Happy #Noirvember! TMP has celebrated film noir with a review from the genre every Sunday this month. To bring the celebration to a close, today’s film is 1950’s Backfire. Previously in this series: When Strangers Marry (1944), Decoy (1946), No Man of Her Own (1950)
Bob Corey (Gordon MacRae) was wounded near the end of the second World War and is now attempting to recover in a California hospital. With several surgeries required to tend to his wound, the hospital staff are optimistic that he’ll recover, but are unsure whether he’ll be able to live the life he always hoped for, as a hard-working rancher.
Luckily, Bob has the support of a few great friends: Julie Benson (Virginia Mayo), one of the hospital’s nurses, and Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien), a friend he fought alongside in the war. Bob and Steve plan to pool their money together and buy a ranch after Bob is released from the hospital, despite Julie’s warnings that Bob may not be physically capable of ranching.
As Christmas draws near, Steve stops visiting the hospital as much. Bob assumes he’s traveling and getting the plans for their ranch in order, but has something more sinister happened to Steve? Bob begins to think so when he’s visited by a mysterious woman (Viveca Lindfors) and must try to track down his missing friend.
Backfire was directed by Vincent Sherman. It was written by Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, and Larry Marcus, from an original story by Marcus.
Like many films of its era and genre, Backfire tells a story of disillusionment. Veterans returning from combat after the second World War struggled to reintegrate into society, and in this struggle, Hollywood saw major potential for bleak, dramatic stories to be told.
Bob and Steve get mixed up in a homicide case, drawn into society’s underbelly when all they ever wanted was to heal their war wounds and become ranchers! It’s all crime and seedy characters once Bob is released from the hospital, only to find that his pal Steve has gone missing… and is wanted for murder.
Despite the suspenseful promise of this missing person case, the film doesn’t have consistently high tension. Still, there are a few great scenes, including one in which Julie sneaks into a doctor’s office to steal files, and a big confrontation near the end of the film.
The cast does well with the material. Mayo and MacRae bring a bit of cuteness before the drama kicks in. (That Christmas gift scene — adorable!)
The supporting cast is full of scene-stealers who really grab most of the viewer’s attention throughout the film. My favorites were Dane Clark (“Ben”) and Viveca Lindfors (“Lysa”), who each have fewer scenes than MacRae, but make far more of an impact.
Virginia Mayo is sold as the femme fatale/”bad girl” in many of the film’s promotional materials, but she turns out to just be a kind nurse. She’s sweet, and her relationship with Bob is nice, but the supports are all much more complicated (and, frankly, more interesting) than Julie and Bob.
Backfire wraps up with a high-tension resolution to the mystery of murder and disappearance, before ending on a cute and optimistic note. While it isn’t a perfect film, those great supporting performances and several surprising turns to the plot make it well worth a watch.