Manhandled

It’s not the first time I’ve found myself looking a movie that seems to have been marketed as a film noir, or at least as a hard-boiled crime yarn in the days before filmmakers and critics had acquainted themselves with French terminology. I’ve also made the point before that I think of myself as inclusive in my own attitude to what precisely constitutes an entry in this somewhat nebulous category. At a glance, Manhandled (1949) looks like it’s earned its place in the lineup, but the truth is it’s more of a decoy than the genuine article. However, that’s not necessarily any bad thing, just so long as one knows what the score is going in.

Everything begins furtively, the camera hugging the ground and slinking  cat-like around the shadows, revealing only the legs of characters whose voices indicate a jealous, insecure man waiting up for the woman he fears may be cheating on him. They meet, there’s a confrontation, and then a killing. It’s looks stylish and gripping, and the sudden knowledge that it was all a dream recounted by an anxious writer (Alan Napier) to his analyst (Harold Vermilyea) only adds to the noir trappings. When it then looks as if the dream were in fact an omen of the tragedy to come, well one would be forgiven for believing we’re firmly entrenched in cinema’s darker corner. Yet, it’s at this point that the tone alters, despite the presence of noir regulars Dan Duryea and Sterling Hayden, to head off (for the most part) down a lighter path more in keeping with a whodunit murder mystery with a hint of a 30 s or early 40s series picture about it.

I have a hunch there are those who will dismiss this movie for not being a true noir, or perhaps for strongly hinting that it is and then delivering something rather different. I can understand that; the film does appear unsure of exactly what it wants to be and the tone can veer radically from scene to scene, and even within a scene. Frankly, I’m happy to regard it as a mystery which flirts with the trappings of noir without ever fully committing. On that level, it works fine and the jokey, vaguely bumbling cops (Art Smith & Irving Bacon) don’t feel out of place in such a world. I’m being deliberately cagey about the plot in this case as I think any discussion of a film which is essentially a whodunit should steer as far away from spoiler territory as possible, out of respect for any reader who is unfamiliar with the material. Suffice to say, Dan Duryea has a field day trading on his characteristic fake bonhomie, acting as a role model for aspiring chiselers everywhere. Dorothy Lamour does distress well and only Sterling Hayden is a tad disappointing, his typical gruff abruptness not really suiting his role here.

That opening sequence where cinematographer Ernest Laszlo and director Lewis R Foster pull out all the stops is a wonderful hook but, at the same time, it’s perhaps setting up a different picture to what they were planning to present. Ultimately, I have no issue with a film not being as dark as it promises – I like noir a lot but wouldn’t want to see every crime or mystery movie forced to conform to its requirements. As a mystery, Manhandled works well enough, sprinkling suspects and red herrings around to maintain interest. Still, it misses the mark to some extent due to the shifting and uncertain tone.

As with a lot of Pine – Thomas movies, availability can be tricky. I watched this online recently but there has been a DVD released in Italy – I haven’t seen it so can’t make any comment on its quality. So to get down to brass tacks, would I recommend it? Well, I’d have to answer with a qualified yes. The quality of the cast should speak for itself and the mystery at the heart of the story is solid enough to hold one’s interest. Yet that variability in the script has to be noted – if you can accept that and take the film on its own occasionally muddled terms, then there’s fun to be had with it.

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31 thoughts on “Manhandled

    • The poster is very eye-catching.
      If you do get that Italian disc at any point, I would be most interested to hear how it looks – online is OK I suppose but doesn’t quite cut it for me. There are a few interesting titles just appeared in Italy since we’re on the subject, and I have my eye on Beware, My Lovely – it’s far from a perfect film but I kind of like it all the same.

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      • Admittedly the Italian DVD (the title, LA TRACCIA DEL SERPENTE, is also, coincidentally, the local title for the first Nero Wolfe mystery, Fer-de-Lance) does low ball the technical aspects, going out of its way to say it has not been restored. I’m not sure I’ve seen BEWARE actually – this is the Harry Horner film, right?

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  1. Can’t comment on this, but Ernest Laszlo was also the cinematographer on the original version of the woderful D.O.A., which might just be one of the most exquisitely-framed films I’ve ever seen. For an appreciation of how someone so talented can bring so much to this style of film, I maintain one need only watch D.O.A, The Third Man, and then literally every other inferior movie made in the same period…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think this is probably a relatively obscure film, JJ, so I’m not surprised you’re not familiar with it – I have a hunch only few will be.
      Yes, Laszlo was a terrific cameraman, one of a number of exceptionally talented guys shooting movies in the classic era. His filmography is very impressive, comprising of a long run of visually splendid works.

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    • It was the cast drew my attention and I reckon it’s at least worth a look due to those involved. And it has some quite effective moments too.
      It should be easy enough to locate on YouTube.

