Classic Film Guide

Crossroads (1942)

Directed by Jack Conway, with a screenplay by Guy Trosper (The Pride of St. Louis (1952)), this slightly above average mystery has its ironies: William Powell plays an amnesiac, two years & three films after playing one in the comedy I Love You Again (1940) (with Myrna Loy), who's married to Hedy Lamarr, as he was in his next film, the comedy Heavenly Body (1943), and only other pairing with her; all three films were made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Even though this one is not a comedy, it is a fairly compelling mystery, featuring two twists in the final 15 minutes. Excellent support is provided by Claire Trevor (whose character sings), Basil Rathbone, Margaret Wycherly, Felix Bressart, Sig Ruman, and H.B. Warner.

David Talbot (Powell) and his newlywed wife Lucienne (Lamarr) have just celebrated three months of marriage when he receives a mysterious letter. Though it's unsigned, it insists that Talbot pay his debt of one million francs in a most unusual & discrete way. Talbot, a diplomat that expects to become France's ambassador to Brazil soon, pretends to follow the instructions so that the authorities can arrest La Duc (Vladimir Sokoloff, uncredited). In court, La Duc claims that Talbot is really Jean Pelletier, a man who borrowed the requested sum 13 years prior. During the proceedings, Talbot's friend Dr. Tessier (Bressart) testifies that Talbot has suffered from amnesia, that Talbot was badly injured around the time of the date in question and doesn't remember anything prior to when Tessier found him, and helped him to recover. The prosecuting attorney (Warner) introduces Dr. Dubroc (Ruman), who successfully counters Tessier’s testimony. He also introduces Michelle Allaine (Trevor), who solidifies the prosecution's case that Talbot and Pelletier are one in the same. However, Henri Sarrou (Rathbone) comes forward and exonerates Talbot, given legal documentation that proves Pelletier is dead.

Later, however, Sarrou arrives at the Talbot's and privately demands one million francs from the diplomat. He claims that Talbot really is Pelletier, that as such he participated in a theft of two million francs 13 years ago and even suffered a powder burn on his hand from killing the messenger during the robbery. Later, Michelle visits Talbot at his office and shows him a locket she wears around her neck which contains an intimate picture of the two of them. She also tells him that he should be ashamed of letting his mother live in poverty, giving him the address. Talbot visits the elderly Madame Pelletier (Wycherly) who convinces him, without overtly admitting it, that she is indeed his mother. Throughout all of this, Talbot keeps his wife in the dark and tries to cover his tracks. However, she begins to suspect there is something going on and visits Tessier for council & comfort. Tessier is intrigued enough to visit Sarrou himself. When Sarrou then visits Talbot at a diplomatic luncheon, the hopeful future ambassador is pressured into a deadline by his blackmailer.

*** SPOILERS ***

The film keeps one guessing right up until this point, one doesn't really know what to believe and Powell does an excellent job playing the role such that one's not sure if he was in fact Pelletier. It is then revealed that Sarrou, Michelle, and Madame Pelletier, who is really La Duc's wife, are scamming the diplomat. After an elaborate embezzlement attempt at the embassy, in which the suspicious wife who'd followed her husband also finds herself, the police arrive to arrest everybody. Then Talbot plays the game, pretending to think that he must be Pelletier and therefore guilty of murder in order to get Michelle to crack and admit the ruse. Apparently, Talbot had alerted the authorities beforehand about the robbery to setup the all too convenient confession. If not for this, and the loose end of the powder burn on Talbot's hand (e.g. how did Sarrou know it was there?), I would have given this film an even higher rating.

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