High Wall (1947)

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
Cinematography Paul Vogel

After a brain-damaged man confesses to murder and is committed, Dr. Ann Lorrison tries to prove his innocence.

great performance by Taylor

7/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
3 September 2006

Robert Taylor is Steven Kenet, accused of killing his unfaithful wife in “High Wall,” a 1947 film noir also starring Audrey Totter and Herbert Marshall. In our first glimpse of Steve, he’s in a car with a dead woman careening down the road to get rid of her. The problem is, due to a brain injury suffered during the war, he can’t remember what happened. He is institutionalized for psychiatric evaluation to see if he can stand trial as a sane person. Audrey Totter is Ann, the psychiatrist who takes in Steve’s small son as well as works with her patient to try and uncover the truth. Herbert Marshall plays his dead wife’s boss.

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After World War II, Hollywood began to explore mental and emotional disorders and the use of psychiatry to unlock the traumas of the mind. “Possessed,” “Spellbound,” and “The Snake Pit” are just a few of the dozens of films employing the use of psychiatry, mental hospitals, and/or psychotropic drugs. In “High Wall,” the psychiatry seems to be more of a plot device than something that is actually used to help the patient. It’s there to provide flashbacks. Meanwhile, the Taylor character, once he has surgery, has a mind of his own and is constantly slipping out or in the psychiatrist’s office window, hiding in her car, and visiting the scene of the crime. The biggest problem is that the character of the murder victim is never developed, and the reasons for her behavior are never made clear. Nevertheless, the film manages to hold one’s interest, has a great atmosphere and a couple of really shocking moments. There are also some very funny bits throughout, including a scene where Steve meets the public defender.

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This is one of Robert Taylor’s best performances. After “Johnny Eager,” one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs began to play more complex roles and more bad guys. It was a good move; he played them very well. He doesn’t get much support from Audrey Totter, who turns in a dull, somewhat cold performance in an attempt to be a professional woman. She doesn’t give the role a lot of shading. Herbert Marshall seems somewhat miscast and is too lethargic for a role that requires some emotional range.

Very watchable for handsome Taylor’s excellent performance.

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Physician Heal Thyself

7/10
Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
8 May 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It’s difficult to understand why “High Wall” remains such an overlooked and under-appreciated movie. It certainly has much to commend it, such as the creative and stylish expressionist cinematography which greatly enhances the action and the judicious use of close ups which add intensity to some of the more dramatic moments (especially those involving the two main characters). The grid-like shadows that adorn the walls, floors and patients in the Psychiatric Hospital, emphasise the perception of it being an institution where people are caged in. A high speed sequence in one of the early scenes in which Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor) drives a car recklessly and crashes with his wife’s dead body in the front passenger seat, effectively grabs the audience’s attention and provokes interest in what events had led to such a dramatic incident. This thriller also features one of the most casual murders imaginable where the weapon used is an umbrella handle! Equally bizarrely, there is also the spectacle of a psychiatrist who goes completely off the rails when she takes a series of actions which are seriously unprofessional.

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Steven Kenet (an ex-bomber pilot) is arrested after his wife’s murder but genuinely can’t remember whether he killed her or not and is therefore, referred to a Psychiatric Hospital for assessment. Medical tests reveal the presence of a blood clot on his brain and it’s believed that the clot is the most likely cause of his memory lapses. An operation to remove the clot is recommended but Steven initially refuses permission. Steven’s six year old son had been living with his mother and one day when Dr Ann Lorrison (Audrey Totter) is trying to persuade him to change his mind about the operation, she tells him that his mother has died and that unless he has the operation, there is no possibility that he could be declared mentally fit enough to deal with his own finances and his son would then have to be admitted to the county orphanage. The operation goes ahead and is successful but still does not bring back any memory of his wife’s death.

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A man called Henry Cronner (Vince Barnett) tries to sell Steven useful information about his wife’s death but is murdered shortly after. This leads Steven to believe that he may be innocent and he then agrees to be given the truth drug (sodium pentothal) so that he can describe to Ann all that he remembers from the night of his wife’s murder. He can remember starting to attack his wife and then when he woke up she was dead.

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Ann goes to her car and is surprised to find Steven is in the back seat. He gets her to take him to the murder scene where he goes through everything he can remember. One night when Ann visits Steven, he locks her in his cell and escapes. Ann searches for him and eventually finds him outside the murder scene. At the apartment where the murder took place, they meet someone they suspect may be involved and Ann administers the truth drug and carries out some questioning which gradually reveals who murdered Mrs Kenet.

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Dr Lorrison had initially suspected that Kenet may be guilty and that he’d refused treatment to protect himself from prosecution. As she got more familiar with his case she started to feel more sympathetic towards him and after he’d had the operation and undergone the sodium pentothal test, her attraction to him had deepened.

Dr Lorrison is a remarkably unethical practitioner who improperly gains temporary custody of her patient’s son and then, when it suits her, tells Kenet that his son is in danger of being sent to an orphanage.

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At a later stage she disingenuously informs Kenet that his son has been taken in by a woman called Martha Ferguson (conveniently omitting to mention that Ferguson is actually her aunt with whom she lives). After the first occasion when Kenet escaped from the hospital and forced her to go with him to the scene of the murder, she didn’t report the matter to her colleagues and after his second escape she also went to join him at the same location. This time however, she readily injected the suspect with sodium pentothal despite the fact that he was confused and groggy after being savagely beaten up by Kenet!!!

High Wall 1947

Robert Taylor turns in a very good performance as a man whose condition makes him tense and truculent at times and whose predicament also makes him anguished and confused. He projects all these feelings quite powerfully and also shows a more tender side to his personality in the scenes involving his son.

Murders and Medicinal Mania.

7/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
11 January 2014

High Wall is directed by Curtis Bernhardt and adapted to screenplay by Sydney Boehm and Lester Cole from the play by Alan R. Clark and Bradbury Foote. It stars Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter, Herbert Marshall, Dorothy Patrick and H.B. Warner. Music is by Bronislau Kaper and cinematography by Paul Vogel.

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Suffering from a brain injury sustained during the war, Steven Kenet (Taylor) is further rocked by the realisation that he may have strangled his wife during one of his blackout episodes. Committed to a county asylum, Steven responds to treatment by Dr. Ann Lorrison (Totter) and comes to believe he just might be innocent of his wife’s murder. But can he convince the authorities? Can he in fact get out of the asylum to find proof?

By 1947 film noir had firmly encompassed the plot strand involving returning veterans from the war. Plot would find them struggling to readjust into society, they would be battle scarred, emotionally torn or suffering some form of injury, such as a popular favourite of film makers of the time, the amnesia sufferer. High Wall is one of the better pictures from the original film noir cycle to deal with this premise. Where except for a daft method used to bring the story to its conclusion, it’s a well thought out and intelligent picture.

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The pairing of Taylor and Totter is one of the film’s strengths, they are helped no end by having parts that requires them to veer away from roles that they were accustomed to. Bernhardt and Vogel dress the picture up superbly, the camera glides eerily around the asylum, throwing impressive shadows across the drama, and the camera technique used for Kenet’s flashback sequences proves mood magnificent. Out of the asylum the visuals still remain beautiful whilst still exuding a bleakness befitting the unfolding story, with rain drenched streets the order of the night. While Kaper drifts a suitably haunting musical score across proceedings.

It’s unhurried and cares about attention to details, and even though some of the ethics involved in story are dubious, this is a smart entry in the psychological film noir canon. 7.5/10

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