Hello, friends. I’m your Vitameativiggivat Girl…
The name, Lucille Ball, is synonymous with dramatic film noir…oh, wait, no, it isn’t. Duh. 😉
Lucille Ball was a comedienne in the best sense, but like most up-and-coming actors, she did her share of roles outside of what she’s now famous for. Ergo, Lucille Ball made some dramatic films. One of these was 1946’s The Dark Corner, an underrated noir about framing of all kinds.
The movie came about during a tumultuous time in Lucille’s life, when her marriage and her career were both experiencing temporary setbacks, but she was able to come out of it all the wiser.
The movie opens at Third and Grand Street in New York City, where a guy, Stauffer (William Bendix) in a white suit leans against a light pole. Above him is the brand-new office of private investigator Bradford Galt, where his pretty secretary, Kathleen (Lucille Ball) taps away on her typewriter and visits with police lieutenant Frank Reeves (Reed Hadley).
Well, not really visiting. It’s implied that Reeves is a parole officer and Brad has just recently gotten out of jail. Reeves cautions Brad to keep his nose clean and Brad assures him he’s not going to step out of line.
When quitting time rolls around, Kathleen is about to leave when Brad asks her to dinner. The evening evolves to a walk around the penny arcade, and Kathleen notices Stauffer following them. Brad, who’s busy looking at the nickelodeon, assures her he’s well-aware that they’re being tailed.
Meanwhile, there’s a guy named Cathcart (Clifton Webb), an art gallery owner with a trophy wife, Mari (Cathy Downs). Cathcart has a wee jealousy problem; namely, he thinks Mari is cheating on him. So, basically Cathcart has a lot in common with Waldo Lydecker of Laura fame, except that he doesn’t spend long hours writing in the bathtub.
Kathleen and Brad have to find out who’s out to frame Brad and why, and they get especially interested after Brad almost gets hit by a car. The key is Stauffer, or as they call him, “White Suit,” because they don’t know who he is. And how do they propose to find this man of mystery?
Well, it just so happens that the guy got some ink on his perfect white suit. Naturally, he’s got to have it cleaned, because no one in their right mind is going to walk around in a stained white suit. Kathleen and Brad call all the dry cleaners in New York, ask them if they have any white linen suits in the wash, and wait for the results. There’s a crisp twenty in it for anyone who can give them a name and address.
It gets really good. That’s all I’m going to say.
The Dark Corner has an intricate plot with seemingly unrelated layers being peeled back as the film progresses and it’s fun to watch. Even though Brad and Kathleen don’t really dig into the mystery of the story until late in the film, it gives the audience time to be led along by the story and connect the dots. As a noir, it’s pretty low-key. There’s an unusual amount of humor in the film. Kathleen is no femme fatale; she’s more like the gorgeous girl next door, albeit a slightly hardboiled one. There are also no big shootouts in every other scene. Then again, noir, like any other genre, doesn’t tick every trope box every time.
Lucille Ball absolutely hated being in The Dark Corner. According to TCM, she was trying to get out of her contract with MGM. It was a weird situation all around, as the contract hinged on Lucille working with a particular agent. She didn’t want to leave MGM, but it was the only way to get the guy off her back. MGM retaliated by cutting Lucille’s pay and loaning her out to Fox without her permission. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Punish an actress who’s trying to leave a studio by…loaning her out. Okeydokey.
Studios often loaned out stars anyway, and usually the supposedly wayward were sent to Columbia, which was considered the riffraff studio in the thirties and the forties. To the chagrin of execs, this move often backfired as stars typically emerged from their loanout with a hit movie on their hands (a good example of this is Clark Gable in It Happened One Night).
In this case, though, the loan-out was punishment. The Dark Corner was beset by problems for Lucille. According to her autobiography, Lucille only got a fraction of the $6,000 she was being paid weekly for her services; the rest went to MGM and her agent.
Plus Dark Corner‘s director, Henry Hathaway was a huge jerk to Lucille, constantly and mercilessly berating her until she was mentally exhausted to the point of gibbering. While the film got good reviews, with the acting called “superior,” Lucille said afterwards, “I can’t say my performance was superior; I look utterly bemused in this movie, with a staring, numb, foghorn look, as if I were being driven into a dark corner.”
It had to be through sheer force of will that Lucille made it through filming, but she was sick and depressed for three months after The Dark Corner wrapped. On the bright side, though, she shed both her MGM contract and her sticky-fingered agent: “I swore I would never again be ‘packaged out’ to anybody without my say-so, and I never was.”
While I enjoyed The Dark Corner, it’s a tainted film. It’s like an onion, revealing itself slowly and intriguingly. Factor in the backstory, however, and the onion gets stinky. Still, it’s interesting to see Lucille Ball playing a role that’s the polar opposite of the comedienne we all know so well.
For more of the wonderful Lucille Ball, please see Regency Woman at Musings of An Introvert. Thanks for hosting, Regency Woman–it was a blast! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for a special post…
The Dark Corner is available on DVD from Amazon.
Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. London: Penguin Publishing Group, 1997.
4 thoughts on “Hardboiled Lucy”
Interesting! It’s funny how some comedians are known for doing dramatic roles, and no one thinks anything is strange about it (Robin Williams comes to mind), while others, like Lucy … well, it’s hard to think of her as anything other than Lucy Ricardo. Absorbing post, though, and great backstory!
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Thanks very much, Paul–glad you enjoyed it!
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Wow! Poor Lucy, I had no idea what she went through. The film sounds intriguing and I love these types of suspense stories, but you’re right, there is a little bit of a taint going on knowing all the drama that went on behind the scenes. It sounds like it toughened her up, though. Strong lady.
Thanks so much for your awesome contribution to the blogathon! ❤
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You’re very welcome, and yeah, it was really interesting to find out what helped her become “Lucy.” What a lady. Thanks again for allowing me to participate in your blogathon–it was fun! 🙂