Woman on Pier 13, The (1949)

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), directed by Robert Stevenson.

Another Robert Ryan "The Woman on..." title. AKA I Married a Communist and Beautiful But Dangerous.

We've just met a newlywed couple and an old flame who pops up to cause trouble, when we learn that the husband is a former member of the Communist Party and a murderer. He left the Party years earlier, changed his name and changed coasts, moved from longshoreman to management and got married. But the Party has found him and sent the old girlfriend to pull him back in. He resists, but their blackmail is powerful.

This gets dinged for being Red Scare propaganda, but the noir elements and photography are quite strong. The Party is a murderous well-oiled machine modeled on a crime syndicate. If that's a fantasy, well, movies are full of them.

Ryan is an ambivalent character. He's our hero and we want to like him. He was a commie stooge when young but wised up and got out. But when he succumbs to blackmail he lies effortlessly to his wife and is effective in his assigned mission of sabotaging labor relations on the docks. He's stalwart and loyal to his wife at the end.

Janis Carter is the femme fatale, one of the "Bad Girls of Film Noir." I'd like to see more of her; she simultaneously projects power, spite, pain and longing. Here she is a hard core political ideologue tempted by emotion: first by desire for her old boyfriend and then by his brother-in-law. Finally love is stronger than politics, which I think is a hopeful message.

Every time I see a Hollywood Red Scare/McCarthy retrospective I imagine an alternative history treatment where nazis are the oppressed subversive group instead of communists. The same degree of tinsel town hand-wringing would seem ridiculous.

Warner Archive title, available for rent from ClassicFlix.

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