doors. It’s Howard, and he lunges for Lois. She shoots him dead. That’s a big problem. Lois does not want to go to jail. Edward needs to help her cover up the killing.
Edward phones the airport and learns Howard’s flight is not until much later. He’s at the airport. Edward’s plan is to drop Howard’s body off outside the airport, take his wallet, and make it appear Howard was robbed and murdered at the airport.
That doesn’t go well. It’s dark when Edward dumps Howard’s body, and as he starts to drive away two tourists ask him for directions. He ignores them and drives away. Then they find Howard’s body and call the police. They can’t describe Edward, but the man describes the car.
Things go downhill for Edward, but Lois is not concerned. Her sweet butt is going to be safe. Please note that people smoked a lot in those old movies.
Edward has tossed the gun off the Bay Bridge. But shortly it is used to kill a liquor store clerk in a robbery. The bullets match with the ones that killed Howard. A fisherman’s net retrieved the gun, and the fisherman’s son is implicated. He cops to the liquor store caper, but he can prove he was not at the airport.
Much to Edward’s chagrin, Andy has been doing first class police work, and the evidence is pointing to Edward. The tourist identifies Edward’s car. An APB goes out for Edward and his car. San Francisco is a city with only six ways out, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and apparently four land routes. The city is sealed off.
But Edward knows a place where he and Lois can hide out. It’s an abandoned facility at Fort Point, the Presidio, adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. But it’s a place that Andy knows about, as well, and he drives out there to look around. Edward and Lois have stashed their car, but Andy finds it. A note left on the windshield is meant for Andy. The note says they have left.
But Andy is suspicious. He climbs the heights, but does not spot Edward and Lois hiding in the upper tower. The notorious San Francisco wind blows Lois’ scarf away, and it floats down to the compound court yard. Does Andy see it as he gets in his car and departs?
Apparently so. After dark, as Edward and Lois leave the fort and attempt to flee on foot across the bridge, the police spring their trap and arrest them.
The movie ends in the Superior Court where Edward is escorted out by a cop, his career shattered and facing prison time. Lois leaves on the arms of her new boyfriend, her high-priced attorney, hoping to be the next husband.
Yeah, the title is one for the books. The Man Who Cheated Himself? That does not even make sense and is hard to relate to the plot. If you are going for a title that’s mildly evocative of the plot, how about something like One Lie Too Many?
It’s a clever plot, but a bit thin. A smart police detective like Edward does all the wrong things, and he never gets a break.
Lois shoots Howard in his presence, and that should have been the end of it. There is proof Howard bought the gun. There is proof he went to the airport and then returned, entering by way of the French doors, which he previously jimmied. A little white lie, and Edward and Lois could have made a perfect case of self defense. Instead, Edward goes way out on a limb to protect wicked Lois from scandal.
Carry Howard’s body back to the airport and dump it? It’s going to be obvious the body was moved. Any police detective would know that.
Giving the tourists the brush off? Why not just tell them which way to the parking lot and wait for them to leave before driving off. Then they would be long gone, and they would never connect Edward with the dead body.
Edward dumps the gun off the bridge. Last time I was in San Francisco, the airport was south of the city, in Burlingame. You don’t cross a bridge to get to and from the airport. Edward had to detour across the Oakland Bay Bridge, stopping at a toll plaza, where he could be and was recognized. Then back the other way across the bridge. I don’t know about 1950, but currently you pay tolls entering the city, and the bridges are free leaving.
Like I said, Edward doesn’t get a break. The gun is immediately found and used in a shooting.
Andy, his new bride beside him, drives through a red light and gets a ticket. The cop tells Andy about seeing Edward on the bridge.
Yes, this plot requires a string of improbabilities.
The print is sharp with a full range of tones, but a bit shopworn. There is a section containing a number of splices, losing a few seconds of back and forth between Edward and Andy.
Lee J. Cobb turns in the kind of top performance we have come to expect of him. Four years later he killed (really) in On the Waterfront. Jane Wyatt is the perfect classy bitch. I always saw her as the actress you signed when Jane Wyman wasn’t available.
This one never caught the full attention of Wikipedia and IMDb. Neither provides a plot synopsis. You can watch it for free on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZXsoLg88-o