Director Robert Sidomak, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, and Paul Kelly. This film has been off the radar for most Noir fans and after seeing Sidomak's The Phantom Lady, Christmas Holiday, The Killers, Cry of the City, and Criss Cross, I had high hopes. I sort of thought in the back of my mind that he was on a roll and discounted The Spiral Staircase as an aberration since it didn't quite fit the right "noir" time period much like Gaslight, The Tall Target and The Strange Woman definitely noir in style but some how off.
The File on Thelma Johnson is sort of a "Noir Light", no dark back streets, no sleaze, light on atmosphere. Its entertaining enough but not, in my opinion, in the same class as Sidomak's other Noirs.
This IMDb poster critiques it pretty spot on:
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not entirely without interest, this is a rather dark story of Wendell Corey, an Assistant D.A. alienated from his wife and two children, who bumps into Barbara Stanwyck by accident and falls for her. They have a secret affair. Then Stanwyck's wealthy old auntie is shot and killed during a burglary and the evidence all points to Stanwyck, who is brought to trial. It seems like an easy case for the D.A.'s office except that the records show that Stanwyck has been receiving phone calls from a man who continually identifies himself by different names. Corey's boss, Paul Kelly, calls him "Mister X", and worries that the defense may introduce reasonable doubt using Mister X as the fomenter.
Now, Corey is in an uncomfortable position, to say the least. He's assigned to try the case, convict his lover, and send her to the gas chamber. But he has all kinds of problems. Not only is he devoted to her, not only is HE the mysterious Mister X, but he believes Stanwyck when she tells him she's innocent. He winds up sending her notes, advising her on who to hire as defense counsel, and he sends her five thousand bucks to manage expenses. Corey also decides to bungle the case in as nuanced a way as possible.
I ask you, the experienced viewer of old black-and-white crime dramas, is she innocent or is she setting up Corey as the fall guy? Stanwyck is set free. And Corey discovers there is another man in the picture. There have probably been OTHER men, as well. If he is Mister X, there was first a Mister A, then a Mister B, and then .... Mister n. (That's the way you denote a finite string of variables of unknown length in statistics.) Stanwyck spills the beans to Corey. This is known as "cooling out the mark". But she does a very clumsy job of it, leaving Corey in a state of humiliation and despair. Stanwyck has shown no remorse so far. But as she is driving away towards a new life with her Greaseball boyfriend behind the wheel, she decides to coagulate his eyeball with the car's red-hot cigarette lighter and, well, there is a fiery plunge off a cliff, and she winds up dying on a hospital bed. After she makes her final confession to Paul Kelly, she passes away peacefully, the vehicular catastrophe not having disfigured her in any way, her hair and make up impeccably done. Not even her false eyelashes have been disturbed.
This movie must have been made after "Double Indemnity" because it follows the same trajectory, more or less. I much prefer the original, or even the remake, of "Double Indemnity," but this isn't an insulting copy, only a less original one.
A couple of things to add, it wasn't quite believable that Stanwyck would really fall for Corey as portrayed when he is on his "bender", perhaps its a mark of the times and how we look at drunks nowadays, but she seemed way too accommodating upon this first viewing. Add that there was no chemistry doesn't help.
The first meeting between Stanwyck & drunk Corey
Corey passed out in a restaurant
Stanwyck's Aunt in a noir-ish sequence
Stanwyck & the cigarette lighter in a moving vehicle
I'll give it a 6.5/10.