The Arnelo Affair

The Arnelo Affair (MGM, Arch Oboler) is another crime drama about marital infidelity. Anne Parkson, a dissatisfied wife of a workaholic lawyer, gravitates toward the advanced of Tony Arnelo (John Hodiak), only to get caught up in a murder. It's proof that Hitchcock films weren't alone in the transference-of-guilt theme that the Cahiers critics liked to point out. I would say that a close examination reveals a difference; whereas the Hitchcockian transference is largely metaphorical, here Anne's guilt is literal, and the script makes explicit the sense that a wrong accusation of one crime is the (just) punishment for another.

Even though this film, like The Unfaithful, thematizes redemption and forgiveness of the cheating wife, it lacks the self-conscious invocation of a historical past. That said, the dialogue does venture surprising into social problem territory, as when the detective enters an argument on the seriousness of murder (!) with a retort that , "If we've learned anything these last few years, it's that harm done to anyone in the world is harm to everybody." This from pre-Dore Schary MGM could come from an Adrian Scott-unit film at RKO.

Stylistically, the film borrows extensively from radio aesthetics, as director Arch Oboler was known primarily for his work with radio thrillers. The Arnelo Affair uses extensive internal monologue with voiceover narration. But what most interests me is how it reveals the influence of Hitchockian subjective narration. Very few, if any, subjective shots mark the shooting and editing, but there is another, often overlooked attribute of subjective narration: the refusal to cut away from the reaction shot. Combined with many tight close-ups, this suggests a psychologically heightened state for the main characters. For most viewers, perhaps, the effect will not be a successful style - the equivalent of an exclamation point after every other sentence - but in its failure it shows the broader shift in stylistic practice in the 1940s.


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