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Tension Reviews

A tightly controlled, well-developed if slightly bland thriller of infidelity and murder, TENSION opens with a police detective speaking directly to the audience. Everybody has a breaking point, he explains, stretching a rubber band tighter and tighter, until at last it snaps. Like the rubber band, a man can only be stretched so far. The story concerns Basehart, a modest pharmacist who is emotionally shattered when he learns that his wife (Totter) is having an affair with Gough. Basehart decides to murder his rival, devising an elaborate plan that necessitates taking a completely new identity in order for the pharmacist to have a legitimate alibi. Under this guise, Basehart molds the perfect crime. Then he meets Charisse, falls in love with her, and decides not to carry out the killing. But Basehart goes to Gough's beach house anyway, finding himself inexplicably drawn to the place. To his horror, he finds that Gough has been murdered by someone else, and that the alter ego he created is now the prime suspect. Assigned to the case are Sullivan and Conrad, two cops who eventually expose the true killer. This is decent, workmanlike film noir, creating an intriguing story of crime and passion while using the various themes and characterizations of the genre with care and precision. Basehart's essentially good man is driven to the very edge of sanity, spellbound by a cruel, manipulative woman. Totter gives an appropriately evil edge to her character and is well contrasted by Charisse, whose beauty and innocence play nicely against Totter's cold manipulations. Berry's direction from Rivkin's well-detailed script keeps a good command over the material, and the dialogue is sharp and to the point, living up to the promise of the title. The film has all the earmarks of James M. Cain's and Raymond Chandler's influence on the genre, riveting the viewer by building tension admirably.