Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alimony (Orbit, Equity, Eagle-Lion, 1949)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The movie Charles and I ran when we got home wasn’t in the same league as Scandal but it also dealt with court cases, clandestine photographers and people attempting to manipulate the legal system for personal gain. It was called Alimony, a 1949 film by something called Orbit Productions, releasing through Eagle-Lion, and it basically has two interlocking plot lines. One deals with aspiring songwriter Dan Barker (John Beal), who lives in a boarding house and has predictably fallen behind on his rent — only he’s hoping the Broadway musical he’s just composed will turn his life around and make him a success. He’s dating another resident of the house, Linda Waring (Hillary Brooke), but when a new person arrives at the house, Kitty Travers, née Kate Klinger (Martha Vickers, top-billed — and yes, part of my interest in this movie was getting to see more of the fascinating actress who played Lauren Bacall’s nymphomaniac sister in the 1946 The Big Sleep), his romantic interests are swayed even though she’s a total gold-digger who’s willing to go out with him when it looks like his show is going to be produced, then dumps him instantly when the deal falls through (the star the producer was hoping to cast in the show is laid up from a car crash and unavailable for six months), then takes up with him again — even after he and Linda got married! — when the song he wrote for Kitty after their first date, “Kitty (That’s How Dreams Are Made),” becomes a surprise hit and the two go on the road to promote it.

Meanwhile, Kitty is also associating with an old friend of hers, Helen Drake (Laurie Lynd), who married a rich man, divorced him a year later, and now no longer has to work for the rest of her life because of the substantial alimony payments she’s getting from him. Helen and her attorney, Burton Crail (Douglass Dumbrille at his oiliest), work out a scheme for Kitty to do the same thing, hooking a rich industrialist named Griswold (Ralph Graves) and then dumping him in a few months — only Kitty tries to weasel out of the deal because she thinks she can do better financially for herself staying married to Griswold than framing him for adultery and getting alimony from their divorce. Realizing that if Kitty stays with Griswold that will freeze them out of the cut they’ve been expecting, Helen and Crail blackmail Kitty into going through with the scheme, with Helen as the woman Griswold is supposed to be having the affair with — only during Kitty’s divorce trial Griswold reveals that instead of going to the supposed rendezvous himself, realizing it was a trap he sent a look-alike, chicken farmer Curtis P. Carter (also Ralph Graves), in his place — and Kitty, Helen (who’s lost her own meal ticket because the company her ex-husband owned just declared bankruptcy) and Crail all get arrested and convicted for fraud.

The entire movie is framed with Kitty, having served a three- to five-year sentence and been in an accident on the day she was released, in a hospital and her father, Paul Klinger (James Guilfoyle), hearing the story in a flashback narrated by Dan Barker, which often goes into flashbacks within flashbacks as if writers George Bricker (story) and Royal K. Cole, Lawrence Lipton and Sherman L. Lowe (script) were channeling their inner Casey Robinsons. It’s a rather clunky movie and a bit of a letdown after seeing a similar set of situations depicted by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but Alimony is still a quite capable noir that deserves to be better known — and though Vickers isn’t as effective here as she was in The Big Sleep or The Big Bluff (a 1955 film in which she’s a gold-digger’s victim), and her rendition of the song allegedly written by Barker for her is quite obviously the work of a voice double, it’s still fun to see this remarkable actress again.