Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 10, 2021)
For those of us who grew up with Robert Young as kindly doctor Marcus Welby on TV, it always comes as a shock to see him in grittier fare from his earlier days. Nonetheless, that’s where we find the actor via 1947’s film noir effort They Won’t Believe Me.
Stockbroker Larry Ballentine (Young) feels unsatisfied with his personal life. While he uses his long-suffering wife Greta (Rita Johnson) for her fortune, he “dates” and eventually dumps Janice Bell (Jane Greer) before he tries to seduce Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward).
Eventually Larry plots to go off with Verna. However, various crimes take place, with Larry as the prime suspect. These put him on trial as he fights for his life.
None of this falls into spoiler territory, as the movie reveals a crime during its opening five minutes. Believe uses a courtroom structure, so the narrative gets told to us as Larry’s testimony.
That makes this a flashback flick, one that seems to come from Larry’s point of view – I guess. This means we should question the veracity of what we see, especially because the film makes Larry seem more sympathetic than anticipated from the synopsis.
Should we view Larry’s memories with a grain of salt? Perhaps, but unlike other movies of this sort, we don’t find obvious hints that Larry provides a corrupted perspective or that anything we see didn’t happen within the tale’s reality.
I bring this up because as I related, Larry seems more likable and less sociopathic than I might’ve anticipated from the overview. As depicted, Larry comes across more like a hapless pawn than a criminal mastermind.
Granted, the story does eventually push him in a more sinister direction, but we already see him as such a bumbler that he never feels intimidating or conniving. We get Larry more as a semi-incompetent dope than anything else.
That creates an unusual spin on the genre, but not one that I can claim seems especially intriguing. Because Larry turns into such a clumsy lead, it becomes more difficult to invest in the narrative and care what happens.
Theoretically, we should bond with Larry’s women – at least some of them – but they receive too little real exposition to allow them to connect. All three feel thinly developed and not especially interesting, though at least Hayward’s feisty performance adds bite to Verna.
As the movie builds toward the conclusion of Larry’s trial, we should feel anxious to see what happens. However, the prior events never show enough real drama to create interest.
A thriller without much intrigue seems like a dicey proposition. Believe does enough to maintain the viewer’s attention in a moderate manner, but it fails to turn into anything memorable.