“No mind, no memory.”
High Wall is one of several films made after World War II to deal with war injuries to the brain and shock of fighting and violence. It has the same plot of several film Noirs where a man is thought guilty of a crime he did not commit. Psychology is used here to unblock the mind of the accused to find who the real killer is.
Willard Whitcombe (Herbert Marshall) sent his assistant, Mrs. Kenet, to his home to pick up some papers hours ago and has not come back to the office. His secretary tells him that Mrs. Kenet’s husband has come home from the war after two years away and she will not be back for the rest of the day.
Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor) has his dead wife in the front seat next to him. The police catch up to him and he tries to drive his car into a shallow river. At the police station Steven confesses to killing his wife by strangling her in the park and then tried to kill himself. A police psychologist points out Steven has had surgery on his head and must be taken to an asylum for observation. The doctors at the asylum show in his x-ray that he has a hematoma that is pressing on his brain and causing him to have pain both physical and mental as well as memory loss that causes blackouts.
Dr. Ann Lorrison (Audrey Totter) is assigned to Steven. He tells her to go away he refuses to sign the consent form for surgery. The DA thinks Steven is just holding out to stall the trial. He also thinks a not sent from the doctor who treated Steven in Burma is another reason to delay the trial. The doctor in Burma wrote that Steven suffered from the same brain trouble the asylum doctor diagnosed. Dr. Lorrison and one of her colleagues go to Steven’s home. They find his son alone and the grandmother lying dead on the floor. Back at the hospital Steven admits that he does not want the surgery so he can just stay in the asylum instead of going to trial. Dr. Lorrison tells him that his mother died from heart failure over what happened to him. Everything that happened to his wife and to him was too much on her heart. She also tells him his son is now staying in an orphanage. He cannot give in to escape from reality he has to have the surgery. When Dr. Lorrison goes home Steve’s son Richard is there. She received permission from the court to let Richard stay with her.
Dr. Lorrison gets a call from the asylum that Steven has agreed to the surgery because of what she told him about his son. Sometime after the surgery, Dr. Lorrison does not think Steven is ready to stand trial. He refuses to have drug therapy that will him recall his memory from the night his wife died. The DA and others in the hospital believe that Steve’s refusal to drug therapy is his admission of guilt that he is hiding something. They keep Steven in the hospital. Dr. Lorrison was giving Steven a grip test when he uses both hands he asks how long it would take to strangle someone.
Willard Whitcombe was walking out of his apartment when the elevator repairman stops him. He tells Willard his arthritis is bothering him and it takes a lot of money to move down to Florida where the weather is nice. A few months previous he saw a woman walk into Willard’s apartment but he never saw her walk out. The repairman decides to go to Steve to try to blackmail him as well. He knows what happened to his wife he is willing to say so in a court of law. Unfortunately before the trail Willard kills the repairman by pushing him down the elevator shaft.
Now that the repairman can no longer testify Steven wants to be put under hypnosis. He remembers coming home and trying to find his wife Helen at the office. The secretary sends him to Willard’s apartment. He sees his wife in Willard’s apartment and sees her things all over the apartment. Steven goes to strangle her but before he does he passes out. When Steven comes to he finds the apartment as mess and Helen is dead. He also noticed that there was something missing from when he first walked into the apartment. Dr. Lorrison thinks that Steven built up resentment towards his wife because she was mad at him for being away for so long and not earning as much as he used to.
With Dr. Lorrison’s help, Steven manages to make Willard confess to killing Helen.
Robert Taylor was incredible in this film. I am so used to seeing him either as a handsome 1930s heartthrob or an older man in films from the 1950s. This role, I think, really stretched his acting ability. In his earlier films it always felt like he was wooden and playing the same character over and over again. I could not get over how handsome he was maybe it was his character’s anguish! Audrey Totter I have never seen in a film before this. I thought she was alright. I have seen her name come up a few times when I went looking for some Film Noirs. I cannot imagine her being the female lead in a Noir she does not look like a femme fatale or Noir type. I thought Totter was good in her role of Ann Lorrison because she looked like a repressed asylum psychologist. She almost reminded me of Ingrid Bergman at the beginning of Spellbound. Herbert Marshall was miscast as the killer. He played the cold blooded parts well but he was not as menacing as the character should have been.
High Wall is a very good Film Noir. As I wrote at the beginning the plot is one that was done in several Noirs where the man comes back from War and he has been changed in some way. Something happens to someone he knows, he is blamed, and he has to prove his innocence. I did not mind this reuse of this plot because it was a good story and the character of Steve was done and played very well. We know who the killer is we are not surprised there but it is how Steven and Ann get the killer that is fun to watch. High Wall is not one of the best Film Noirs but it is very good and keeps you the edge of your seat.