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    • Yes, the cast is the main draw, although I think it’s a pity the way Hayden’s role plays out. It’s an odd part for him, one which I wonder if it hadn’t been originally written with someone else in mind.

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  2. For me it’s the Duryea factor that makes the whole exercise worthwhile. “Hello kitten. What’s the matter, don’t you like me?” ….. Glad you caught up with this one and nice to see you back out here. Cheers’

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  3. I enjoyed reading this Colin and you raise some most interesting points,especially in the first paragraph. I cannot comment on the film as I’ve only seen a ropey “off air” version,ages ago and frankly cannot remember too much about it except I did rather enjoy it. To sum it up despite the excellent points that you make I would class it as an enjoyable second string Noir. I refuse to watch films on You Tube that’s just me I guess perhaps my attitude will change over time.

    I guess you knew the mere mention of Pine Thomas would bring me into the mix and indeed Kino Lorber have several future releases planned. EL PASO (1949) is a big budget Western also directed by Lewis R Foster. Then there are two 3D titles SANGAREE and JIVARO both
    directed by Edward Ludwig. Both films look gorgeous so should look stunning in high def- 4K restorations,I believe. Ludwig bestows both films with a considerable sensual quality especially in the interaction between the attractive leads. JIVARO is my personal favourite a darn good adventure film with a most interesting cast

    These 3D revivals are most interesting and I must admit that I don’t have the kit to see these films in 3D I have always considered 3D a pure “cinematic” experience and am very happy to have high def “flat” 2D versions of these films. I am old enough to remember the original 3D craze and am fortunate to have seen many 3D films revived at London’s National Film Theatre.

    There is a most interesting piece at Cinesavant about Uhjniversal’s plans to release the three “Creature” films restored to 4K and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE in widescreen 3D at long last. Glenn provides a wonderful link to the 3D Archive which has a veritible treasure of vintage Universal promotional material and press ads. There is a somewhat disturbing early shot of Clint Eastwood where he is shown beside a guy with a number and displayed rather like livestock in a cattle auction.

    In closing it’s great that Universal are giving us high def versions of their classic Monster Movies and as Glenn and Bob Furmanek state, hopefully we will get 3D/2D 4K versions of other Universal non Monster films like THE GLASS WEB,TAZA,SON OF COCHISE and WINGS OF THE HAWK. all originally in 3D.

    It’s a shame,however Universal do not apply the same love and care to their Westerns. While some on Blu Ray look utterly sensational (NIGHT PASSAGE, THE RARE BREED) others need lots of TLC. Two key Anthony Mann Westerns need restoration work done. WINCHESTER’73 on Blu Ray has quiet a bit of neg damage and imperfections though the overall image is pretty good, The BEND OF THE RIVER Blu Ray needs color correction,in parts, but having said that the Blu Ray is far superior to the DVD
    I would have thought the two Mann Westerns would be important enough to warrant extensive remastering. The good news is the much delayed THE FAR COUNTRY will be from a brand new 4K restoration. Another Universal Western I would love to see fully restored is THE LAST SUNSET I understand both Blu Ray versions on the market at the moment are disappointing,to say the least. When all is said and done,perhaps, Horror fans have embraced the high def process far more than Western fans,

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    • Yes John, I had a hunch that, this being a Pine – Thomas production, we’d hear from you sooner or later.

      You raise a number of interesting points and I’d like to pick up on just a few.
      Firstly, I don’t really like watching movies on YouTube either – quality issues aside, I just can’t get accustomed to it. That said, I do use it from time to time for titles that are otherwise unavailable or difficult to source. I hope Sergio is able to report back on the Italian release at some stage as I would be interested in a hard copy.

      Secondly, I think horror fans are generally a more enthusiastic bunch when it comes to movie buying regardless of format. There are labels which seem to cater almost exclusively to those fans, and do very well indeed. Other genres, not just westerns, simply do not appear to have the same level of fan dedication.

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    • You’re lucky John, l can only remember seeing four 3D films. Fort Ti on UK television, during a 3D special week, not very good 3D. Comin’ At Ya, a gimmicky Spaghetti western, The Mask, disappointing film, but good 3D, and finally Three Dimensions Of Greta, rubbish film, but sexy Greta in 3D looked good.
      The Blu ray 3D of Creature from the Black Lagoon is excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just as an add-on to the above,I note that Universal
    have just announced a Blu Ray box of their classic
    Invisible Man series including THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
    and the A & C entry.
    This is welcome news as the sequels were very strong indeed
    I am very fond of THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE and
    INVISIBLE AGENT.
    Unlike the Wolf Man/Dracula/Frankenstein sets there are no
    duplicate titles.
    This means that all of Universal’s classic Monster Movies
    are now available in high-def.
    I’m pretty sure,Colin you will have seen Blu Ray versions of
    some of these films which look gorgeous,to say the least.

