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November 11, 2008


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John Berry - 1949
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

The only real tension to Tension is detective Barry Sullivan stretching a rubber band in the pre-credit opening. What makes this film instantly endearing are some great scenes of the characters drinking coffee. Is that a reason to like a film? Probably not. Still, whatever deficiencies Tension may have in suspense, it makes up for in being gorgeously photographed by Harry Stradling.

There may be an in-joke in having Richard Basehart portray a milquetoast with the last name of Quimby, also the last name of the head of MGM's animation unit. When Basehart decides on a new name for his alternate identity, his choice is determined when he sees a movie magazine featuring Ann Southern, who was also at MGM at the time.

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Basehart is a pharmacist who's bad girl wife, Audrey Totter, leaves him for big and burly Lloyd Gough. Planning the perfect murder of the man who took his wife, Basehart creates a second identity with a different address. In addition to falling in love with the girl next door, Cyd Charisse, Basehart has second thoughts about killing his nemesis, realizing he might actually be better off without the perpetually pouting Totter. Gough is murdered anyways, and it's up to Sullivan, with partner William Conrad, to figure out who done it. Conrad is eating or drinking in almost every scene he's in, prepping for outsized television stardom to come in Cannon and Jake and the Fatman. Audrey Totter is not especially pretty to look at, but it's not her face that makes her the object of attention.

One small part of Tension clearly shows the hand of director John Berry. Two customers are portrayed by Hayward Soo Hoo and Theresa Harris. One can argue that these are token performances by a Chinese-American youth and an African-American actress respectively. Basehart treats these characters with the same respect as other customers at his all night drug store, serving as a surrogate for Berry. It's a small gesture using actors who might have appeared in other films as servants at best, or comic foils. It may be its familiarity that makes Tension entertaining. John Berry displays a sense of affection for all of his characters, no matter how foolish, but also found a way to quietly insert his own humanistic impulses.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 11, 2008 12:01 AM


I've never seen so many coffee breaks on your page at once. This movie is like a coffee break treasure trove for you.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at November 11, 2008 07:38 AM