As is often the case, the poster above is misleading. This is the American title for the British film, FORTUNE IS A WOMAN (which is based on the Winston Graham novel of the same name).
If you know the plot, you’ll know that HE PLAYED WITH FIRE would make more sense. But as usual, the publicity machine dictates a racy title.Compared to her previous British made film of 1956, WICKED AS THEY COME, Arlene Dahl is playing a much different character in this.
I liked the story of insurance investigator, Oliver Branwell (Jack Hawkins) who , while investigating a small fire at a Manor House in the country, meets his ex-girl friend, Sarah (Arlene Dahl) who is married to the manor’s owner, Tracey Moreton (Dennis Price).
Oliver and Sarah are instantly re-attracted to each other (after 5 years apart), but Sarah is loyal to Tracey.
While assessing the fire’s damage, Oliver meets Tracey’s mother( Violet Farebrother) and Tracey’s cousin Clive ( Ian Hunter). Tracey shows him what’s left of a valuable landscape painting of the house. Oliver’s company , Abercrombie and Son, pays on the insurance claim.
Some months later Oliver is assigned another case involving a temperamental film star ( played for laughs by Christopher Lee) who is holding up production on a film. Trying to persuade him to go back to work, Oliver visits a Mrs Litchen (Greta Gynt) who has been involved with the star. With her help, the actor is forced to go back on the set.
While visiting Mrs. Litchen, Oliver sees a painting on her wall which rings a bell with him, but he can’t think why it should.
Visiting Tracey and Sarah again, Sarah happens to show him a view of the house from the grounds and he realises it is the view he saw in Mrs. Litchen’s painting – it is the painting Tracey said was destroyed by fire.
And so the story develops. Tracey is killed in a second fire at the Manor, Oliver and Sarah marry and then find themselves blackmailed by the meek mannered Mr. Jerome (Bernard Miles) who is acting for someone else. Is Tracey really dead?
The mystery of what happened on the night of Tracey’s death and the name of the blackmailer is revealed at the end, and I found it quite a satisfying thriller. Though Hawkins and Dahl didn’t quite gel.
Greta Gynt as the merry widow , Mrs. Litchen , is very good . She and Bernard Miles add a light touch to the otherwise serious tone of the film.
It was also nice to see real life father and son, Malcolm and Geoffrey Keen playing the father and son who run the business Oliver works for.
One or two aspects of the intricate plot don’t ring true, but it’s well written and full of suspense and mystery ( writers Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat) and direction (Gilliat).