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Missing from Home Video: REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947)

Most Film Noir has some sort of philosophical / existential aspect woven into it:  the private dick’s jaundiced look at love and morals, an old drunk’s musings on life slipping through his hands, etc.  But REPEAT PERFORMANCE is entirely built on a fatalist / defeatist foundation, and although it has elements of fantasy, it’s also one of the darkest views of the cumulative effect from the betrayals and cruelties that plague human existence.

This movie has murder, insanity, spousal abuse, adultery, alcoholism and Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Thurston Howell) from Gilligan’s Island

Is your curiosity piqued??

Aired by dozens of TV stations every New Year’s Eve back in the days of local origination programming, REPEAT PERFORMANCE explored a not-uncommon remark on New Year’s uttered by those for whom the last year had been far from happy:  to relive the past year once more, knowing what you know now. 

Like Hitchcock’s roving cinema eye in the opening shot of PSYCHO, the film begins with a camera taking in the glamorous hi-rise views of NYC a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s, as the lens chooses and approaches a penthouse where a woman is shooting down her man (complete with inky shadows slashed by white billowing curtains). 

The murderess (Joan Leslie) flees the scene to walk the streets of Manhattan, shaken and numbed, while revelers are ringing in “Happy 1947!” — yet by the time she arrives at friend Tom Conway’s apartment to ask for help, he’s toasting her a “Happy 1946!”

The man Leslie killed was her husband, a nasty and abusive drunk played to perfection by the WWII hero who was plagued by PTSD, Louis Hayward.  Returning to the scene of the crime, she enters to find her husband mixing cocktails, dishing out cruelty, and hosting their New Year’s bash.  Sure enough, she has a second chance at her annus horribilis, 1946.

Can Leslie’s character, Broadway actress Sheila Page, remake the next twelve months?  Will she avoid killing her husband and prevent her best friend (Richard Basehart) from a nervous breakdown caused by the manipulations of his patron (played by Natalie Schafer as Mrs. Howell’s evil twin)??

Drunk and cruel Louis Hayward chats with bitchy and lethal Natalie Schafer in one of the most toxic cocktail parties on film.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE was produced by the short-lived, A-List wannabe studio, Eagle-Lion Films that was positioned to catch at-liberty actors as the studios were letting them go.  Before this movie, actress Joan Leslie hadn’t worked in a year, having been blackballed from major studios by Jack Warner after a contract dispute.  Unverified sources say she had a chip on her shoulder from being royally screwed by Warner when she started this film, which may account for the intensity and veracity she gives to a film in which her character is betrayed by fellow show people and creatives.  Traditionally cast as the innocent girl next door, this movie was her chance to be glamorous, and she looked great (sort of like Olivia deHavilland on a budget).  A few years later, she was too old to be sweet and virginal, but she still played the nice gal, or in the case of Nicholas Ray’s BORN TO BE BAD (1950), the sane one opposite the psychotic Christabel, played by Joan Fontaine.

Being a Marine and winning a Bronze Star really butched up leading man Louis Hayward.  Before WWII, he was downright prissy.  But as a seething and frustrated drunk, he showed cajones never visible in his performances before.  Director Alfred Werker had a Quixotic career as a filmmaker, directing a beloved Disney cartoon (THE RELUCTANT DRAGON), classic Noirs (including parts of HE WALKED BY NIGHT, again with Basehart) and the first movie in which Vincent Price played a boogie man (SHOCK).  Werker’s work is polished and focused in REPEAT PERFORMANCE, doing justice to some unusually crystalline dialog while crafting pace and design in every shot.

Sheila Page relives her year knowing what she knows of the future.  What changes and what remains immovable?  Well, it’s a Hollywood production, but it’s also a strange, dark film even by Film Noir standards.  I hope this minor jewel’s disappearance from the Cinema Radar has run its course; it deserves to be easily accessible.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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2 Comments to “Missing from Home Video: REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947)”

  1. hensonrb says:

    I agree! I have been searching the INTERNET for this film for years & have yet to find it!!!!! It was a classic and had a VERY strong story line. Good acting all the way around! Somebody please bring this back!!!!!

    • Doug says:

      Believe it or not, I saw it pop up earlier this year on YouTube, but I’m sure it was taken down quickly because of copyright infringement.

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