THE TATTERED DRESS was ripped by lust that provoked a murder in this 1957 legal jeopardy drama. The year saw justice served or denied in the better, more honored Witness For The Prosecution, 12 Angry Men and Paths of Glory. Yet this sexed-up, reasonably brisk entry, forgotten today, did more box office business than the latter two, testimony to how popular Jeff Chandler was at the time. Though it veers into greater histrionic intensity than needed in the last act, for the most part it’s a pretty good stacked-deck outing, directed by Jack Arnold off a screenplay from George Zuckerman (Written On The Wind). Grosses tagged $4,100,000, placing 58th for ’57. *
Hot-shot New York criminal defense attorney ‘James Gordon Blane’ (Chandler) queries blithely bold trophy wife ‘Charleen Reston’ (Elaine Stewart): “Mrs. Reston, are you a faithful wife?” Her smirking “In my fashion…” lets us know Blane’s client, her husband, had reason to be jealous. Still, plugging her lover several times makes guilt a certainty. But Blane’s skillful defense gets him off, and that’s too much for seemingly amiable local sheriff ‘Nick Hoak’ (Jack Carson) who soon has Blane in boiling water for purportedly bribing a witness. The slick big city lawyer may have met his match in the bluff small town lawman.
Chandler keeps his trademark intensity close to the vest for most of the plot, letting it go for broke in the third act. Low-key Carson is customarily excellent. As Blane’s estranged wife Jeanne Crain looks elegant but falls back into breathless ‘actressy’ mode, and Gail Russell, her once ethereal beauty diminished by the alcoholism that would soon kill her, overplays her part as nerve-jangled witness. As the ethics averse trollop with the tattered dress and soiled reputation, Stewart vamps hungrily. Frank Skinner gives it a steamy music score.
With George Tobias, Edward Platt, Edward Andrews, Paul Birch, Phillip Reed, William Schallert and Ziva Rodann. 93 minutes.
* That year Jack Arnold also directed Chandler in a second crime drama, Man In The Shadow (with Orson Welles), as well as guiding the cause & effect perils of another guy in a tight spot via The Incredible Shrinking Man.
This movie bears a sad footnote. Attacked while watching this at their compound about 20 miles outside Saigon on July 8th, 1959, Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand and Maj. Dale Buis became the first Americans killed in the Vietnam War.