The 1953 film noir, Wicked Woman, opens with a bus coming to a stop in a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Getting off the bus is Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels). From the minute she starts walking through the town, it’s obvious that Billie may not have a home and she may not have a lot of money but what she does have is total and complete confidence in herself. Nobody tells Billie Nash what to do! When she movies into a boarding house (the rent is $6 a week!), she’s leered at by her new neighbor, the diminutive Charlie Borg (Percy Helton, a character actor who will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent a week bingeing on TCM.)
It turns out to be a rather low-rent boarding house. The landlady may be found of shouting, “I run a respectable place!” but nothing about this location seems to support that claim. Billie has one room to herself. The bathroom is down the hall. A pay phone sits in the hallway. Billie actually has to spend money to make a phone call. Fortunately, Charlie Borg is always around and willing to loan her money. In fact, when Billie says that she needs twenty dollars to buy a new outfit, Charlie hands it over and asks Billie to thank him by going out to dinner with him sometime. Even though she has no intention of ever spending any lengthy amount of time with Charlie, Billie says sure. Money is money. You do what you have to do.
(Myself, I’d just like to live in a time when it only cost $20 to buy a new outfit.)
Once Billie finally manages to get Charlie to stop bugging her, she goes down to the local bar and applies for a job. It’s not much of a bar but, again, money is money. The bar is owned by Dora Bannister (Evelyn Scott), an alcoholic who asks Billie if she’s sure that she can the bar’s “rough crowd.” Billie assures her that there’s no one so rough that she can’t handle and, as played by Beverly Michaels, you never doubt that she’s telling the truth.
Soon, Billie is flirting with the bar’s handsome bartender, Matt (Richard Egan). Matt is ambitious and hard-working and, after just a few nights, he’s absolutely crazy about Billie. The only problem is that Matt is not only married but he’s married to Dora! That doesn’t matter to Billie. In fact, she’s even come up with a scheme to steal not only Matt but also the bar from Dora.
Unfortunately, for Billie, the walls at the boarding house are extremely thin and Charlie overhears her and Matt scheming. It turns out that Charlie’s not quite as clueless as he seems and soon, he’s blackmailing Billie. He really wants that date….
Wicked Woman is a wonderfully sordid, low-budget film noir, one that features just a little bit of everything. Adultery, blackmail, sex, addiction …. it’s all here and it’s impossible not to be entertained by the film’s over-the-top melodrama. While both Richard Egan and Percy Helton are memorable as the two men in her life, the film is pretty much stolen by Beverly Michaels. Whether coolly glaring at Charlie or giving a little smile after having done something particularly manipulative, there’s rarely a time that Billie isn’t in complete control of her destiny. Beverly Michaels is a force of nature in this film and she turns “wicked” into a compliment.