No Man of Her Own
New on DVD
Reviewed by Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 13, 2012
No Man of Her OwnOlive Films, $24.95
Near the crossroads of film noir and melodrama is where this 1950 relic abides. Neither wholly one genre nor the other, No Man of Her Own is a tough-minded women's picture that floods the domestic sphere with darkness. Based on the novel I Married a Dead Man by one of the great crime storytellers of the mid-20th century, Cornell Woolrich (written under his popular pseudonym William Irish), this film folds noir themes of fate and circumstance into a story about the repercussions of an unwed mother-to-be's desperate crime of opportunity.
Barbara Stanwyck plays the expectant mother Helen Ferguson, who is brushed off by her ex-lover. Refusing to open the door to her frantic entreaties, the louse begrudgingly slips under the door a one-way train ticket back home. On the train, Helen is befriended by the newlywed and equally pregnant Patrice Harkness, who is about to meet her in-laws who have yet to lay eyes on her. Together in the washroom, Patrice asks Helen to hold on to her wedding ring while she cleans up, but just as Helen slips it on her finger for an admiring look, the train goes topsy-turvy. When she comes to, Helen discovers she is in the hospital and presumed to be Mrs. Patrice Harkness, the sole survivor among the two women in the washroom. It seems a victimless crime, and her new in-laws are thrilled to welcome her into their home. Besides, her fatherless son will now have the opportunity for a better life. But just as the new Mrs. Harkness begins to settle into her new life, her ex-lover appears on the scene of her suburban renewal with blackmail on his tongue.
Stanwyck, who was able to play sweet and wholesome as well as hard-edged and practical, is perfectly cast in this film. It will be a treat for her fans who most likely have never seen No Man of Her Own. Director Mitchell Leisen, who is best known for his romantic comedies, was a Hollywood workhorse, and his films bear the stamp of his first jobs in the industry: dress designing and set decoration. (Edith Head does the costumes for No Man of Her Own.) Yet his comedies have little of the wit and wisdom seen in the films of such Paramount colleagues as Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. In his essential compendium of directors, The American Cinema, critic and historian Andrew Sarris shrugs off Leisen's career as belonging in the "lightly likable" category. No Man of Her Own comes with no DVD extras, so details regarding the film's historical context are left for the viewer to discover. Yet the film stands on its own as a fascinating relic that needs no explanation.