The 1947 film noir, Framed, is the story of a loser.
That, in itself, is not a surprise. The loser who finds himself stranded in a strange place where he’s manipulated by nearly everyone he meets is a film noir archetype. This is especially true when it comes to movies about men who end up getting manipulated by another film noir archetype, the femme fatale. I mean, let’s be honest. Most film noir “heroes” fall victim to their own desperation. If they weren’t so obviously desperate to find money or sex, they probably wouldn’t end up in the trouble that always seems to follow them around.
Framed tells the story of Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford). When we first meet Mike, he’s sitting behind the wheel of an out-of-control truck. While the truck recklessly speeds down a steep hill, Mike desperately tries to keep from crashing. It’s not until Mike pulls into a small town that he finally gets the truck to stop. Of course, in the process of stopping, he also dings the back of someone else’s pickup truck.
It turns out that, until recently, Mike was a mining engineer. After he lost his job, he found temporary employment as a truck driver. He needed the money so he didn’t bother to find out what he was hauling or even if the truck had working brakes. When Mike calls up the man who hired him and tells him that the owner of the pickup is demanding that Mike’s employer pay for the damage, the man hangs up on him. To recap, before we’re even 10 minutes into the movie, we’ve seen that Mike can be tricked into driving a truck with no brakes and that he can’t even convince his employer to help pay for the damage caused by those faulty brakes. In other words: Loser!
Anyway, the local cops are planning on tossing Mike in jail for reckless driving but fortunately, a local waitress, Paula Craig (Janis Carter), is willing to pay Mike’s fine. She even helps a drunken Mike find a hotel room. Is Paula doing all of this out of the goodness of her heart or is it all just a part of an elaborate scheme? While Mike is getting a job with a local prospector (Edgar Buchanan), Paula is meeting with her married boyfriend, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan), and bragging about how she’s finally found the perfect patsy.
Yes, to no one’s surprise, Paula and Steve have hatched a nefarious scheme and Mike is about to find himself stuck right in the middle of it. Of course, since this is a film noir, it should come as no surprise to learn that Paula and Steve are just as willing to double cross each other as they are Mike….
Framed is an entertaining if slightly predictable noir. From the minute that Paula first appears, we know that she’s not to be trusted but part of the fun of the film is that those of us in the audience are always a step or two ahead of poor Mike. You watch Mike in amazement that someone could be so dense but, at the same time, Glenn Ford is likable enough that you do hope that everything will turn out okay for him. As for the film’s main villains, Barry Sullivan is perfectly slick and sleazy as Steve Price but the film is really stolen by Janis Carter, who plays Paula as if she were a panther waiting to pounce on her prey.
Framed is a film that will definitely be enjoyed by those who appreciate the shadowy landscape of an old school film noir. It may not rewrite the rules of genre but it’s still an undeniably entertaining film about a loser and the people who use him.