Barbara Stanwyck Spotlight: The File on Thelma Jordan

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This week 2016 comes to an end, as well as my spotlight on the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck. I hope this mont you’ve found some new films of hers to watch or found new things to look for in films of hers you have seen before. For the last week of her spotlight, I’m going back to her strong body of work in film noir. This week I bring you my write-up on the 1950 noir classic The File on Thelma Jordan.

The film’s story is one of crime, romance, and betrayal. All of those things are staples of noir plots. Here’s a brief summary to get you up to speed:

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck), late one night, shows up in the office of married Assistant DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey). Before Cleve can stop himself, he and Thelma are involved in an illicit affair. But Thelma is a mysterious woman, and Cleve can’t help wondering if she is hiding something. Thelma has a plan up her sleeve that will ruin Corey if his love for her and his own weakness win out. Thelma has a heart and a conscience. She comes to love Cleve, and has concern for his life and his future. Despite her wish that her life could be different, she realizes that she belongs in a lawless world.–IMDB

The plot sounds like something straight out of a weekly crime show. But the cast and direction make it worth seeing. While Stanwyck played femme fatales in other noir films (most notably Double Indemnity), her character in The File on Thelma Jordan is more complex. We get to say her play both sinister and vulnerable. Not many actors can play both sides of that coin, especially in the same movie. But Stanwyck was an actress in a class by herself, as is evidenced by the wide range of roles she played in her career. She’s a villain, yes. But as viewer, I always find myself watching this film hoping that she’ll turn things around and go on the straight and narrow. Of course it’s film noir, so you know there’s probably not going to be a happy ending. Stanwyck has chemistry with Wendell Corey almost as well as she had with Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. That’s a testament to Corey’s acting chops. They’re an engaging team to watch.

I also want to mention the director on this film, because he’s one of my favorites: Robert Siodmak. Siodmak made some great noir films in his career. Among them are: The Killers, Phantom Lady, and the very underrated The Spiral Staircase. As a director he really establishes mood well. The Killers is one of the best looking noir films ever made. The File on Thelma Jordan isn’t quite as showy. But it’s very effective. It was photographed by George Barnes, known largely for musicals (Footlight Parade and  Gold Diggers of 1935). But he also did the camera work on Hitchcock’s Rebecca. His work on The File on Thelma Jordan is another very solid effort from the veteran cinematographer.

The File on Thelma Jordan is a great showcase for its cast, led my Stanwyck, and its talented director Robert Siodmak. It’s equally effective as a crime story and a romance. If you’re looking to get into film noir, this one is a good place to start.

That’s a wrap for Barbara Stanwyck month! See you for more film writings in 2017.

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