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Noir-ish look at Mental Hospital Care
on June 8, 2013
"High Wall" is a 1947 black and white murder mystery combined with a look at psychiatric care.
Good looking Robert Taylor (1911-69) plays a man with amnesia suspected of murdering his wife. Taylor achieved some success in films like "Magnificent Obsession" (1935), "Camille" (1936), and "A Yank at Oxford" (1938), and this film came at the peak of his career. He followed this one with two of his most memorable - "Ivanhoe" (1952), and "Knights of the Round Table" (1953). If you're a Taylor fan, this is one his better performances.
Audrey Totter (1918) plays a Psychiatrist who helps Taylor recover his memory. Totter is best known as one of Hollywood's film noir queens, with films like "Main Street After Dark" (1945), "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), and "The Unsuspected" (1947) She transitioned to TV in the 50s and appeared in several series ("Medical Center", "Our Man Higgins"). Totter is definitely not noir in this film, and it shows how good her acting could be when not confined to that genre.
Herbert Marshall (1890-1966) plays a suspect. Marshall appeared in more than 50 films between 1927 and 1965. He could play comedy ("Trouble in Paradise") or drama ("Foreign Correspondent") and his distinctive voice was often used in voice overs.
German born Curtis Bernhardt (1899-1981) followed up his success with "Possessed" with this film. Bernhardt went on to make several unremarkable films, including "Sirocco" (1951) with Humphrey Bogart and "Miss Sadie Thompson" (1953) with Rita Hayworth.
Films about mental hospitals were popular in the late 40s - Hitchcock's 1945 thriller "Spellbound", Joan Crawford in "Possessed" (1947), "Home of the Brave" (1948), and "The Snake Pit" (1949). It's interesting to look at conditions at the hospital. There were 2500 patients and only 12 doctors. Dormitories and dining rooms look even worse than prisons, and the patients wear clothing that looks like prison discards. The only types of therapy we see are hydrotherapy and "narcotherapy". The patients are depicted as either manic or catatonic.
This film is often characterized as "film noir" which clearly it isn't, though there are some film noir elements, including a returned veteran who doesn't fit in, lots of night scenes and lots of rainy nights, along with infidelity and murder. As well, the director made several noir-ish films, as did the screen writer, Sydney Boehm ("The Big Heat", "Side Street") and the lead actress was more often than not, in film noir. But there is no femme fatale, and the hero really isn't led astray, nor is there a downbeat ending.
1947 wasn't the best year for films. The Oscar winners were "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Gentlemen's Agreement" and the box office leaders included "Unconquered", "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer", "Mother Wore Tights" and "Life with Father." Other notable films that year were "Dark Passage" (Bogart), "The Lady From Shanghai" (Orson Welles), and "Possessed" (Joan Crawford).
Bottom line - interesting from the POV of inpatient psychiatric care circa 1947. Fans of Robert Taylor or Audrey Totter will be impressed by their acting in this film, although film noir fans will find it lacking.