Secret Fury The (1950)
Directed by (actor turned director) Mel Ferrer and featuring a cameo by (no relation) Jose Ferrer this Lionel Houser screenplay was based on a story by Jack Leonard (The Narrow Margin (1952)) and James O’Hanlon and features Claudette Colbert Robert Ryan and stage actress (and sometimes writer) Jane Cowl.
Pianist Ellen Ewing (Colbert) is just about to marry David McLean (Ryan) when the ceremony is interrupted by an unknown man who claims that the bride-to-be is already married. He says that he was there on March 21 in Riverview when Ellen was married to his friend Lucian Randall. Though she denies it and David wonders how “this crank” got in here the wedding is held up until Ellen’s former suitor District Attorney Eric Lowell (Paul Kelly) and lawyer-guardian since her father Judge Ewing died Gregory Kent (Philip Ober) can call to verify whether the claim is true. Apparently they learn the records in Riverview show that Ellen is indeed married because Gregory David Ellen and her Aunt Clara (Cowl) are next seen driving to Riverview to get to the bottom of things. Once in Riverview they find that the signature of Ellen’s on that marriage license is identical to the one that David holds. Ellen continues to deny its veracity as the foursome goes to see the Justice of the Peace whose name is on the Riverview license. When they arrive at Mr. Palmer’s (the recognizable Percy Helton uncredited) he recognizes Mrs. Randall as does his wife and a maid who served as a witness for the event. At this point those with Ellen have begun to doubt her denials. Aunt Clara says she knew something like this would happen when Ellen continued to go away on her concert tours by herself. Though David is willing to stay there with Ellen to clear things up Aunt Clara and Gregory who has to be in court in the morning leave to return home but not before Gregory suggests they stay at the Shalimar Hotel where David and Ellen do check-in to separate rooms.
Once Ellen is in her hotel room she tries to recall the events of last March 21. She remembers walking on the beach near her beach house and greeting a man whose boat had an unusual name (NOOSNOW). She also recalls picking up a shell thinking of it as a good sign for her upcoming wedding to David. She rushes to the phone to call David to tell him about her recollection when the maid exits the bathroom to turn down her bed. Leah (Vivian Vance from TV’s I Love Lucy) is wearing a pin Ellen recognizes as her mother’s and also recognizes Ellen as Mrs. Randall. Leah says that Ellen had given her the pin when she stayed at the hotel on her honeymoon with Mr. Randall last March. This naturally causes Ellen to recoil and exhibit a burst of emotion once the maid has left and David arrives. Of course then Leah just has to come back into the room with some extra things to say hello again to Mrs. Randall and then “oops I thought you were Mr. Randall” with a look of shock at their embrace. But David still believes his fiancée especially after she relates the story about her walk on the beach. He goes to see if Randall had left an address at the hotel when he and Ellen had presumably checked in last March; he had (remember this later when you’ll ask yourself “why?”).
When David knocks on Randall’s door it’s answered by Jose (Ferrer) who asks him and Ellen to sit down and wait a bit. Between them on a lamp stand there is an ashtray filled with used matches which have been crinkled. In the next room there are musicians playing to a casual audience that includes Pearl Collins (Doris Dudley). David finally decides that he and Ellen should join the party which they do. The man playing the guitar turns and looks knowingly at Ellen. After he plays a little more he walks across the room where he’s asked by Pearl if he knows “Ellen”. When he admits that he does he also reassures her apparently Pearl is his girlfriend that “Ellen” is someone who probably wants to cut out his heart “with a dull knife”. He approaches Ellen and David who stand and answers David’s inquiry that he is Randall (Dave Barbour). He asks for few moments alone with his wife which after Ellen says is alright that she’s not afraid David allows and sits back down. Now alone Randall continues to talk as if he is Ellen’s husband when a shot rings out. When the others at the party rush into the office they discover Randall dead on the floor with a silver plated woman’s gun and Ellen not knowing what happened. Pearl after relating what Randall had told her earlier accuses Ellen of his murder.
Though he had removed himself for personal reasons Eric is convinced by his peers to try the case against Ellen because of public opinion (in reality wouldn’t the opposite be true?). There is then a poorly staged courtroom drama which culminates in a nervous breakdown (not one of Colbert’s finest moments) by Ellen whose lawyer Gregory immediately changes her plea from “not guilty” to “not guilty for reasons of insanity”. Cliff Clark appears uncredited on the stand. To be fair some of the reasons for her defense attorney’s inaction is explained later. However the actions of prosecutor Eric under the guise of his anger over losing Ellen to David are not credible for one who’d risen to the office of District Attorney. Even Ellen’s presumed motive for wanting to kill Randall blackmailing her to keep their marriage a secret is revealed by the press after the trial had begun (e.g. as if the DA went to court without one?). Ellen is then put in a mental hospital under the care of Dr. Roberts (Elisabeth Risdon) who to her surprise discovers a lack of the “secret fury” in Ellen’s brain that she’d expected. Paul Picerni appears uncredited as the other doctor. Evidently the brain electrical impulse test analogous to an EKG for the heart that Dr. Roberts gave Ellen would detect “irrational aggression” if it existed even if it was passive (I don’t even know if such a test exists). David thinking Ellen’s wedding dress might help her out of her “fog” goes to retrieve it and finds the shell she’d described to him.
This discovery leads to the film’s best part (in its last third) David in pursuit of the truth now that he’s convinced of Ellen’s innocence and I won’t spoil it here. Unfortunately though the identity of the culprit will surprise you his fate will not because it was foreshadowed earlier. Plus once this twist is revealed it’s not hard to see all the holes or other too conveniently contrived parts in its plot as I did while writing this review.