This is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some small issues, not the least of which is the character of Steve Kenet. As portrayed by Mr. Taylor, Kenet is a violent man, with an instinct towards strangulation when he is riled. We see him attempt to kill two people, and he hurts several more. Yes, he has good reason to be angry at William Whitcombe (Herbert Marshall), and he has suspicions about his wife once he arrives at Whitcombe's home. Regardless, his murderous fury is out of place for a man who is ultimately trying to prove he is not a killer.
Kenet's predilection for violence also makes it hard for us to believe that Dr. Lorrison could have feelings for him. Let's start with the obvious - Ann is his doctor; he is her patient. It's totally unprofessional for her to go above her duties as a physician. Plus, she has offered to watch after his child (which, quite frankly, is a bit dodgy as well. One way or another, having the child in her care prejudices her opinion of him). Steve also unleashes his violent behavior in her direction - not exactly conducive to loving behavior.
These points aside, High Wall is a tight mystery that keeps you interested throughout. According to this TCM article, director Curtis Bernhardt wanted to show Kenet as a man damaged by the War. Both Bernhardt and Taylor were veterans; Taylor plays Kenet as someone who is perhaps suffering from PTSD, with violent surges followed by periods of blackout in which he doesn't remember his actions. It 's a conceit that works well IF you eliminate the love affair between Kenet and Lorrison.
We very much enjoyed Audrey Totter in the role of the psychiatrist. With the exception of her decidedly bad taste in men, Ms. Totter plays Lorrison as a professional woman who is confident in her ability to treat patients and bring them back to a mainstream life. Ms. Totter's career tended towards roles as second leads in A pictures (such as The Unsuspected 1947) or as the lead in B films. But her B films tended to be film noir, and she shone as the femme fatale. She was Robert Montgomery's object of lust in The Lady in the Lake (1946) and Richard Basehart's promiscuous wife in Tension (1949). In a 1999 New York Times article (an interview that included noir "dames" Marie Windsor, Coleen Gray and Jane Greer), Mr. Totter acknowledged that "the bad girls were so much fun to play..." When she and her husband, Dr. Leo Fred married (they were married from 1952 until his death in 1996), she slowed down her career to raise their daughter, occasionally appearing in television shows like Zane Grey Theatre and Lux Playhouse. She continued working until 1987 (her final appearance was in an episode of Murder, She Wrote). She died, age 95, in 2013.
If you are used to Herbert Marshall as a good guy, this film will quickly dissuade you that he is only capable of being a nice guy. He plays Whitcombe as a sociopath - only interested in himself and quite capable of doing whatever it takes to maintain his own status quo. Without giving too much away, there is one incident that is so sudden, and so cold-blooded that you will literally gasp as you watch it happen.
Screenwriter Lester Cole was called to appear before HUAC eight months after the release of this film, resulting in his imprisonment and blacklisting. This was the last script that was produced under his name (AFI catalog); he was able to get three others sold using fronts. His star in our film, Robert Taylor, testified to HUAC that Mr. Cole was a Communist.
The High Wall was produced as a radio play on the Lux Radio Theatre in November 1949, with Van Heflin and Janet Leigh and the leads. It received a positive review from Variety though it did not do well at the box office.
We'll leave you with this scene in which Mr. Taylor has a flashback. Next week, we'll be looking at another woman psychiatrist dealing with an accused murderer.