When people think of a femme fatale in film noir, I am sure at least half of them think of Barbara Stanwyck in her dreadful blonde wig and anklet in "Double Indemnity". However, she spent a lot of time in the land of noir, in films like "Sorry, Wrong Number", "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" and the two that I am about to talk in a bit more detail. Sometimes the deadliest character, more often as the 40s turned into the 50s, she became the victim, like in "The Two Mrs Carrolls", or at least a victim of fate and circumstances, as in "No Man of Her Own". Personally, I like her more when she's a manipulative bitch ("Double Indemnity", "The File on Thelma Jordan").
"The Two Mrs Carrolls" is the only pairing of Bogart and Stanwyck. While on holiday, Geoffrey Carroll (Bogart) meets and falls in love with Sally Morton (Stanwyck). When she finds out he's married to an invalid she leaves him. After the death of the first Mrs Carroll, they marry and she inspires him to do some of his best work. All goes well until neighbour Alexis Smith comes into the scene and suddenly Sally starts suspecting things, but is unsure if it's all her imagination.
I have to admit I was completely drawn into the film. It has a well built element in suspense, which mounts quite well as the film progresses. It's clever enough to keep you wondering for a bit what is fact and what is fantasy. When you're certain - and you'll be before Sally, then it becomes a good cat and mouse game. Because of the second banana (i.e. the second male love interest) being just that, it contributes to absence of certainty about the ending. But it's not hard to see Hitchcock's influence in the film, especially "Rebecca" (the title reminiscent of the two Mrs de Winter) and "Suspicion" (a glass of milk as a key prop here as well). But while a good studio product, this is not in that league. If anything, the director's mark pales to WB 1940's style. Bogart wouldn't be my choice for this, but I was never his greatest fan. Still he pulls it off ok. Stanwyck does a bit more than in the following year's "Sorry, Wrong Number" which is quite pleasing. Alexis Smith is Alexis Smith trying her hardest to be an Hitchcock blonde. It's not a failure, but is not a success either. But my favourite is Ann Carter as the very quiet daughter who knows far more than she thinks - and that's a lot.
Mitchell Leisen's "No Man of Her Own" has elements of noir, but I am not entirely sure if that it can be as easily classified as "The Two Mrs Carrolls". Stanwyck plays a pregnant woman jilted by her lover (he gives her a train ticket and $5). On the train to San Francisco she meets a young woman, also pregnant, whose husband is taking her to meet her in-laws for the first time. Then the train crashes and there is a case of mistaken identity - that is, until the ex-lover returns.
While the film flows really well and I was really into it, I think something failed a bit. Considering how several things are presented in shades of grey throughout the film (I was left wondering how much Mrs Harkness knew), the ending is a tad too clean - Paramount or Leisen didn't seem willing to try to bend the rules a bit and give the audience something more satisfying (the closing voice-over is terrible). This is a pity, especially considering the engaging material. On the positive, I really liked the opening narration, suggesting marital problems but that ends with something slightly unexpected. Stanwyck and the supporting cast are great, especially Lyle Bettger as the ex-lover and Jane Cowl as the old Mrs Harkness. I still don't like John Lund, and considering that three of his most celebrated films (including his début) are by Mitchell Leisen, I'm wondering what were the director's feelings for his star.
In all, both films keep your attention, and both show Stanwyck still at her prime, nearly 20 years after the start of her film career. True, neither part is Phyllis Dietrichson, but then neither film is "Double Indemnity".