A veteran homicide detective who has witnessed his socialite girlfriend kill her husband sees his inexperienced brother assigned to the case.
The Man Who Cheated Himself is another criminally underrated, and overlooked film.
The story starts with Howard Frazer (Harlan Warde) alone in a gigantic room, hiding a newly bought gun in a closet. His wife, Lois (Jane Wyatt) comes in and itís soon discovered that these two are getting a divorce pretty quick. When Howard leaves, Lois finds the gun certificate and immediately phones her new boyfriend, Homicide Detective Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb) claiming her husband is going to kill her.
Cullen arrives to search for the gun, when Howard comes back to make true on Loisí suspicions. Lois discovers the gun moments before Howardís arrival, and in a panic, shoots Howard dead. Cullen, knowing that twenty years are in store for Lois, quickly begins to cover up the crime, and with all film noir films, this is the moment of the characters downfall.
Discovering that Howard was booked on a flight to Seattle, Cullen dumps the body at the airport, hoping that when heís found, itíll be assumed that he was robbed. A fortunate, and unfortunate twist, puts Cullen, and his brand new partner on the case. The unfortunate part is that Cullenís new partner is also his brother, Andy (John Dall), whoís looking to make a name for himself as a detective, and he knows thereís more to the story than a robbery in the garage at the airport.
Throughout the story, Cullen continually tries to lead his brother astray, but his brother is a good detective, who manages to decipher the clues step by step.
As with most film noir films, I donít want to give too much away for fear of taking the pleasure and exhilaration away from any potential viewers. And with most, film noir films, one most give credit to the writers.
Philip MacDonald and Seton I. Miller have crafted a wonderful cat and mouse game here. Watching Cobb and Wyatt try to escape out of their situation is like watching a mouse try to hide inside a mouse trap. You know eventually the trap will spring shut on them, but there are moments where you think, and sometimes hope, that theyíll get away. The dialogue doesnít crackle like other film noir gems like Double Indemnity, Laura, or The Maltese Falcon, but the tight and thrilling script more than make up for it.
Cobb and Wyatt are both fine in their performances, with Wyatt playing the innocent damsel thatís really a shrew with no real emotion, and Cobb playing the strong alpha male who pretends to have everything under control. John Dall also does an amazing job as the obsessed detective that cancels his honeymoon to work on the case. To most the photography by Russell Harlan wonít seem like anything special, but upon closer examination, there is something different heís doing here. The lights are put at odd angles throughout the film; many times coming from a low angle where there is no source for the light. By doing this he creates a subtle, odd effect that something just isnít right here. Itís a subtle, unhinging effect that works well within the context of the story and situations.
Any fan of the genre should definitely seek out this film. The transfer to DVD I have is fairly rough, but Iíve read that there are better copies out there to be had. While it doesnít quite grasp the greatness and masterpiece status of Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, or The Maltese Falcon, it is a worthy addition to any fans library.