Universal producer Ross Hunter is famous for high budget spectacles featuring the studio's staple acting duo, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, but early in his career he did a low budget film noir nugget featuring noted femme fatale Gloria Grahame in a different type of role.
"Naked Alibi" was released in 1954. That same year Hunter scored with one of his major high budget triumphs with the adaptation of the Lloyd Douglas bestseller "Magnificent Obsession," which propelled Rock Hudson into the top ranks of international stardom playing opposite former "Best Actress" Academy Award recipient Jane Wyman.
Built around a tight budget, "Naked Alibi" proved once more the adage that with a sharply honed film noir script combined with good casting, along with disciplined direction and perceptive camera work, success can be achieved.
"Naked Alibi" was a product of its time and as one observes members of the cast an immediate connection is made toward television since so many achieved starring status in the home screen medium.
Hunter's shrewd casting instincts saw him pair Grahame alongside another legendary film noir performer, Sterling Hayden, who had already appeared in John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" and the following year would be seen in the movie that launched the major film directing career of Stanley Kubrick, "The Killing."
Hayden played a similar role for Huston and Kubrick, a loner and second tier criminal hoping to achieve one big payoff that would provide him with the good life and retirement from life's rat race.
Director Jerry Hopper, who became a top television director, including 11 episodes of "Burke's Law" starring Gene Barry, made convincing use of the staple Hayden crisp, masculine, no nonsense delivery and manner. It was just that in this case he was portraying a fired chief of detectives determined to prove that he had been correct all along in the incident that caused his dismissal.
The film begins with Gene Barry being held by police for drunkenness and disorderly conduct, but what they are really concerned about is whether he was involved in a series of local jewel thefts. While emphatically denying his innocence of all charges, including the one for which he is being held, Barry strikes one of Hayden's lieutenants, Max Showalter, then using the professional name of Casey Adams, just as Hayden arrives on the scene.
The story takes a clever spin when, after regaining sobriety and cooling off, Barry apologizes to Hayden for striking the officer and assures him that he is really a good citizen. The question is, should he be believed?
Not long thereafter Showalter is gunned down, while two other police detectives meet death in an automobile explosion. Hayden is convinced that Barry is responsible for the deaths and remembers well Barry's telling Showalter that he would "get even."
Hayden's powerful belief is contrasted with the image of Barry as a married man running a bakery and living in a modest apartment in the same building. Hayden's determination to prove that Barry is the killer causes him to apply constant pressure.
On one occasion while pressuring Barry to confess to killing Showalter he reaches out and grabs him. A photographer snaps an incriminating picture, which conveys the misleading impression, due to the position of the officer's hands as he lunges, that Hayden was attempting to strangle Barry.
The upshot of the picture incident results in Hayden losing his job, increasing his determination to prove that Barry is the killer. When he begins haunting Barry the bakery owner tells his loving wife Marcia Henderson that he needs to take a vacation until things cool down.
Cooling down is the opposite of what Barry does romantically when he arrives in a town on the Mexico border and renews a torrid romance with Gloria Grahame, who enters the film for the first time well into it. This is reminiscent of her "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar for "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and "Crossfire" (1947).
As traditional, Grahame ignites fireworks, but not as a cheating wife as in the 1952 Vincente Minnelli film or as a taxi dancer who refuses to help a soldier when she can clear him of a potential murder charge in Edward Dmytryk's "Crossfire."
While continuing her relationship with Barry, someone she met in New Orleans during her widely traveled life, and after Barry's muscle men rough Hayden up after he arrives in town to pursue him, Grahame gets acquainted with her new neighbor down the hall and the very thing that her ill-tempered boyfriend fears will occur does.
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