Release Date(s)1947 (May 11, 2021)
Studio(s)RKO Radio Pictures/Warner Bros (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: F
They Won’t Believe Me is a histrionic film noir told in flashbacks. Larry Ballantine (Robert Young) is on trial for murder. Ballantine’s lawyer (Frank Ferguson) announces that while his client is an opportunistic philanderer, he is not on trial for poor character. In flashback we see that Larry has weekly luncheon dates with Janice Bell (Jane Greer), but Larry is married. This time, Janice gives him an ultimatum. Not content with being a Saturday-only girl, she wants a definite commitment. Larry promises to tell his wife, Greta (Rita Johnson), that he is leaving her.
Seeing Larry pack his suitcase, the very rich Greta casually mentions that she was about to buy him a partnership in a Beverly Hills stock brokerage firm with a nice income of his own. But that will only happen if he moves with her cross country to California and cuts off all contact with Janice. A man who enjoys his creature comforts, the spineless Larry accepts Greta’s offer, which is more like a contract, and dumps Janice for the money.
Things go smoothly for a while until a pretty secretary, Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward), catches Larry’s eye. She’s very much like him—a person who likes the good things in life and doesn’t care how she acquires them. She’s aggressive in pursuing him and he does not resist. Greta finds out about his involvement with Verna and plans to keep him by selling his interest in the partnership and relocating to a remote ranch. Feeling like a prisoner, Larry persuades Verna to head to Reno with him. He’ll get a divorce and they’ll get married. But fate intervenes and their plan takes an unexpected turn.
Typical of noir, They Won’t Believe Me features reprehensible characters with selfish motives and a look at the underside of human nature. If you grew up seeing Robert Young as Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best dispensing sage advice to his three kids every week, you’ll find his character of Larry quite a departure. Larry isn’t wicked, just weak, favoring a status quo in which he’s married to an affluent woman while enjoying the favors of another. When forced to make a choice between them, he is cripplingly indecisive.
The three female leads are all excellent and represent different types. Greta is the controller, determined to hold onto her man by any means necessary. Janice is the nice girl cast aside by a greedy cad. And Verna is the temptress, the schemer, the femme fatale.
Jonathan Latimer’s intricately plotted screenplay has a number of twists and one of the most ironic endings in all of noir. The script moves briskly with an economy of dialogue and scene construction that makes its point and moves on.
The Warner Archive Collection brings They Won’t Believe Me to Blu-ray with a new 4K restoration from nitrate stock. Featuring 1080p resolution and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the film is free of dirt, specks, scratches, cue marks, jump cuts, and emulsion clouding. Blacks are rich and velvety, whites are clean and crisp, and greyscale is quite good. Lighting provides atmospheric noirish shadows.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and crisp throughout. Roy Webb’s musical score adds to the mood in several scenes and is well balanced with dialogue and sound effects. The ranch scenes are quiet and peaceful, in contrast to the traffic and crowd noises of the earlier Los Angeles scenes. A gorge near the ranch features the idyllic sound of gently flowing water.
Unfortunately, there are no bonus materials, not even a theatrical trailer.
They Won’t Believe Me is a pulpy melodrama about relationships turned toxic, infidelity, and murder. Robert Young’s gigolo character manages to be somewhat sympathetic as he relates his story on the witness stand. As a noir, the film is notable for its adult subject matter at a time of strict Production Code enforcement. Skillfully, the script makes clear the undercurrents of sex, desire, and jealousy that drive the key characters.
- Dennis Seuling