He is, after all, a lieutenant with San Francisco Homicide. The body has scarcely hit the floor before he's concocted a plan. There's little point in telling the truth, no matter how dead certain millionaire Lois Frazier (Jane Wyatt) is that her estranged husband would've gunned her down first, if given the opportunity. The prick had the foresight to torch any evidence beforehand tying the revolver to him, and a jury won't buy self-defense. Illicit affairs don't make for sympathetic defendants, and Ed's eyewitness testimony would only go so far seeing as how he's the other man. Still, as long as no one knows about him and Lois, Ed's above suspicion. Make a menacing phone call, dump the body at the airport, toss the gun into the Bay – wait it out, and this'll quickly be a cold case no one thinks or cares about.
Besides, Ed's the one who'll wind up leading this investigation. Who'll be the wiser? His green kid brother Andy (John Dall)?! The kid's been on the homicide beat for all of a day when word breaks of the murder, and he's about to ship off for his honeymoon. He'll be a pushover, especially since Ed can do no wrong in Andy's adoring eyes. Unfortunately for Ed and Lois, Andy proves to be more of a natural at the detective game than they give him credit for.
The Man Who Cheated Himself has somewhat of an uneven reputation, much of which is owed to its less-than-conventional casting. I'm more accustomed to thinking of Dall's characters as being on the other side of the law, as in Gun Crazy and Rope. The film marks a rare leading role for character actor Cobb, whose hard appearance doesn't exactly scream brother alongside the boyish, lanky Dall. Jane Wyatt, whose picture-perfect housewife and mother in Father Knows Best would only be a few years away, is hardly the first actress you'd likely envision as a femme fatale. It's not a role she settles into comfortably, with Wyatt hypermelodramatically vamping it up at every turn.
Honestly, I think it works brilliantly. Wyatt's performance isn't so exaggerated as to take me out of the film, and she's not a focal point besides. I suppose I have less difficulty than most in buying Dall and Cobb as brothers, given that I have over twenty years and more pounds than I'd care to count on my youngest siblings. At its core, The Man Who Cheated Himself just offers a compelling story that's executed well. I found my sympathies aligned with both brothers, which builds a tremendous amount of tension as the cover-up is perpetually on the brink of collapse. Andy has no idea, for instance, when he's mere inches away from an incriminating bullet hole. There is that breathless suspense that I feel in Psycho when Marion's car stops sinking for a beat. As with Norman Bates in that moment, part of me wants Ed to get away scot-free. Lois' motives as she pulled the trigger remain ambiguous enough that I can't sneer at her as a cold, calculating murderess; perhaps she genuinely doesn't deserve to be punished, no matter what poor decisions are made in the aftermath. And yet I still hope that the observant, whip-smart Andy will be able to fit the necessary pieces together. He knows that the story he's being presented doesn't hold up, but it wouldn't occur to him that the brother he so looks up to is to blame. This conflict – one that exists both within the movie and within myself as a viewer – is core to its success. To those who've not yet experienced The Man Who Cheated Himself, you will not believe how intense something as seemingly mundane as a scarf blowing in the wind can become...or how much suspense can be wrought from Ed sharing the screen with witnesses unaware that the man they're discussing stands but a few feet away. Highly Recommended.
And, of course, no discussion of The Man Who Cheated Himself could ever be complete without noting its extensive use of location photography in San Francisco. Even those with just a passing familiarity with Hitchcock's Vertigo will surely feel a sense of déjà vu with a couple of these shots:
This is a strikingly photographed film, and it's astonishing to learn in the disc's extras that all of the filming in the Bay Area was accomplished in just five frantic days – including the cat-and-mouse climax in Fort Point.
For those introduced to The Man Who Cheated Himself through the dismal public domain presentations long making the rounds, this new 4K restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation will be nothing short of revelatory.
Marvel at, say, the exceptionally fine pattern of Andy's suit or the clarity of the framed SFPD 'Courtesy' pledge below:
Flicker Alley's Blu-ray release is beautifully filmic from its first frame to the last, skillfully authored and showing no signs of undue manipulation. Though there is a fair amount of speckling and light wear, that's rarely to the point of distraction:
There is one abberation that gives me pause, and I can't say that it's one that I've encountered before. Vertical bands are visible throughout a significant portion of the film, manifesting itself as a stripe that spans around a quarter of the frame at its worst. I assume this crept in as part of the restoration process. It seems far too consistent and well-defined to have originated on celluloid, and as it's also present on the DVD in this combo pack, the AVC encode can't shoulder the blame. Depending on how the device you're using to read this review is configured, the effect may not be immediately apparent on your display. If that's the case, click here to adjust the luminosity of these examples; though extremely exaggerated, there's certainly no mistaking the issue at hand:
I've verified this on several different players and displays. To be fair, this issue is not present for the entirety of the film, and I'd expect that many viewers may not be as sensitive to it as I am. I still enthusiastically recommend what is otherwise such an astonishingly gorgeous release and an obvious labor of love, but I did find these bands to be intrusive enough to lower my overall rating.
The Man Who Cheated Himself is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, and the film and its extras arrive on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc. Admirers abroad needn't worry; the Blu-ray disc is all-region, and the accompanying DVD is region-free.
As remarkable as The Man Who Cheated Himself's visual presentation is in so many ways, its 24-bit, uncompressed, monaural soundtrack is more impressive still. Every element in the mix is reproduced with startling clarity, and dialogue in particular sounds superb:
Key sound effects – most memorably a couple bursts of gunfire – and the score by Louis Forbes (Intermezzo: A Love Story) shine as well. I immensely enjoyed Forbes' contributions, including this hypnotic cue:
To say that this is worlds removed from the dreadful public domain presentations of the film hardly does it justice. I'm thoroughly floored by this restoration, which leaves me with no qualms or concerns whatsoever. A truly spectacular effort.
Also included is an optional set of English (SDH) subtitles.
Also included is a beautifully designed booklet featuring vintage press clippings, production stills, some brief yet compelling notes, and a dedication to Joseph K. McLaughlin.
The Final Word
The Film Noir Foundation has helped to preserve yet another film that could easily have been lost to the ravages of time. Their great efforts have resulted in a release even more impressive than those of Woman on the Run and Too Late for Tears that they – with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Flicker Alley, and Arrow Academy – had previously shepherded to Blu-ray. Despite some visual eccentricities, The Man Who Cheated Himself has been lavished with an exceptional Blu-ray release, offering a golden opportunity to discover or re-discover this worthy noir. Highly Recommended.
The Film Noir Foundation
If you appreciate this Blu-ray release, be sure to contribute to the Film Noir Foundation to help ensure the preservation of more films at risk of being lost.