CineSavant Column

Tuesday September 29, 2020


We enjoyed Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley presentation this weekend, as we always do — even if I don’t watch the movie I tune in to Eddie’s opening and closing pieces as if I were attending Remedial Noir 101. Eddie’s facts and thoughts on Irving Pichel’s 1947 noir winner They Won’t Believe Me were no disappointment, and even in the isolation of the pandemic, his interview with Joan Harrison biographer Christina Lane was successful. Of all of TCM’s hosts promoted as celebrities, Eddie Muller most merits the honor.

They Won’t Believe Me is a very good RKO thriller starring Robert Young, Susan Hayward, Jane (swoon) Greer and Rita Johnson. TCM’s transfer was ancient, and bore an ‘RKO Video’ logo that I associate with a group of VHS tapes released in the 1980s. The first thing I did was to measure the running time, because of a discussion I had a couple of years ago with The Warner Archive Collection’s esteemed George Feltenstein. The subject was RKO films that had been hacked down for reissue in the 1950s, and that had proved difficult for Turner/WB to restore to their original running times. WB did a pretty good job on The Thing from Another World, which came out on Blu-ray in December of 2018. Just this year the Archive surprised us with a beautiful full restoration of the Robert Mitchum/Loretta Young/William Holden pioneer story Rachel and the Stranger, which is now a full 11 minutes longer than anything seen since the middle 1950s.

I was bugging George with my usual question about a favorite — can Howard Hawks’ full length epic The Big Sky be restored?  It was trimmed for reissue by either 15 or 20 minutes, depending on which source one reads. TCM plays it in a compromised presentation that extends the two-hour reissue cut with lesser-quality scenes from a 16mm print. As are many library titles waiting in line for possible restoration, The Big Sky is ‘in the works.’ I have no idea whether Turner/WB has it sitting on a back burner, or if no better source has been located, or if a restoration is just not in the cards at the present time. That’s all proprietary information. (Come on, folks, do it to honor Kirk Douglas…)

But George enlightened me about another needed restoration, of which I was not at all aware — They Won’t Believe Me. The RKO noir seems to be in the same boat as the Howard Hawks western. What Eddie Muller showed Saturday night was +/- 80 minutes in duration, and the original 1947 release is listed as a full fifteen minutes longer. I forget what George said exactly — I’m not certain if restoring They Won’t Believe Me is held up because the necessary film just isn’t there, or because the restoration program simply hasn’t gotten to it yet.

A full fifteen minutes missing!  RKO’s editors must have made some very careful revisions, because no obvious cuts are visible. But every time I see the movie I get the feeling that I missed something, and ought to pay more attention next time. They Won’t Believe Me is one of those pictures ‘with issues’ that I try to DVR every time it shows up on TCM — just in case some miraculous restoration appears. That’s happened more than once.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson