So I (re)watched The 13th Letter – a 1951 movie directed by Otto Premiger (you know, the name you know from lots of better movies such as Fallen Angel, Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends and…River of No Return? Huh.) and starring an underwritten Linda Darnell, a bored Charles Boyer, and Michael Rennie’s cheekbones as the hero.
It’s about a (very) tall, handsome, young, unmarried doctor who has set up in a small Canadian town and is just starting to settle himself and his clock collection in comfortably. The settling-in process is interrupted by a series of poison pen letters accusing him of an affair with Charles Boyer’s wife. This is, of course, nonsense, because Rennie has Linda Darnell throwing herself at him in a negligee and it’s getting harder and harder to dodge. But things get decidedly serious when one of the letters’ receivers commits suicide on being told he has cancer. Everyone is a suspect now–from the incompetent hospital nurse who is Boyer’s spurned ex and Boyer’s sister-in-law, to Darnell’s snide younger sister, to Linda Darnell herself. And what is the terrible trauma which lurks in our hero’s past…?
The reveal is two-fold, and actually rather more satisfying than you’d expect. It’s even been cunningly foreshadowed by Boyer’s doctor character explaining to another about this weird psychological condition known as folie a deux…
All that said, it’s still a bit underwritten. There’s enough story here for a TV episode, not really for a movie. Linda Darnell has barely anything to do except look alternately sultry and sulky, and there’s nothing whatsoever to make the romance between her and Rennie interesting other than both parties’ good looks. The central mystery is, fittingly, the most intriguing part of the story; but it’s a little hampered by the fact that there are really only two strong suspects and neither of them get any focus. Inserting more plot–such as making the “investigation” less laughable–would have provided more interest, and more room for all characters to explore and expand. It didn’t, it wasn’t, they couldn’t, and ultimately this movie is….a bit underwritten, and its cast members–who totally did have the ability to take what they were given and deliver on it–were good-looking but underserved.
Rated: I’m going to do something productive with my day any minute now. Annnny minute now.
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