Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Berry|
|Produced by||Robert Sisk|
|Screenplay by||Allen Rivkin|
|Story by||John D. Klorer|
|Narrated by||Barry Sullivan|
|Music by||André Previn|
|Edited by||Albert Akst|
Tension is a 1949 crime thriller film noir directed by John Berry, and written by Allen Rivkin, based on a story written by John D. Klorer. The drama features Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter, Cyd Charisse, Barry Sullivan, and William Conrad.
Police Lieutenant Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) of the homicide department explains that he only knows one way to solve a case: by applying pressure to all the suspects, playing on their strengths and weaknesses, until one of them snaps under the tension. He then cites a murder case involving Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart).
In flashback, the bespectacled Quimby, night manager of the 24-hour "Coast-to-Coast" drugstore in Culver City, is married to the sluttish Claire (Audrey Totter). Saving and doing without, he is able to afford a nice house in the suburbs, but she is utterly unimpressed, refusing even to look inside. She eventually leaves him for the latest of her conquests, rich Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). Quimby goes to Deager's Malibu beachfront house to try to get his wife back, but she wants nothing to do with him. When Quimby persists, Deager beats him up.
He tells his sympathetic employee, Freddie, what happened. Freddie remarks that if it had been him, he would have killed the man. Deeply humiliated, Quimby takes up Freddie's idea. He constructs a new identity, cosmetics salesman "Paul Sothern," buys contact lenses and flashier clothes, and rents an apartment in Westwood. As he is moving in, he meets his new neighbor, beautiful, sweet Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse), whom he starts dating.
One night Quimby, identifying himself as Paul Sothern, makes a phone call, leaving a message with Narco (Tito Renaldo), Deager's servant, that he will get Deager for some unspecified wrong. On a later night, he hitchhikes to Deager's place, grabs a barbecue prong and walks through the open patio door. He finds Deager asleep in a chair, but cannot go through with the killing. When he drops his weapon, Deager awakes. Quimby grabs the prong and holds it to Deager's neck, explaining that he came to kill him, but has suddenly realized that Claire is not worth it. Then, seeing that his wife is absent, he mocks Deager, guessing that Claire has said she was going to the movies—the excuse she used while cheating on him. After Quimby leaves, Deager ponders his situation.
Claire later surprises Quimby by returning to him in their Culver City apartment. When he refuses to believe she has come back out of love, she tells him Deager has been murdered. Before Quimby has time to absorb the news, Bonnabel and his partner, Lieutenant Gonsales (William Conrad), arrive to question them. They know that Claire left the murder scene before they were called. She says that she only went to Deager's place as a day guest to swim regularly, and that she and her husband were Deager's friends. Quimby is forced to play along to avoid suspicion. The police are looking for Paul Sothern, the prime suspect. However, following his stated policy, Bonnabel leads Claire on, pretending he is attracted to her.
The police get a break when Mary goes to the Bureau of Missing Persons, concerned about Sothern's disappearance. She brings a photograph. Bonnabel eventually realizes Sothern and Quimby are the same man. However, Deager was shot, and they do not have the gun. Bonnabel maneuvers Mary to Quimby's workplace to identify him, but she refuses to do so, and states that her faith in Sothern is unshaken.
The police arrest Quimby anyway. Under questioning, he tells them his story, but they find it hard to believe. Later, Bonnabel tells Claire that they had to release her husband due to insufficient evidence; he plants the idea that the gun is the vital clue they need to convict Quimby. Claire retrieves the gun from its hiding place under a rock, and plants it in Sothern's apartment. Quimby arrives, followed very shortly by the police. Claire claims she was searching for the gun, and Bonnabel encourages her to continue; she "finds" it under a chair cushion, but then Bonnabel explains that all the furnishings had been replaced, and that Claire has just incriminated herself. Claire is resigned to her fate, but defiantly walks out in the custody of Gonsales. Mary protests that nothing in the apartment has been changed; Bonnabel replies that it would have been too much work. Quimby and Mary are free to resume their relationship.
- Richard Basehart as Warren Quimby, aka Paul Sothern
- Audrey Totter as Claire Quimby
- Cyd Charisse as Mary Chanler
- Barry Sullivan as Police Lt. Collier Bonnabel
- Lloyd Gough as Barney Deager
- Tom D'Andrea as Freddie, the counter man at Coast to Coast drugstore
- William Conrad as Police Lt. Edgar "Blackie" Gonsales
- Tito Renaldo as Narco, Deager's houseboy
Fifty minutes into the film is a humorous nod to Conrad's girth. His character and Sullivan's question a witness, a movie theater employee; as they leave the theater, Conrad's character buys a bag of popcorn. As he begins to open the bag, Sullivan's character snatches it from his hands and passes it off to a little boy entering. As they exit, Conrad's character looks back at the popcorn, 'longingly', while Sullivan's character taps Conrad's character on the belly.
According to MGM records the film earned $506,000 in the US and Canada and $270,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $229,000.
Film critic Walter Addiego, staff critic at the San Francisco Examiner, wrote of the drama, "They aren't making 'em anymore like this 1949 melodrama by John Berry, and that's too bad... What sticks with you about the film is what a classic, prize-winning sap the Basehart character is, how pathetic and ill-considered are his dreams of domestic bliss, and how easily he's able to shift into a new and quite different identity. All in all, a good example of noirish post-war disillusionment — and it has Cyd Charisse and William Conrad, to boot."
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Addiego, Walter. San Francisco Examiner, film review, April 25, 1998. Last accessed: January 31, 2008.