Noir-vember Day 18: The Accused (1949) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-vember Day 18: The Accused (1949)

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Danny LIKEHalfway through The Accused my girlfriend turned to me. "Every guy in this movie is a dick!"

Yes, dear. But that might just be the point.

The Accused is a harrowing story of a female psychology professor named Dr. Wilma Tuttle. When we join her, Tuttle is having a bad night. She's creeping along a country road, hiding whenever she sees a car come by. She's stilted and nervous, and when we learn the reason, its hard to blame her.

The film takes us back to earlier in her day, passing out a midterm and lecturing her class. One lecherous student, Bill Perry, takes it upon himself to not only write a lengthy essay about how repressed his teacher is but to flirt with her aggressively. Tuttle is an old maid, though nothing outside Perry's seductive/creepy musings seem to indicate that she's wholly unhappy with this.

Young slowly begins to lose her mind as the investigation drags on.

Regardless, the attention flatters her, and she lets him take her out to a cliffside in the nearby woods for the view. He wants to go swimming, she demurs and insists on going home. He then plays the "Oh, this must mean you want to be raped card." I don't believe this is actually a card to be played, but Perry sure seems to think so.

In the ensuing struggle, she manages to get her hands on a piece of sharp metal and repeatedly strikes him on the head. It takes a few hours to come to her senses and maybe a little while longer to come to a decision to cover it up. She throws the body over the cliff and makes her way to her home and a sleepless night.

It's hard to blame her, and the movie is sympathetic to a point. Whether she covers it up for the sake of her career or the off chance that she might get away with it is debatable, but she soon finds that the inquest found that Perry's death was an accident and most everyone was slowly moving past it. But things just aren't that easy, as a detective and Perry's guardian, a charming lawyer played by Robert Cummings, decide to delve a bit deeper into the case.

The two men play a game with Tuttle's life, as both jockey for her affection, and, after they both learn the truth, both try and turn it to their advantage. Both men, also in their middle age, settle on Tuttle as easy prey and their game of one upmanship eventually unravels the truth behind her crime.

Whether you can say that this is a good thing or a bad thing, it's hard to tell what Tuttle really feels about the two men. She smiles and nods at the advances, but when the movie cuts to her infrequent monologues, she is only thinking about how close she's getting to being caught. Any seduction she does appears to be unintentional, but 'appears' may be the key word.

The film is brilliant as it is both a solid crime thriller and a twisted story of a woman whose own sexual and moral compass crash into the legal system. While it's a more sophisticated version of sexual morality than we're usually given, it's still electric, and it's singular sophistication give it a fascinating edge. With shades of Double Indemnity crossing Repulsion, The Accused plays with what it can say about the murderess (especially playing the Production Code like a piano) up and to the point

When she sees a boxer punched out who looks like her victim, the doctor nearly loses it.

Loretta Young is spectacular in her role-- timid, demure, cunning, and desperate. Robert Cummings, as Bill's legal guardian and the professor's love interest, is also good, playing it cool as it quickly dawns on him just what Tuttle's secret is. I slagged on the guy way back in my What A Way to Go review, but he goes above and beyond here.

Near the beginning of the film, before she gets involved in the murder, Dr. Tuttle gives a lecture about the essay responses she expects from her students. She asks them to analyze their friends and associates, and pleads with them the following 'this is the point of the movie' sentence:

"Think of your needs... your hungers, your fears... because these are the things that rule most of us, after all."

For Dr. Tuttle, whose hungers and fears drive her for the rest of the movie, she never escapes these impulses. She's stuck into a world of quiet complacency and obedience; the only way for her to survive is to go deeper into the world of men. Anything to survive.

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Posted by Danny

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