No Questions Asked (1951)
Directed by Harold F. Kress
Produced by Nicholas Nayfack
Screenplay by Sidney Sheldon
Story by Berne Giler
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography by Harold Lipstein
Edited by Joseph Dervin
Poor Steve Keiver (Barry Sullivan)… He’s got blinders on and can’t see anything in the world except his fiancée Ellen. (Who could blame him? It’s Arlene Dahl, for cryin’ out loud!) When Keiver picks her up at the airport after she’s been away on a skiing vacation, Ellen tells him if he really wants to marry her, he needs to find a way to make more money at his job as an insurance investigator. Salivating all the way, Keiver implores his boss Henry Manston (Moroni Olsen) to bump up his salary. Nothing doing, Manston tells him, times are hard. But Manston does have a plan: if Keiver can find someone to recover some stolen furs, thereby keeping the insurance company from having to pay out, it would be worth $10,000 for the person who can pull it off. Although Keiver has absolutely no knowledge of how the criminal underworld works, he obviously knows how Ellen works, and in order to keep her, he takes on the assignment himself, diving in head-first.
I’ve never been a huge Barry Sullivan fan, but as Keiver, he manages to convey just enough bravado to cover up for his cluelessness. (Think about a slightly less-ridiculous Chevy Chase in the 1970s and 80s and you’ve got the picture.) Give Keiver credit: he’s smart enough to know that he can keep making deals with thieves for the return of other stolen goods, thereby earning reward money for himself while keeping the insurance company from having to write any big checks. What Keiver’s doing is just barely legal and a suspicious police inspector (George Murphy) is keeping a close watch on him. But as far as Keiver’s concerned, this is all for Ellen, right? Well… I’m not going to tell you what happens, but you’re going to see more of Ellen as well as a woman Keiver’s known for a long time, Joan Brenson (Jean Hagen, below).
No Questions Asked contains a surprising and well-executed scene in a women’s powder room and a pretty nifty ending involving a swimming pool. The film drags a bit in the middle, but emerges as a solid film noir, one that should certainly get more respect. Sidney Sheldon (who would become a best-selling novelist) delivers a script that contains several nice moments, plus you’ve got Arlene Dahl, and even better, Jean Hagen, one of my favorite actresses from the classic Hollywood era. You may not know of Harold F. Kress’s other directorial work since he only directed a handful of films, but he had a much longer career as an editor for such films as Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Home from the Hill, How the West Was Won, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and many others. No Questions Asked is worth seeking out. Not long ago, it played on TCM’s Noir Alley, hosted by Eddie Muller. (You can see Muller’s intro and closing comments.) The film is also available on DVD from Warner Archive.
Photos: DVD Beaver