Eight years after winning an Oscar for co-writing "Citizen Kane" with Orson Welles, the Wilkes-Barre-reared Herman Mankiewicz scripted and produced "A Woman's Secret" (1949, Warner Archive, unrated, $25), a film noir directed by Nicholas Ray, the genius behind "Rebel Without A Cause," "Bigger Than Life" and "The Lusty Men."
Given its pedigree, "A Woman's Secret" should be a stunner, right? Wrong.
At the very least, the film looks great. With help from cinematographer George E. Diskant, Ray moves his actors in and out of shadows, a visual trick that befits this strange tale that could be seen as a precursor to "All About Eve," which was written and directed by Herman Mankiewicz's younger brother Joseph.
In one of the first scenes of the film, a torch singer (Gloria Grahame) is shot and nearly killed, seemingly by her jealous mentor (Maureen O'Hara), who quickly confesses to the crime. But flashbacks – Mank's specialty – reveal a much different story.
"A Woman's Secret," based on a 1946 novel called "Mortgage on Life' by Vicki Baum, never seems to know what story it's telling. The relationship between O'Hara and Grahame should have been at the heart of the drama. Instead, Mankiewicz bizarrely gives co-star Melvyn Douglas the most screen time even though Douglas is, at best, peripheral to the action.
Warner Archive gets a round of applause for finally making the rare film available for home viewing. But "A Woman's Secret" is for Ray and Mankiewicz completists only.
Amy Longsdorf writes about DVD and Blu-Ray releases with local connections.