The 1946 film noir, Accomplice, tells the story of Simon Lash (Richard Arlen).
Now, I guess if you have a name like Simon Lash, you’re pretty much destined to become a private detective. In this case, Lash is both a detective and an attorney. I did some research — which is a fancy way of saying that I checked with Wikipedia — and what I discovered is that there was apparently quite a few stories written about Simon Lash. He was a pulp hero created by Frank Gruber. Gruber went on to write the screenplay for Accomplice, which was based on the novel Simon Lash, Private Investigator. I don’t know if this was the only Simon Lash film or not. If there were more Simon Lash films, let’s hope they found a more interesting actor than Richard Arlen to play him.
Yes, indeed, Richard Arlen makes for a rather dull hero in Accomplice. Physically, he seems like he’s right for the role. You look at Richard Arlen and you can imagine him beating someone up. But, in this film at least, he has a boring screen presence that makes it difficult to really get invested in Simon as a character. He doesn’t have the wounded cynicism of Humphrey Bogart or the killer eyes of Alan Ladd. He’s just kind of there.
Simon Lash is hired by his ex-fiancée, Joyce (Veda Ann Borg), to track down here husband. Joyce claims that her husband is president of a huge bank and that he’s suffering from amnesia. Simon doesn’t quite trust Joyce and he worries that she’s actually using him to dig up dirt for a divorce. Simon doesn’t work divorce cases. Apparently, it’s a matter of honor for him. Not surprisingly, it does turn out that Joyce hasn’t been totally honest with Simon. Of course, it also turns out that Joyce’s husband has some secrets and tricks of his own.
Indeed, it’s a very complex story, which is something I appreciated. I always love all the twists and turns of a typical California noir and this one had several. It all eventually led to a shoot out at a castle in the desert and again, that’s exactly what you want a film like this to lead to. Accomplice is only 66 minutes long and, as such, it never drags and the double and triple-crosses all come quickly. That’s definitely a good thing.
Unfortunately, despite all of that, the film itself falls flat. The main problem is one that I already pointed out. Richard Arlen is just not a very compelling hero. While Veda Ann Borg has the right look to play a femme fatale, she still has a strangely bland screen presence in this film. It’s easy to imagine her trying to fool someone but it’s next to impossible to believe that she could actually do it. She’s just a bit too boring for the role. With different actors in the lead roles, Accomplice could have been a classic low-budget noir. (Seriously, just imagine the film if it had reunited Detour’s Tom Neal and Anna Savage as Simon and Joyce.) As it is, Accomplice is a bit of a disappointment. The possibilities are more fun than the execution.