As a photographer, I found this film more interesting than it arguably deserves to be. The photography studio, the darkroom, the Rolleiflex camera that Lila Crane’s mentor gives her as a gift is all nicely detailed. As part Columbia’s Bad Girls of Film Noir, the film’s inclusion in volume two is questionable. The first thing to point out this is not a film noir. Columbia’s long arm of credibility was at work including this in the box set. And compared to Night Editor, another film in the package that stars Janis Carter as one of the most evil femme fatale’s to ever grace the screen, making Lila Crane look like miss goody two shoes.
The film stars Cleo Moore, a voluptuous 1950’s type blonde bombshell who never made it cinematically to the A film level. Moore’s only A film credit came in 1955 with On Dangerous Ground. Cleo’s had a small role in the film, and it did not affect her career. With this film, Cleo had top billing opposite a young Richard Crenna who at the time was best known for his role of the squeaky-voiced Walter Denton in the hit TV show Our Miss Brooks.
Early in the film Cleo is known as Lily Krenshka, a streetwise dame who escapes getting arrested after a police raid in a clip joint where she just started working. New in town and without even enough money to buy a bus ticket to get out of town as the police demand she and the other women immediately do to avoid jail time. Outside the police station, she is approached by a photographer, an older man, who we noticed earlier snapping everyone’s photos as the police were dragging the ladies into the station house. Lily demands the negative of the picture he took of her. The photographer, Max West (Raymond Greenleaf) tells her he will give it to her, but she’ll have to come to his studio so he can unload the film from the camera in the darkroom since he does not want to ruin the rest of the film role. At first, she doesn’t trust him, she’s smart and wary enough to know it sounds like a come on, but cautiously follows him back to his place. Max though is on the level and surrenders the film to Lily. Feeling sorry for her, he offers Lily a job as a model so she can earn a few bucks and get out of town as “requested” by the police. He tells her the modeling is nothing bad, or nasty, just cheesecake shots in a swimsuit.
Max’s career has seen better days. Once at the top of his profession, now an alcoholic, he shoots whatever he can get when he’s not drinking. Lila, it turns out isn’t just a good model, she has a head for business and starts helping Max keep some of his clients who are drifting away. In return, Max begins to teach Cleo about photography behind the lens: how to use lightning, the camera, the darkroom, touching up photos. Lila has talent behind the camera as she does in front. She learns quickly, and soon has enough money to get on a bus, change her name to Lila Crane and take on the big city.
Once in New York Lila discovers getting a job is not that easy, one rejection after another. She meets Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna) in one of those way too cute, it only happens in Hollywood type situations. It turns out Russ is a reporter for a news agency that has rejected her work. He helps get her an apartment and a job as a photographer at a local nightclub owned by Lee Bauer, Jack Albertson in a small role. Lila gets a break taking some photos of a major fire that gets her foot in the door with a news service agency.
Meanwhile, Russell tries to romance Lila. However, Lila’s primary interest is making money. Her career continues to expand. Lila becomes so successful, she gets a guess spot on a Person to Person type TV show. But her career hits a bump when a gossip columnist who she has hooked up with steals one of her negatives that she refused to sell, a picture of an elderly society lady Lila befriended, who one evening gets a heart attack while dancing at a nightclub run by mob men. Having built up a reputation as money hungry no one believes the photo was stolen when it appears in the newspaper. Everyone assumes she sold the picture featuring the moment of death.
Blackballed by many of her clients she decides to be bad if everyone thinks she’s bad and attempts to blackmail a local mob boss. A bad move on her part. She is kidnapped and beaten by some of the hood’s goons. Naturally, she is rescued by Russ.
Of the four films in Columbia Classics Bad Girls of Film Noir Volume 2, only one really can qualify as a pure film noir. That film also happens to be the best in the package, the previously mentioned 1946 film Night Editor. While the other three films in the set do contain bad girls, the films are closer to the lurid paperbacks that small publishing houses use to put out in the 1950’s with covers of women in bullet bras and packing a gat on their thigh.
One of the nicest touches in this film is how accurately the photographer’s life is shown: the shooting, darkroom developing, retouching, etc. Today, in a world of digital photography, some of this is all lost and foreign to many.
Over-Exposed really exposes itself when it comes to the theme of a woman’s place in the world. Russ falls for Lila and wants her to give up her work and come work with him (she did want to do serious journalism in the beginning, but found the lure of money more attractive). She is expected to give up her dreams and go off with her man. At the end of the film, after she is saved from the mob by Russ, she does just that.
The film is directed by Lewis Seiler who’s film Women’s Prison is also included in the DVD set. Seiler’s best-known films include Guadalcanal Diary, Crime School, Hell’s Kitchen and, Whiplash. Cleo Moore had a supporting role in Women’s Prison which starred Ida Lupino, Audrey Totter, and Howard Duff.