They Won’t Believe Me is a film indicative of its time. Starting on Larry Ballentine’s murder trial, Larry walks us through how he got to that point. Careful narration guides us through the past, as he recounts his women trouble. Larry is married to Greta, but wants to be with Janice. Eventually, he spurns Janice as Greta keeps trying to pull him back to a marriage of 1940s normalcy. This doesn’t end well.
RKO had three modes. They could make horror movies, ripped from the headline dramas or dirty crime films. Anything else was out of their wheelhouse or a rare blend of the three. What makes They Won’t Believe Me work is that it leans hard into what people do when their greed and base urges overpower them. Eventually, Susan Hayward’s Verna shows up trying to scam Larry’s boss. When that doesn’t go through, Verna turns to Larry.
Larry is a pushover, who has a nasty streak through his soul. When Verna shows an easy way to money and freedom, things go sour. She wants to take him for everything he has, but all Larry wants is a bad girl to smack his junk around. After an attempt to flee to Reno to get a quickie divorce, Verna is killed in a road accident. This leads to people believing that Greta is dead and now Larry is free to do what he wants.
What Robert Young does as Larry is quite interesting. He’s not an outright villain and he’s not an innocent that gets manipulated. Young plays a bastard that finally gets the chance to act on his impulses. He bounces between the three women in his life with little care. There’s no real misogyny to it, but more of the attitudes of the era. However, he still keeps a healthy fear of legal authority.
Whether it’s at the car crash or the courtroom conclusion of They Won’t Believe Me, Larry is shown to be always scrambling for safety. This eventually leads to a finale that I don’t think is earned. Mainly because it asks us to view this slight twist as reason enough to feel bad for Young’s Larry. Given the events of They Won’t Believe Me, I feel that’s a load of crap.
They Won’t Believe Me was recut by RKO to play better on double feature bills. Legal thrillers about average people doing dark things didn’t book in mainstream audiences. So, you had to pack it at a Drive-In with a bigger attention getter. However, the cuts to They Won’t Believe Me kinda made that ending worst. While American cinema was a big fan of showing the public that crime didn’t pay, we didn’t need to feel bad for Larry.
TCM shows the recut print a lot, but what exactly is missing between this longer original cut on Blu-ray and what you might see on TCM? Well, you get the main action of the murder plot and backstabbing. However, there’s no time spent lingering on motives and the multiple cases of mistaken identity. We get this almost Detour style descent in watching Robert Young’s character lose his way. Those extra 15 minutes give the audience enough time to realize that Larry isn’t a good guy.
Warner Archive brings the original cut to Blu-ray for the first time in decades. Image released the original cut on VHS and maybe laserdisc back in the 90s, but this film fell between the memory cracks for a lot of people. You don’t get any special features. However, I can’t remember the last time I saw this movie look so good. Hell, even the TCM print isn’t this crisp.