While large studios in the Golden Age of Hollywood like Warner Bros. and MGM brought with them the promise of handsomely mounted productions with some of the biggest stars, most lavish sets and most talented people behind the camera, not every studio had that kind of financial backing behind them. Some studios like Monogram Pictures were playfully referred to as “Poverty Row” due to their mostly low-budget films populated by actors whom you likely have never heard of. What they did try to deliver was something exciting for the audience in the form of action or adventure. They were not too shabby at tackling film noir, and one of the best ones we have seen is the 1948 picture I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes from director William Nigh in one of his final directorial efforts. Based on a novel of the same name by Cornell Woolrich, the film tells a slick tale of wrongful imprisonment as mounted by an impressive ensemble that leads to a surprisingly enthralling feature.
Tom Quinn (Don Castle) is first seen on screen sitting in a jail cell awaiting his execution. The former dancer has been convicted of murder, but the truth of the matter is that the police have the wrong man and he aims to set the record straight to his fellow inmates. The journey to the electric chair has been one filled with a series of bad breaks. It was not long ago that he was living in a shabby old apartment with his wife and partner Ann (Elyse Knox). The couple have dreams of making it to Hollywood, but as it stands their ambition has been put on hold by a reality of scrounging up a few bucks here and there. When Tom happens upon a fairly large sum on money, a question of whether or not to spend it or turn it in turns into a nightmare when he ends up the main suspect in a murder connected to that money. His shoe print was found in the mud near the body of an eccentric, wealthy man and his actions since then have inadvertently condemned him in the eyes of the law. It is up to Ann to gain help from officer Clint Judd (Regis Toomey) in clearing her husband’s name before it is too late.
While no one is a household name in the film, all of the performances are incredibly strong without fail. Despite ostensibly being the star of the film, Castle is not given an incredible amount to do after the first half of the film besides bemoaning his bad luck. He is pretty great at garnering sympathy without making the character grating. The real standout of the picture is Elyse Knox as Ann, as you understand her desperation at the beginning for wanting a better life than what she has, but you know she would give it all up for a chance to be reunited with her husband. She is whip smart and dogged in her pursuit of the truth. Her dynamic with Judd is a unique wrinkle to the picture, as he harbors a crush on Ann and tries to play that out without seeming too creepy. Your heart breaks when Ann promises to leave her husband for Judd if he can get her husband acquitted. A back-and-forth between Knox and Toomey is a highlight of the picture. Certain developments strain credulity just a bit, but for the most part the narrative holds up with no huge missteps.
If you did not know this was a “low rent” Monogram feature, you would never guess as there is a pleasing amount of care put into every element of production. The cinematography from Mack Stengler is quite gorgeous as it utilizes lighting in a very impactful way without it seeming as if it is leaning into genre tropes. The costumes and production design likewise look like they were intended for a high-budget picture but made their way to this little gem. At only 71 minutes long, this film utterly breezes by without losing impact in the plotting or character development. This is one tightly constructed narrative that mostly pulls off all of its twists and turns without much of a fuss. While not one of the all-time greats, I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes deserves to have a bigger footprint than it does in cinematic history. It is an exciting, well-constructed film noir that never slacks on building tension and character development. From the directing behind the camera to the magnificent performance on the other side, this picture is well worth your time.
Warner Archive presents I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes for the first time on Blu-Ray with a 1080p transfer sourced from a new restoration. The image is nothing short of stunning for a film that has rarely been given much respect over the years. This black and white feature has nice, natural film grain throughout that provides a great amount of detail to the image. The presentation has a good amount of depth to it including in the shadows where there is no evidence of any black crush. Fine detail is very strong as you can see subtle details in the clothing and production design. Print damage is virtually nonexistent throughout the duration of the movie. This example of film preservation has brought a whole new life to the picture with a presentation that ranks among the top tier at a label known to be one of the best in the business. Warner Archive has saved another piece of film history with this excellent release.
This Blu-Ray release comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that sounds simply wonderful. The quick and deliberate delivery of the dialogue always comes through crystal clear. None of the sound effects or the moody score from Edward J. Kay ever overpowers the dialogue on this release. There are not many sequences that are kinetic here, but there are environmental details that are appropriately lively in the speakers. There does not appear to be any damage or age related wear to the track. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles available on the disc for those who need it. Overall, this is an excellent audio presentation that suits the material really well.
- Warner Short Drama – The Symphony Murder Mystery: A nearly 22-minute short film from 1932 in which two inspectors investigate the death of a cellist at a symphony hall from director Joseph Henabery. This is a pretty entertaining little mystery that is not in too bad of shape A/V quality wise.
- Warner Cartoon – Holiday For Shoestrings: A seven-minute 1946 animated Merrie Melodies short from Friz Freleng concerning a group of elves trying to help out a shoemaker with loads of classical music accompanying the piece. This is presented in HD and is a good time.
I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is an excellent, overlooked film noir that packs a lot of thrills into a short amount of time. There is not a false note amongst any of the performances and the direction from William Nigh shows a director in complete control of his craft. There may be a few moments that are not completely believable, but overall this story will leave you very entertained. Warner Archive has released a Blu-Ray featuring a fantastic A/V presentation and a couple of fun special features. If you are a fan of classic film noir, this is one you should definitely add to your shelf. Recommended
I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes can be purchased directly through the Warner Archive Amazon Store or various other online retailers.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Archive has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.