Monday, December 16, 2013

The Pretender



The version of The Pretender (Republic/Wilder Productions, W. Lee Wilder) that I watched clearly came from a television 16mm print, so I cannot fully know how it would compare with the theatrical version. And aesthetically, the film embodies both the best (visual panache and narrative economy) and worst (wooden acting and wild narrational shifts) of the Poverty Row B film. But it has a few things to commend it. First, as a curiosity, it was directed by Billy Wilder's brother, and shares some of the Wilder sensibility both in its acerbic view of wealth and stylistic elements borrowed from The Lost Weekend (hyper-subjectivism, for instance, or the theremin scoring). 

Perhaps more canonically, the D.P. was John Alton who, while not having free rein as in the Anthony Mann films, does show both the baroque touches in suggesting Albert Dekker's paranoia....




... and the low-light minimalism that he's best known for and that has come to define the Poverty Row noir look, at least in the cinephile imagination.



But maybe what interests me most about the film is the narrative about stock leveraging. Dekker's character is a stock broker whose stock shorting gets him into trouble. In some ways, this is merely a McGuffin, since the narrative ultimately takes a turn. But it's easy to read as allegory about finance capitalism, and in any case I cannot think of many late 40s films dealing with asset leveraging or finance in such an explicit way. They may have anti-business messages or critique owners or profiteers, but I do not recall specificity about finance.

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