She Played with Fire (Fortune Is a Woman) DVD Review: Jack Hawkins, Ladies Man?

Some people you simply don’t associate with certain types of roles. Like Rosie O’Donnell as Betty Rubble. Or John Wayne as Genghis Khan. And then there’s the case of English actor Jack Hawkins (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Ben-Hur) – a highly respected though-rather-bulldog-faced actor – inhabiting the role of a chick magnet, as he did in the superb-yet-sadly-underrated 1957 British film noir flick Fortune Is a Woman. Released in the United States the following year under the less-imaginative title She Played with Fire, the tale stars Hawkins as Oliver Branwell (not Oliver Cromwell): an insurance investigator for Lloyds of London who winds up getting himself tangled up in a decidedly sordid mess.

Upon a routine assignment to check out damage done by a small fire at the remote rural estate of the Moretons, Oliver runs into his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Arlene Dahl – not Roald Dahl), who is now married to the wealthy Tracey Moreton (Dennis Price – not Vincent Price). His infatuation with his long-lost love instantly rekindles itself (which isn’t the best thing in such circumstances, needless to say) and he soon begins to overlook things that would normally raise a red flag: such as seeing a valuable classic painting of the Moreton Estate months later in the London flat of a floozy female (Greta Gynt) – a work of art that was supposedly destroyed in the Moreton fire.

Soon, more irregularities begin to pop up. Things like a dead body in a house that is about to go up in flames. You know, bad stuff like that. Unfortunately, our hero (who narrates his own plight of frequently stupid behavior) just isn’t too terribly talented at settling the problems that keep occurring around him – especially once he begins to realize that he himself may have been picked out to be the patsy from square one by the unknown antagonists at work here in this stylish and highly enjoyable thriller. Future James Bond Minister of Defence Geoffrey Keen (in his younger days) gets a larger role than most of us who have only ever seen him in 007 features are used to (as Hawkins’ boss), and an even younger Christopher Lee has a small-but-memorable role as an actor with a black eye.

The filmmaking duo of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder – no strangers to such a genre as this – brought us this delightful crime drama, based on a novel by Poldark creator Winston Graham (not Gerrit Graham). Sony’s lineup of Manufactured-on-Demand, the Sony Pictures Choice Collection, brings us this forgotten gem to DVD-R in a beautiful-looking transfer that presents the feature in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a crisp and clean mono soundtrack. There are no special features to be found here (or menu: the movie just loops), but then, a rarity like this – with Jack Hawkins taking on the role of the good-looking guy to boot – is worth the price of admission alone.

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Luigi Bastardo

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