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The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950) (aka Thelma Jordon)

In this melodramatic film noir story (sometimes dated as 1949) - the last noir directed by Robert Siodmak, it centered around a mysterious, duplicitous and treacherous femme fatale - the film's title character - who used a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny (in a conspiracy with her sinister, estranged husband/boyfriend); it has frequently been compared to André De Toth's Pitfall (1948), and to Billy Wilder's masterpiece Double Indemnity (1944) - its story told of a seductress who fell in love with her fellow co-conspirator and then became treacherous. Two taglines described her ferocious nature:



  • in the story set in the 1940s somewhere in Southern California in late May, Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) - unannounced, arrived late one evening in the office of Chief Investigator Miles Scott (Paul Kelly). There, the flirtatious dame found unhappily-married, 35 year-old Assistant District Attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Cory) alone and on a binge, feeling trapped by his family ties and responsibilities. He was deliberately a no-show for his anniversary with his wife Pamela (Joan Tetzel) - she was more loyal to her wealthy and over-bearing father (a retired judge), and constantly criticized Cleve, pushing him to heavy drinking after working hours
Entrance of Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck): "Excuse me"
  • Thelma arrived with a simple knock on the door and the words "Excuse me." She entered the open-doored office - to report a crime, noting: "I wish so much of crime didn't take place after dark. It's most unnerving." She soon chose him as the duped fall-guy when she told about the threat of a prowler and attempted burglaries at her wealthy aunt's mansion where she lived
  • after he helped her to fix a parking ticket on her car parked outside, Thelma captured the emotionally-dependent heart of the intelligent and noble Cleve. They ended up at a restaurant where he insisted on dancing with her, even though the establishment was closing: ("This is wonderful. 'S our anniversary. How long has it been? Three hours"). Thelma was compelled to throw him out of her car when he claimed he loved her, but she then became briefly passionate with him by embracing and kissing him: "Maybe I am just a dame and didn't know it. Maybe I like being picked up by a guy on a binge..."
  • the next day after the work day was over, Thelma approached Cleve outside his office with the admission: "My crystal ball was right. You are married." She had discussed her report of attempted theft at her home with investigator Miles Scott earlier in the day, and a plainclothesman named Thompson was sent to patrol the house. Cleve briefly apologized for his forward behavior toward Thelma before she drove off. When Cleve returned home, he found Pamela packing - but still vowing her love for him. She was leaving with their two children for their customary summer stay at their beach home (June 1st-Sept 1st). He decided to remain behind (except on some weekends) to allow him to be free to date Thelma
  • soon enough, Thelma led Cleve on (she claimed that she was "full of emptiness" since their first meeting), and arranged to go out to dinner with him. During their short conversation, she revealed some of her past to him. As they said goodnight, he revealed that he was entranced by her: "I don't care what happens. I've got to see you often" - and they shared another kiss. When Thelma approached her house in the dark, she was startled when she was intercepted by a shady looking character named Tony Laredo (Richard Rober), who had eavesdropped on their kiss: "I hate to be an eavesdropper." He immediately demanded a kiss as well.
  • date after date followed between Cleve and Thelma, as she manipulatively engaged in an adulterous and illicit (but genuine) love affair with him. She laid on the romance thick during lovers' lane encounters: "I only know I think of you all day and all night, what I'll wear so you'll look at me with that look in your eyes like now, what I'll say to you: 'I can't see you anymore,' and what I'll do the next time you take me in your arms."
  • then, she confessed (falsely) to him that she had lovelessly married a nefarious gambler named Tony Laredo whom she met at a roulette table, in order to get into show business as a "glamorous" actress. However, he was unfaithful to her and stayed with her until her money gave out, which was when they separated. She lied when Cleve asked if she had seen him lately. Cleve compelled Thelma to repeat the following vow to him: "I don't think of him anymore because of you." They made plans to get away for the weekend, and Thelma wrote a note to her Aunt Vera Edwards (Gertrude Hoffman) about her trip
  • that Friday - a stormy night, Thelma's elderly Aunt Vera was awakened by shutters and doors banging and other noises downstairs. She grabbed a .32 revolver and soon after as she entered the library door, a shot (and flash) rang out in the dark. She was murdered in her home - a shocking scene about mid-way through the film. (It was unclear whether Thelma or Tony had committed the murder.)

