Review of “Tension” (1949)

from YouTube

This is a slightly different take on our Saturday pizza and bad movie night, a noir from 1949.


Lt. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan), standing outside the door to the homicide (“a fancy word for murder”) division, introduces himself to the viewer. He says the only way he knows to break homicide cases is tension. “Everybody has a breaking point.”

We are next introduced to Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart), the night pharmacist at an all-night drugstore, the kind of place (according to the narration supplied by Lt. Bonnabel) that will supply you “raisins and radios, paregoric and phonographs, vitamin capsules and cap pistols. They’ll serve you a cup of coffee, sell you a pack of cigarettes or a postage stamp, and in a pinch, they’ll even fill a prescription for you.”

Quimby doesn’t mind the long hours. He’s saving up to buy a nice house for Claire (Audrey Totter), the lovely wife whom he loves and who he’s sure loves him in return–until he comes home to find her packing. She’s moving in with a real man, Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough), where she can spend her time barbecuing on the beach in Malibu.

After getting his rear end handed to him in a short bout of fisticuffs with the man who stole his wife, Quimby devises a scheme. He’ll take on a new weekend identity and kill Deager. He succeeds in creating the new persona, perhaps too well.Isn’t he surprised when Mrs. Quimby comes back home with her luggage and announces that someone shot Deager.


This has a lot of noir elements, particularly in the portrayal of the amoral Lt. Bonnabel. The lieutenant himself, as promised in the opening narrative, will do anything it takes to get suspects to break. At the very end, when the bad’un is shown up by an elaborate lie, one of the innocents points out that what Bonnabel said cannot be true. The lieutenant shrugs his shoulders and says setting ups the conditions he talked about would have been a lot of work.

Romance plays a large part in the narrative as well. Quimby loves his wife until she breaks his heart and humiliates him. Still, he wants her to return home to him. After this proves impossible, he meets Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse), someone more worthy of him. Doesn’t this give him a further motive for murder?

The ending was not a surprise. As promised, Lt. Bonnabel used deception and just plain meanness to get to the bottom of things. He’s not the kind of guy you’d want over for dinner.

Richard Basehart would go on to play Ishmael in 1956 in Moby Dick. Apparently, that wasn’t enough of the sea, for he played Admiral Harriman Nelson in the television show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968).

Lt. Bonnabel’s junior officer, the guy who did the legwork, was Lt. Edgar Gonsales (William Conrad). Conrad would go on to narrate The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and The Fugitive before he left the force and became a private detective in Cannon, Nero Wolfe, and Jake and the Fatman.

Director John (Jack) Berry was born Jak Szold in the Bronx, New York, the son of immigrant parents. Tension was the last film he directed in the United States before self-exile to Europe. He joined the Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and was blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House un-American Activities Committee.

Overall, I like this movie. I could not find it available for free download. We got our copy from the local library.

Title: Tension (1949)

Directed by
John Berry

Writing Credits
Allen Rivkin…(screen play)
John D. Klorer…(based on the story by) (as John Klorer)
John Berry…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Richard Basehart…Warren Quimby/Paul Sothern
Audrey Totter…Claire Quimby
Cyd Charisse…Mary Chanler
Barry Sullivan…Lt. Collier Bonnabel
Lloyd Gough…Barney Deager
Tom D’Andrea…Freddie
William Conrad…Lt. Edgar Gonsales

Released: 1949
Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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