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Robert Young goes film noir in “They Won’t Believe Me”

Updated: Jun 24, 2022


Robert Young plays Wall Street broker Larry Ballentine, who meets his wife’s friend Janice Bell (Jane Greer) every Saturday at a Manhattan bar.

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Blu-ray; 1947; Not Rated

Best extra: None

MANY OF us Boomers grew up wishing Robert Young were our dad, the adoring father who knew best and always had time for us; or that he was our kindly family physician, Dr. Welby, making house calls guaranteed to cure whatever ailed us. “Father Knows Best” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.” filled many benign television hours in the 1950s and ’60s.

So for us it’s beyond shocking to see Young’s sweet face on a man charged with murder, or to hear him deliver an iconic film noir monotone narrative during flashbacks of his character’s misadventures and betrayals … let alone to hear him repeatedly call women “baby.” But that’s exactly what happens in RKO’s black and white feature, “They Won’t Believe Me,” a fine, startlingly dark melodrama directed by Irving Pichel, who also co-directed “The Most Dangerous Game,” a 1932 classic starring Joel McCrea and Fay Wray.

The combination of a sharp screenplay by Jonathan Latimer (“The Big Clock,” 1948; “Alias Nick Beal,” 1949) and uniformly excellent performances by Young, Susan Hayward, Jane Greer, Rita Johnson, and the supporting cast, makes this little-known 75-year-old gem an enduring treat.

(1) “They Won’t Believe Me” premiered on July 16, 1947, in New York City. (2) Defense Attorney Cahill (Frank Ferguson) says Larry Ballentine’s story is not pretty. He’s on trial for murder. (3&4) Larry takes the stand to tell his story and starts off with his relationship with Janice Bell, and how it started off innocently, but soon got serious. (4) Larry packs his suitcase to leave his wealthy wife Greta (Rita Johnson), to follow Janice to Montreal. But Mrs. B. is no fool, and she’s arranged a new home for them in Los Angeles and a new job for Larry.


The film begins in a sweltering courtroom, where Larry Ballentine (Young) is doing his best to explain the series of events that got him there. And, as his laid-back, Southern-drawling defense attorney (Frank Ferguson) notes, the story is not pretty. Working on Wall Street as a broker, Larry is married to Greta (Johnson), a beautiful blonde skinny version of Marilyn Monroe, who is also a very wealthy, very manipulative socialite. Larry’s been seeing Greta’s beautiful blonde friend, a women’s magazine writer, Janice (Greer) every Saturday for lunch. The couple have been deluding themselves that it’s a platonic relationship.

When they eventually profess love for each other, Janice tells Larry she’s an “all or nothing girl,” so he vows to leave Greta. But Mrs. B. is no fool, and has been aware of Larry’s trysts all along. As he’s packing to leave her, Greta sweetly tells him she’s already made arrangements for the couple to move from New York to a fabulous home in Los Angeles and has created a tempting career opportunity for him in the form of 25 percent of a brokerage company. He can’t resist all that wealth and luxury, and poor Janice is left holding her suitcase.

Despite his loveless marriage, Larry manages to enjoy his gain in stature as well as his swimming pool and tennis court until, at work, he meets the beautiful brunette, amoral secretary, Verna (Hayward). Verna’s been seeing Larry’s supervisor (Tom Powers) romantically, but has no qualms about also taking up with the handsome married man. Enter the canny Greta again, coaxing Larry into yet another move – this time, to a remote house (with no telephone!) in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The already-thick plot gets thicker when Larry, a relative prisoner in an empty marriage, decides to divorce Greta and run away with Verna. A series of tragedies ensue and Janice comes back into the picture in a surprise set-up that culminates in Larry’s murder trial.

Will the jury, made up of the most strait-laced, dour-looking motley crew you’ve ever seen, believe Larry’s wild – and highly implausible – story? From the movie’s title, we know what Larry thinks.

(1) Once in L.A. Larry finds himself attracted to the seductive Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward), a secretary in his firm. She tells Larry that she’s a gold digger. (2-4) Greta catches wind of Larry’s latest infidelity and they move again. This time to the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mammoth Lake, where they take up horseback riding.



This Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of the director’s original 95 minutes (“They Won’t Believe Me” had been shortened by 15 minutes for theatrical and television showings) is absolutely splendid. With a beautiful cinematic grain and terrific fine detail, every shot looks pristine, sourced from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio). Perfect contrast and excellent depth add to the viewing pleasure, even during the nighttime scenes and interiors.

The HD audio is also faultless, with dialogue clear, sound effects well-balanced and Roy Webb’s score always tastefully calibrated. Optional English subtitles are provided but, alas, no extras are offered on this disc.

— Peggy Earle

(1-3) The jury continues to listen to Larry’s story, which involves Verna again, $25,000, and marriage.


(1-3) Tragedy strikes twice with Larry, while a doublecross is orchestrated by his formal L.A. boss Trenton (Tom Powers). (4&5) The police follow Larry back to the house in the Sierras and he waits for the verdict.




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