No Man of Her Own (1950) Mitchell Leisen

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 Released in 1950, the film stars Barbara Stanywck and John Lund, it was directed by Mitchell Leisen from a screenplay by Sally Benson and Catherine Turney, based on the novel “I Married a Dead Man” by Cornell Woolrich who wrote it under the pen name William Irish. This was the first of four film versions to have been made from the book. In 1983, there was “I Married a Shadow (Jai Espouse une Ombre) starring Natalie Byle. In 1996 came “Mrs. Winterbourne” with Ricky Lake and in 2001 a made for TV movie called “She’s No Angel” with Tracy Gold. By the way, do not get this film confused with the 1932 Clark Gable/Carole Lombard “No Man of Her Own,” the only thing they have in common is the title.

Helen Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman with an immoral past finds herself pregnant and dumped by her low life lover Steve Morley (Lyle Bettger) for another dame. He slips Helen some money and a train ticket underneath the door of his apartment and tells her to get lost, go back home to San Francisco. Thus begins a series of events, wild as they are, that will change everyone.

On the train heading home Helen meets Hugh and Patrice Harkness (Richard Denning and Phyllis Thaxter) a newly married couple who are on their way to Hugh’s parents’ house in Illinois where Patrice will meet her in-laws for the first time. Like Helen, Patrice is also pregnant. Enroute, Helen and Patrice become chatty, sharing some bonding moments; Patrice even lets Helen try on her ring. Just at this moment, the train derails resulting in a deadly crash. Hugh and Patrice are killed while Helen is injured ending up in the hospital. With the ring still on her finger everyone in the hospital assumes she is Patrice Harkness. Helen, her life at a dead end, allows the misunderstanding to continue and soon finds herself lovingly welcomed into the home of Hugh’s parents. Hugh’s brother, Bill (John Lund) is immediately attracted to her but he is also a bit suspicious of her however, he says nothing. Though at first feeling guilty, Helen eventually settles into the middle class, middle America home as both she and the baby are warmly embraced by the Harkness family. Life is good until her former creep of a lover Steve resurfaces, seeing dollar signs, he has a scheme of  his own.

“No Man of her Own” is a well-paced atmospheric tense noir and Barbara Stanwcyk gives another one of her effective performances with a strong female character. She is especially impressive during the marriage ceremony scene which is all part of Steve’s blackmail scheme. We here her in voice over telling us what she is thinking, yet if your watch her eyes, they reveal even more than what is said. The biggest problems with the film are a weak performance by John Lund who comes across as just plain bland and unexciting. Additionally, at forty-three years old, Barbara Stanwyck is a little too old for the role though, as I mentioned earlier, she gives her usual strong performance. Finally, I have not read the Woolrich novel on which the film is based however, from what I have read in doing research the book’s ending is much bleaker than the happy ending tacked on to the film. The darker ending would have made for a much stronger film than the obligatory happy studio ending.

 A few words must be said for Lyle Bettger who is excellent as the totally despicable slimy Steve, Helen’s cold hearted blackmailing boyfriend. Bettger made a career in mostly “B” films and later on TV typically as a villain. Here he is effectively vile and loathsome, he makes you just want to take a shower and wash his slime out of your system.

If you ever read a biography on Billy Wilder you would come to believe Mitchell Leisen to be the worst director ever to sit behind a camera. Wilder claims Leisen ruined his scripts (“Midnight” and “Hold Back the Dawn”, both co-written by Charles Brackett) and this is what made him determined to become a director himself, to protect the written word. Preston Sturges also complained about Leisen cutting his scripts (“Easy Living” and “Remember the Night”). So are Leisen directed films that bad? Well, I have seen “Midnight” and it is a funny and smartly written and well directed film as is “Hold Back the Dawn.” As for the Sturges written “Remember the Night” it is a nice blend of romantic comedy with some dark drama and a Christmas season background. It also is a precursor to the reuniting Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck four years before Wilder’s “Double Indemnity.” Leisen’s films are always visually stylish thanks to his background in art direction and costumes. In his time he was a well-respected and versatile studio director, despite Wilder and Sturges thinking, who did well whether it was a romantic comedy, melodrama, or musical. He sometimes even mixed them together as he did with “No Man of Her Own”, a blending of woman’s melodrama with noirish overtones and doing it successfully. Other Leisen films include “Hands Across the Table”, “Swing Low, Swing High”, both with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, “Arise My Love”, “I Wanted Wings” and “The Mating Season.”