    I’m also sure,over time Universal will produce Blu Ray versions
    of all of their “second string” Monster Movies like MAN MADE MONSTER,
    HORROR ISLAND.FOG ISLAND,THE INVISIBLE RAY and so on.

    It’s just a shame,as mentioned previously that we don’t have a
    James Stewart or Anthony Mann set in such lovely restorations.

    Interestingly,the Universal Vault series,thought deceased seems to be
    still going-a clutch of releases appeared in May.
    The title to interest most RTHC readers is SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS
    which features three of Universal’s top 50’s stars Tony Curtis,George
    Nader and Julia Adams.
    A very highly rated heist movie from one of Universal’s top “house”
    directors,Joseph Pevney.
    Sadly at $20 I don’t think there will be many UK takers especially
    with the dire state of the £ at the moment.
    Those UK film fans who voted for Brexit have made a virtual rod for their
    own back and it surely ain’t going to get any better,.

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    • I’m delighted to see all the main Uni horrors getting the Hi-Def treatment I only have the initial Blu set with the main headline titles from a few years back and they look very nice.

      Another Pevney film is most welcome but I agree that price is steep – mind you, it may appear in other territories at more competitive prices in due course.

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  5. Further to previous comments I checked out Amazon Italy
    and indeed there are several tempting items there-mostly
    bootlegs.
    I did notice ROGUE COP which I hope eventually Warner Archive
    can sort out the rights issues.
    The trouble is with these bootlegs is that you must be prepared to
    take a chance regarding the quality.
    One tempting item I did see was Joseph Pevney’s ISTANBUL a
    much sought after item as far as I am concerned.
    Sadly the Italian DVD is noted as 4×3 pan & scan not CinemaScope,
    so that’s of no interest to me.
    Regarding 3D I was far too young to make solo visits to the cinema
    at the height of the original 3D craze-apart from Saturday Morning Picture
    shows.
    I was more or less restricted to what my parents wanted to see and I do
    remember seeing HONDO and ARENA in 3D
    The former made one hell of an impression on me-which I still remember
    to this day.
    A little later my parents said we are going to see a “letterbox” film this
    evening-I had no idea what they were talking about.
    The film in question was THE COMMAND the first CinemaScope
    Western and my first widescreen film.
    Current day historians keep telling bus what a drab grey time the 50’s
    were and nothing changed until Elvis arrived on the scene.
    I strongly challenge that and I’m sure both Jerry and Mike will agree that
    the 50;s were an exciting time to be a kid.
    In later days the wonderful 3D festivals at London’s National Film Theatre
    filled in all the gaps and allowed me to catch up with most of the 3D films
    that I missed the first time around.

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    • Yes, there are some very tempting titles listed in Italy. The lack of availability otherwise does grab the attention but, as you say, it’s a gamble in terms of quality.

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  6. I certainly would agree with John that the 50s was a great decade for a kid to grow up in, with numerous trips to the cinema to see films like “LAW AND ORDER” and “FACE OF A FUGITIVE” on General Release, and then the whole gamut of the TV western from its start through to its virtual end. Great times indeed!

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    • Can’t argue with any of that, Jerry. Mind you, I reckon it wasn’t too bad in the 70s either as I remember plenty of fun cinema visits and, crucially, TV was regularly showing tons of interesting material, both contemporary and from the classic era.

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      • Hi Colin,
        I don’t look back on the 70s so fondly on several fronts. The era of the TV western was over and there were few decent westerns being made by then sadly (plus the British motor car design had plummetted to its lowest but that’s just another personal quibble) and don’t get me started on the political upheavals!
        And the awful clothing and hairstyle fashions that are so embarrassing to look back on in retrospect!!
        But I did meet my wife in the 70s so I had better shut up at this point LOL.

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        • Oh, I’m not saying the decade was all great – I doubt any time really is when you get right down to it – and I think you’re right to point out those downsides. Still, as a time to be a kid, it wasn’t too bad when I look back. I do think TV at the time was, broadly speaking, good and there were regular reruns of older material too. The film schedules were ore varied, I think, even if there was less airtime overall, and you could get a taste of a bigger range than would be the case later on. I agree cinema was more hit and miss but, again from a kid’s perspective, there was plenty to keep me interested.
          Nowadays, of course, we have access to much more but the rub is you have to be aware f its existence in the first place and then somehow find the enthusiasm to dig into it – in the past you just became aware of a wider variety almost by default and then, even if you couldn’t track material down easily, the spark of interest was kindled.

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  7. Hi Colin, I got the Italian DVD and checked it out last night. Sadly, as expected it’s pretty unimpressive. We will watch it for the Italian dub but the online version may be better!

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    • Bah! That’s disappointing, if not wholly unexpected. Thanks though for taking one for the team on this occasion and reporting back, and I hope you get some enjoyment out of the movie at least.

      Liked by 1 person

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