Robert Siodmak's 1950 picture, The File On Thelma Jordan, may not get the respect of some of his other noir films, The Killers likely standing as the best example, but it's a very fine film in its own regard and it features a lot of elements that film noir fans ought to appreciate. Chief amongst these? An excellent leading role performance from the great Barbara Stanwyck. Though it would be the last noir that Siodmak would helm, it holds its own and is certainly a picture worth seeking out.
The story revolves around the titular Thelma Jordan (Stanwyck), a beautiful woman who has fallen hard for a professional thief named Tony Laredo (Richard Rober). Tony's crafty enough that he's able to convince Thelma to move in with her wealthy old aunt so that they can have access to her expensive jewelry collection, and Thelma, being in love and all, obliges him. Enter a district attorney named Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey). Cleve's married, but not in the least bit happily, and he has a taste for booze. One night he's hitting the bottle pretty hard at the empty office of his friend, an investigator named Miles Scott (Paul Kelly) when Thelma shows up out of nowhere, initially mistaking him for Scott. She tells him about a series of robberies and he falls for her pretty much instantly. They head off to a bar and drink into the early hours of the morning, but we already know Thelma is up to no good. She and Tony have their robbery planned, and Marshall looks to be the type who'd make the perfect patsy. Cleve's wife, Pamela (Joan Tetzel), leaves him for the summer, he's all alone, drunk and tempted.
Getting back to the robbery, Thelma shoots her poor aunt dead on the spot. She's no fool though and is able to make a few adjustments here and there to make it seem like â€˜someone else' broke in and shot the woman. Who does she call? Cleve, of course, and he heads over there, still infatuated with her, and does what he can to help her story make sense. This doesn't quite work out as he had hoped though, and before you know it Thelma has been charged and Cleve assigned as the prosecutor in her case... this won't end well for anybody.
You really can't go wrong when Stanwyck is in full on â€˜femme fatale' mode. If the movie doesn't completely play by the rules (Cleve is flawed when she meets him and a fairly willing participant in her scheme as it evolves), it's close enough to qualify and she is in very fine form carrying this picture. I''s interesting to see her work her magic on this particular part, as she's almost a lackey in the sense that her relationship with Tony, which may or may not be an abusive one, is really the impetus for everything that happens in her relationship with Cleve. It's a complicated role in many ways but she manages to bring the right balance of sex appeal and world weariness to the part and you never doubt her as Thelma. Complimenting her work are strong efforts from Wendell Corey, whose Cleve is more or less broken before Thelma even gets to him. Rober as Tony is intimidating in his part and Paul Kelly slick in his.
Some decent Los Angeles location photography helps to build some atmosphere as does some impressively dark cinematography and interesting use of close up shots throughout the movie. The camerawork here is good, as is the score and both help to alleviate the script, which is already pretty solid, up a few notches. Having George Barnes, who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, onboard as cinematographer, was probably a wise move. In the end, this holds up well. The plot twists and turns in interesting ways, the acting is top notch particularly from Stanwyck and the movie looks good. It's dark, gritty, involving and entertaining, what more could you ask for?
For a movie made on a modest budget way back in 1950, The File On Thelma Jordan looks okay on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.33.1. There's a nice amount of natural looking film grain as you would expect, and this shouldn't irritate anyone. What may set some people back a bit is that scratches and print damage are noticeable throughout the movie, the kind that probably could and should have been cleaned up, but that won't ruin the presentation for everyone. Depth is good if not amazing, contrast looks properly set most of the time (there are spots where it wavers in strange ways but this looks to be source related) and there are no issues at all with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. This is a bit rough around the edges, but at it is perfectly watchable even if it isn't the most consistent looking picture you're going to see.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow, the dialogue is easily discernible and Victor Young's score is dramatically strong without overpowering anything. There are no issues here with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie. Range is obviously limited by the age and format of the source material but the movie sounds just fine here. This is a nice, clean mix and it feels true to the source material and rightfully a product of its time.
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features at all on this Blu-ray disc from Olive Films.
Robert Siodmak's final film noir project, The File On Thelma Jordan holds up well and probably should be a better known picture than it is considering the importance of some of his other efforts in the genre. The script is clever and suspenseful, the cinematography atmospheric and slick and Stanwyck's lead performance very strong indeed. Olive Films' Blu-ray is typically barebones but it looks and sounds pretty good in high definition. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.