As part of Australian distributor Imprint’s growing range of archive titles, there have been a number of excellent film noir boxed sets produced. These have provided our local market with some wonderful crime films in high definition for the first time. The boxes are understandably a little pricey, but if you are a fan of 1940s Hollywood then you are absolutely getting your money’s worth. One of the first packaged titles is Framed (1947), a low budget post-war thriller starring Glenn Ford. While its production values and budget are clearly modest, it packs in a lot of entertainment.
Ford plays Mike Lambert, an out-of-work mining engineer who comes into a small American in a careening cargo truck with faulty brakes and soon finds himself entangled with barmaid Paula Craig (Janis Carter). Unbeknownst to Lambert, it’s trap: Craig is in cahoots with local bank manager Steve Price (Barry Sullivan) and plans to use Lambert in a criminal enterprise.
The key hallmarks of film noir are all in evidence in Framed, which was directed by Richard Wallace and released via Columbia Pictures. It’s a relatively downbeat crime drama, featuring a down-on-his-luck male protagonist and a manipulative femme-fatale co-lead. It is shot in a stark black-and-white, and its screenplay (by Ben Maddow) is infused with a weary cynicism. It punches above its weight: despite a very limited production budget, it rattles along with a good pace and impressive performances.
I am long-time admirer of Glenn Ford, who is best remembered these days for his numerous westerns. He possessed a fallibility that other key western stars lacked, and often played inherently good men fighting to break out of bad situations. It is an image that lends itself well here, as he plays Lambert as a miserable alcoholic looking for some sense of inner peace. There is a tired reluctance to his character, and palpable emotional scars. Janis Carter is solid as Craig, but she is mainly working with stereotypes and constrained by the narrative demands on her character. Barry Sullivan does insincerity and slick guile well as the third lead, but again he lacks complexity in comparison to Ford’s protagonist.
This is competent and entertainment B-grade entertainment. It is designed to entertain a mainstream audience on a Saturday night, with a decent story told well and with efficiency. There is no sense of mystery in it, of course. The audience knows well ahead of Lambert the details of and motivation behind Craig and Price’s scandalous plan, and the focus is less on the simple plot and more on how the characters interact with one another. Of course there are many better films out there, but similarly there are plenty that are much, much worse. This is solid, well-crafted entertainment from old Hollywood. It does not set its world on fire, but in fans of 1940s American cinema and film noir it will find an appreciative audience.