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6 comments on “No Man of Her Own (1950) Mitchell Leisen

  1. R. D Finch says:

    I agree that Leisen is underappreciated, and I don’t understand why Wilder and Sturges, admittedly better directors than Leisen, so disliked his work. “Midnight” is one of my favorite screwball comedies, a pet genre of mine. “Hold Back the Dawn” and “The Mating Season” are also very good. He eschewed the frantic approach to comedy for a more refined and restrained tone. George Cukor is known for getting the best from his actresses, but I would say that the same applies to Leisen. He got superb work from Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Olivia de Havilland, Carole Lombard (in “Hands Across the Table”).My favorite comic performance by Thelma Ritter is as the mother in “The Mating Season.” (with John Lund as her social-climbing son, Gene Tierney, never looking lovelier, as his wife, and a hilarious Miriam Hopkins as her meddlesome mother). He also got a great performance from Ida Lupino as a washed-up movie star in the 1959 “Twilight Zone” episode “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.”

  2. John Greco says:

    R.D. – “Midnight” is well done, an elegantly directed film. From what I have read Wilder had little regard for Leisen’s story sense and felt that he was always more interested in costumes than in the written word. According to author Kevin Lally in his biography “Wilder Times” Wilder kept referring to Leisen’s bisexuality, finding it hard to deal with a man “who was more interested in the design elements of the movie” Wilder says he could not take anything he said about the script seriously. So did Leisen’s sexual perference bother Wilder or did he just use it as part of a power struggle between himself the writer and Leisen the director? Somewhat embarrassing either way. It may also have had to do with Leisen being Leisen, a successful commercial film director and not Lubitsch the master of sophisticated wit who Wilder admired so much. Maybe after writing for Lubitsch with “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” Wilder felt writing for Leisen was just beneath him. “Midnight” is a terrific film and arguably a better film than the Lubitsch directed “Bluebeard.” Colbert is wonderful, a pure joy to watch. You could add Barbara Stanwyck’s performance to the list of great performances Leisen got from women. She is perfect in “Remember the Night”, one of my favorite films to watch during the Christmas season. BTW it will be on TCM on Sat. December 13th.

  3. Quite coincidentally, I wrote a piece on my (french) blog on NO MAN OF HER OWN before reading your own quite enjoyable text. This was the third time I saw the film in a little more than 20 years and I found it rather disappointing and slow-going this time. The voice-over was much too obvious and redundant in my mind. The most enjoyable part was the very noirish last section. Stanwyck was of course 20 years too old for the part, even if she did not quite look it.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. John Greco says:

    Olivier,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that the voice-over is way too obvious, and yes Barbara was a bit up there in age for the role. It is always interesting how sometimes after years of seeing a film, you watch it again and your feelings about it can change.

    I wish I could read your blog but I am limited to English. Hope you come back and visit. Thanks again!

  5. I greatly enjoyed your insightful and informative post, John — and am so glad that this film is out on DVD! My copy was taped from TV years ago, and it was a lousy copy even then — but I enjoyed the film so much that I suffered through it. It’s been many years since I saw it — I’m eager to see it again after reading your write-up.

  6. [...] not confuse this film with the 1950 Barbara Stanwyck film noir  “No Man of Her Own” directed by Mitchell Leisen. This 1932 release directed by Wesley Ruggles was the only celluloid [...]

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