“Hell is Sold Out” (1951)
One need not be Ernst Lubitsch to direct a stylish romance, but on the evidence of “Hell is Sold Out”, it pays not to be Michael Anderson. It doesn’t matter that the plot , taken from a novel by Maurice Dekobra, is no more preposterous than most concocted for many celebrated Hollywood fabrications (certainly not those firmly footed in the dizzy realm of screwball comedy), but if the resultant movie cannot commit to whether it wishes to be amusing or dramatic, the rusty mechanics of forced contrivance are bound to assert themselves in pronounced ways that emphasize the deficiencies in writing, direction and the resultant disjointed performances.
Popular novelist and French Resistance fighter Dominic Danges (Herbert Lom), a POW mistakenly reported killed, returns to find his latest book has become a tremendous bestseller. The only problem is, he didn’t write it. Nor the one before that. Nor does he recognize Valerie Martin (Mai Zetterling), a Swedish woman who is masquerading as his widow, and who is the actual author of Danges’ two fraudulent works. Predictable complications arise concerning Dominic’s continued literary reputation and the usual love/hate signals shot back and forth between Dominic and Valerie, temporarily complicated by Danges’ POW buddy Pierre (Richard Attenborough) whose feelings toward Valerie creates a romantic triangle that is sensed by all but never explicitly articulated.
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