Aunt Vera With .32 Revolver Before Her Murder

Cleve and Thelma with Aunt Vera's Body
  • Cleve spoke on the phone to a frantic Thelma ("Something's happened!"), and was summoned to the house and the crime scene where Thelma divulged: "She's dead, shot." Her first inclination was that Tony might have returned and could have been the killer. She explained that ages ago, she had told Tony about Aunt Vera's valuable $200,000 emerald necklace (that was now missing), and didn't want to be implicated. Cleve assured Thelma: "We're not going to let them suspect you."
  • Cleve urged Thelma to go back into the house, scream, and then call the police. But first, he helped her to reconstruct an 'untouched' version of the crime scene (she was instructed to replace any fingerprints that she had rubbed off to make it look like an inside job - prints on the safe, on the room's light switch, and on the body), so that neither of them (or Tony) would be suspected of foul play or tampering with evidence. Thelma found her note to Aunt Vera and hid it. Cleve told Thelma to shut off the lights and to pretend that she was asleep when the police arrived.
  • afterwards, as the mansion's butler Sidney (Harry Antrim) entered the house from the servant's quarters, Cleve exited through the window where the burglar supposedly came in, and left footprints in the mud. He fled to his summer beach house, where he admitted to Pamela that he was "playing around", but didn't want a divorce ("I still love you")
  • during an investigation into the murder, it was determined that Thelma was never married to Tony, and that he had called from Chicago - presumably to create an alibi for himself. Thelma admitted her lie about being married to Tony, and Cleve promised to help: ("I'll do anything possible, anything") by hiring experienced attorney Kingsley Willis (Stanley Ridges) from San Francisco to defend Thelma. At that point, Thelma, a prime suspect, was arrested and booked for murder
  • Cleve also supported manufactured suspicion about an unseen accomplice dubbed "Mr. X" (actually Cleve himself, although it was implied that it was Thelma's estranged boyfriend Tony), who was called to the crime scene and was briefly seen fleeing through a window, but unidentified by the mansion's butler Sidney
  • a grand jury swiftly indicted Thelma for the murder (her Aunt's recently-rewritten will in her favor was a major factor), and the jewels were recovered. The DA assigned to the case was Cleve's boss Melvin Pierce (Barry Kelley), but he was soon removed and replaced by Cleve himself, who took up the prosecution on her behalf. The misguided and self-deluding, love-struck Cleve threw aside his family, future, and honor to secretly help defend Thelma, even though he was charged with prosecuting her, and knew that she was the cold-blooded, calculating murderess
  • (To Cleve's shock, it was also revealed by Pamela that her father had hired a detective to follow Cleve - and had uncovered his affair with another woman - the woman he was prosecuting in the trial.)

Thelma Indicted For Murder

Thelma on Trial with Her SF Defense Lawyer Willis

Thelma Conferring With Her Own Prosecutor - Her Lover Cleve
  • during the trial as Cleve attempted to manipulate the case in Thelma's favor, evidence was revealed that Thelma had led a dark life of blackmail, minor thefts, and gambling during her relationship with her partner-in-crime Tony in Florida. As a bleached blonde (seen in a photo) with a checkered past, she had been arrested in a gambling raid. Cleve was able to circumvent the revealed, damaging evidence of Thelma's earlier indiscretions. Due to "reasonable doubt," circumstantial evidence, and the possibility that "Mr. X" might have committed the crime, she was found not guilty.
  • after the trial, Thelma inherited her Aunt's house and was extremely wealthy. Cleve came to the house during a post-trial rendezvous between Thelma and Tony, who were packing to leave (and had planned the robbery-murder a long time ago). She admitted that Tony had reappeared from Chicago for her, and that she was planning to flee with Tony and live off her Aunt's inheritance ("He's come after me. I'm going away with him")
  • during a final confrontation, Thelma's lies and guilt eventually caught up with her. Cleve was humiliated when told that she loved Tony instead of him: ("He's part of it - he's all of it. I've always loved him...You must have known, except you didn't want to know"). She also confessed that she had killed her Aunt Vera, and that Cleve had been set up to help defend her: ("I killed her... I'd like to say I didn't intend to kill her, but when you have a gun, you always intend if you have to. You were the fall guy, Cleve, right from the beginning").
  • Tony knocked out Cleve from behind with two blows from his gun, and then Tony and Thelma fled together to go away. She struggled with accomplice Tony as he drove on a winding mountain road, trying to injure him by bashing him in the head with a burning-hot dashboard cigarette lighter. He died when their car crashed through a barrier over a cliff and burst into flames, while Thelma was hospitalized with lethal injuries when thrown from the wreckage
  • in Thelma's deathbed scene in Mercy Hospital, she made a full confession to chief investigator Miles Scott, except she withheld the identification of her accomplice "Mr. X." When Cleve arrived and asked why she had withheld Mr. X's identity, she explained her remorse and that she really loved him:

    Miles: "She's confessed everything, except who Mr. X is."
    Cleve (to Thelma): "Why don't you tell him?"
    Thelma: "I love him, that's why. I couldn't go on with him, Cleve. You did that for me. I'm glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad."
    Cleve: "Save your strength, darling."
    Thelma: "Willis said I was two people. He was right. You don't suppose they could just let half of me die?"

  • she died after her redemptive act. The suspicious Miles realized that Cleve was the mysterious "Mr. X" who had deliberately thrown the case as her prosecutor, because he believed in her. Cleve confirmed there was more to it: "I loved her."
  • in the film's epilogue, Cleve resigned after confessing his complicity to the DA. His law practice career was in shambles and his marriage was broken ("I'll get in touch with her later") - he said farewell to Miles and walked off alone into the shadows, basically having lost everything.

ADA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Cory)

Cleve Dancing with Thelma on Their First Night

Passionate Kiss in Car Between Thelma and Cleve

Cleve's Wife Pamela (Joan Tetzel)

Thelma Leading Cleve On

Also - A Visit and Kiss From Tony

More Intimacy with Cleve

Thelma Plotting with Cleve to Help Her Beat Charges of Murder

Her Past Criminal Life with Tony - Thelma as Bleached Blonde in Florida

Thelma Claiming She Was "Petrified with Fear" About the Case

Procession to the Court For the Verdict

Verdict: Not Guilty

Thelma With Tony - Her Real Lover

Thelma Admitting Her Love For Tony to Cleve

Attack on Tony With Car Cigarette Lighter

Thelma's Confession on Her Deathbed

Thelma's Death with Cleve


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