“I’d like to say I didn’t intend to kill her, but when you have a gun, you always intend if you have to.”
Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) doesn’t know what’s coming to him when the mysterious Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) visits his office late one night. She’s there to report an attempted burglary at her aunt’s house. Upset about his failing marriage, he decides to invite her out for a drink.
It’s not necessarily standard procedure for the assistant district attorney to get involved with a stranger he met at work. But soon enough, Cleve has fallen hard for Thelma.
When burglary is once again attempted at the home of Thelma’s aunt, this time resulting the aunt’s murder, Thelma comes under suspicion. But is she truly guilty? And can Cleve help her get out of the mess without jeopardizing his own career?
The File on Thelma Jordon was directed by Robert Siodmak. The screenplay was written by Ketti Frings from a story by Marty Holland.
As expected, The File on Thelma Jordon boasts yet another great performance by Stanwyck. She and Corey are fun to watch together, playing well off one another in this twisted tale of an unhappily married ADA and his suspicious mistress, but she definitely steals the film. She always plays the femme fatale so well!
Stanwyck and Corey engage in plenty of wild scheming as the film moves along, which is nowhere near unheard of in the genre, but still great to watch.
In typical fatale-struck fashion, things keep snowballing for Corey’s character, getting worse and worse as he attempts to save Thelma from the consequences of her own misdeeds. At one point, Cleve boldly counsels Thelma on how to stage a crime scene to make herself look less guilty. Not the behavior of an upstanding prosecutor!
A wonderful supporting performance is given by Stanley Ridges as Thelma’s lawyer, Kingsley Willis. He’s nearly as much of a schemer as his clients, seeming to know what’s what as soon as he’s brought on to the case. But, as he says, “To me, the world is full of innocent lambs… and I’m their lawyer.”
After much public frenzy and personal drama, Thelma’s whole mess gets wrapped up with a mad ending which is somewhat expected, but very well-executed. Throughout, the film is nicely photographed, adding to the film’s tension.
The File on Thelma Jordon is a definite must-see for Stanwyck fans, but I’d recommend it more widely than that, too. It’s a great noir-mystery with several satisfying twists.
Thelma is a very good noir, and Barbara is, as usual, flawless. The often underwhelming Wendall Corey does work very well here, not a fool, but not a strong, sterling character either. While Cleve dives deeper into the dark as the picture progresses, Thelma begins to see the light.