No Man of Her Own (1950)

no_man_of_her_ownThe next Classic Film at SouthBank is on Sunday December 7th  …No Man of Her Own (1950)

Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel (I Married a Dead Man), this is not a typical Christmas film. Nevertheless, some of the plot takes place during the yuletide and its theme concerns family … So there, I made the effort for those who wanted a seasonal thing but have avoided schmaltz. 
 
The film was the second collaboration between Barbara Stanwyck and director Mitchell Leisen, and might be thought of as a noir melodrama, exploiting both Stanwyck’s talent and controversial mores of the time. In fact, to quote one of its posters, it was … as Frank as a Motion Picture Dares to Be!” – in 1950 anyway.

 

PLOT

An unmarried woman eight months pregnant, Helen Ferguson (Stanwyck) appeals to her unfaithful boyfriend, Steve Morley, but is simply handed a ticket for a train back to where she came from. As if things weren’t bad enough the train then crashes, but Helen survives and duly gives birth (Doctor:”If she continues to do well, she can see the baby in a couple of weeks.”) She has been mistaken though for another pregnant woman who was killed on the train and, because the wealthy Harkness family had never seen thenew wife of their son Hugh (also killed in the crash), Helen decides not correct the error. At first her conscience troubles Helen and her behaviour is conspicuous, but by Thanksgiving her lapses are still being put down to the effects of the accident and she soldiers on. 

As Christmas approaches it seems that Helen has landed on her feet, especially when Bill Harkness (John Lund), brother of the deceased Hugh, starts to fall in love with her. As she decorates the Christmas tree in the heart of the Harkness family, it appears that a better life is beckoning Helen and her son. But just when a future (for these impostors) seems secure, things start to take a turn for the worse. Having tracked her down, Morley her ex-boyfriend and the real father of Helen’s child, realises there is money to be made … and the melodrama begins to transform into a film noir.

RECEPTION

, the conservative critic of the New York Times, was uncomfortable with this genre mix’s “lurid and artificial tale” full of “female agonizing” and “irresponsibly confused” morals. Variety however was more upbeat, finding No Man of Her Own a modern, “adult love story” and “altogether satisfying” – noting especially how Barbara Stanwyck “does a beautiful job.” 

GENRE and PERFORMANCE

Curiously the dark suspense of this drama later inspired romantic comedy – perhaps pointing to recent reluctance to accept improbable plot lines. It was remade as comedy in Mrs. Winterbourne (1996; Shirley MacLaine, Ricky Lake and Brendan Foster). This is in line with a positive review of No Man of Her Own which described it as “constantly surprising and deliriously implausible”.The film’s story is also (with a few changes) close to that of While You Were Sleeping (1995, Sandra Bullock, Bill Pulman).

But the re-working of these narrative improbabilities also evidences a quality in No Man of Her Own that draws attention to a rationale for our Classic Film Club: critics agree that the great strength of the film is the committed performance of Barbara Stanwyck.

She was typical of stars who could entertain by bulldozing their way through any number of unlikely situations. In the words of a recent review: “Stanwyck, at 43, is too old for the role of the new bride but this is a minor impossibility of the story which succeeds because, as an unstoppable force, suspending disbelief is easy. What is more, Stanwyck’s skills are enhanced by a director who ensures that the pace of the movie is so fast you don’t dwell on plot holes … just enjoy the ride.” (Imdb Review)

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