10 mars 1949. Notre passant cinéphile hésite. En ce jeudi brumeux, il ne sait pas quoi voir. Un film noir ? Un film fantastique ? Et pourquoi pas les deux ! Et pourquoi pas les deux en un ! Direction le Paramount pour découvrir ce Alias Nick Beal.
Critique d’époque :
« At the beginning of the new picture presented yesterday at the Paramount we are informed that the seed of destruction lurks within us all, waiting the chance to take root and destroy our moral fiber. This corner will buy that as sound logic and it also will buy a sizable chunk of Alias Nick Beal as an arresting, expertly tuned morality drama calculated to hold attention the while it drives home a pointed lesson about the dangerous consequences of pride, greed and lust for power.
But this corner will not go all out for Alias Nick Beal, despite the noble intent of its authors, Jonathan Latimer and Mindret Lord, the intelligent performing of the cast and the suspenseful directing by John Farrow. Reservation is taken on the ground that the writers and the director failed to bring their picture to as successful and convincing a conclusion as one had been led to expect. Moreover, there is something disconcerting about the mortal and supernatural manner in which the devil himself is permitted to function in the person of Ray Milland. To give the old menace his full due, he is quite a suave and handsome operator in Mr. Milland’s expert hands. However, if he is to be represented in mortal form, then why permit him to vanish into, and appear out of, the air time and again ?
That last, however, is not too serious, for Alias Nick Beal relates an interesting story about a man who compromises his conscience once and goes down hill from there on without being really conscious of how he is changing. The central character is a district attorney, a hot candidate for the governorship if he succeeds in convicting a certain racketeeer. Joseph Foster is an honest, fearless and selfless man with a burning conviction that he is acting solely in the public interest. Vital, missing evidence to win his case is made available to him by a mysterious gent named Nick Beal. Foster half realizes that the manner in which he obtains the evidence is not orthtodox, yet he takes full advantage of the opportunity.
Under Nick Beal’s influence he becomes possessed with the idea of being Governor and further compromises his integrity until he is as dishonest himself as the crooked politicians his reform party is out to defeat. Thomas Mitchell is giving a fine, thoughtful performance as Joseph Foster and he builds a creditable characterization of an intelligent man, blinded by flattery, who gradually sacrifices his principles. Since it just wouldn’t do to let such a respected public servant take over the state and traffic with the evil forces which got him elected, Foster makes a complete confession and resigns his office during what was to have been his acceptance address.
Due to the fine acting and the wily direction, the story plays exceptionally well, but the script tends to be somewhat wobbly and indecisive upon reflection. For one thing if you stop to think about it (the director keeps his screen occupied sufficiently to divert too much attenion to story details), it is not easy to understand how a man of such ovbious discernment as Foster could so easily be taken in by a character who has a way on popping up out of nowhere. That is the disquieting aspect about Alias Nick Beal, and how it could have escaped the notice of a practiced band like Mr. Farrow is perplexing.Audrey Totter, George Macready and Geraldine Wall figure preminently in the small but expert cast which supports Mr. Milland and Mr. Mitchell. They all aid in glossing over the film’s imperfections and raising it to the level of interesting, good-for-the-soul entertainment« . Par T.M.P. pour le New York Times.
T.M.P. a aimé le film mais trouve son final bancal et, après réflexion, le scénario un peu trop simple. Il souligne cependant que l’interprétation est de très bonne qualité tout comme la réalisation de John Farrow.
Ma chronique d’Un Pacte avec le Diable (Alias Nick Beal) est lisible ici.