In 1947, Eagle-Lion Films released Repeat Performance, starring Joan Leslie and Louis Hayward. The movie is a film noir with an element of science fiction. Directed and produced by Alfred L. Werker and Aubrey Scheck respectively, Repeat Performance tells a story about a woman trying to change her own fate.
The movie begins in the middle of action. A young woman named Sheila Page (Leslie) is standing over her dead husband, holding a gun in her hand. When the doorbell rings, she overcomes her shock and runs out of the house to find her friend, William (performed by Richard Basehart). On the way back to her apartment, she explains to William what had happened. In the middle of her explanation, she turns around to find that William is gone. Her clothes have suddenly changed. She returns home to find that her husband is alive again. Confused and frightened, Sheila gradually comes to realize that she has gone back exactly one year from the incident. When she realizes that her husband is alive, she becomes determined to change their fates.
Sheila always does her best to protect her husband, Barney (Hayward), but she discovers that she has little control beyond her ability to react to the situations. Sheila is a successful actress, while Barney’s career as a playwright is declining. An up and coming playwright named Paula Costello (Virginia Field) has written a play with Sheila in mind for the lead role. Sheila very reluctantly takes the role because she remembers Paula playing a part in her husband’s demise. It quickly becomes clear that Barney’s jealousy of his wife’s stardom and his drinking habit transform him into an unfaithful and cruel husband. Barney pursues Paula and begins to blame Sheila for all of his failings. Yet, Sheila refuses to give up on her husband and marriage, even at the risk of her career and her own life.
At times, it seems incomprehensible that a woman would take such abuse from her husband. However, it’s important to note that the studio changed Sheila Page’s character from the original story, which was a novel by William O’Farrell. The character in the book had a harder edge, but the studio made Sheila Page’s character, in the movie, sweet and innocent because they felt Joan Leslie wouldn’t be convincing as a villain.
The best line from the film, which I won’t reveal, is in the very last scene. As humans, we often ponder how much control we have over our destinies. Have our lives already been written? How much agency do we really have in the path our lives take? The premise of Repeat Performance is intriguing, unusual, and important, which makes this film noir a worthy classic movie to watch.