"Female" is available in a beautiful new print from TCM Vault Collection. It's a full screen movie that looks simply terrific. This Universal movie is relatively neglected among noir sites and reviews, probably because it's a melodrama, not hard-boiled; maybe because it does not follow the plot patterns that are more well-known. A male-female relationship is the heart of the story, not hard-edged cynicism; but the uncertainty in this romance is overwhelming and brings to light unsatisfied yearnings for love laced with trust and mistrust. The crime in this movie that starts it up is virtually a sub-plot; we are not even sure that there has been a crime apart from a fleeting glimpse of a shadow behind a curtain. The initial death, so far ruled a suicide or accident, surfaces here and there in the form of a "soft" beach-style, rich area-type detective played by Charles Drake. He hasn't stopped investigating. It comes back in at the end and ties in with the major plot. This is a sign of good plot construction, but the whole thing has plenty of sharp dialog.
A softer kind of relationship laced with fraudulent intent engages us primarily. Jeff Chandler is a species of mature gigolo or beach boy who is kept by Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer. Schafer as her usual catty character is priceless. They egg Chandler on and manage his appearances as he gets in with rich widows, and the latest to move in next door is Joan Crawford. Jan Sterling, who once had an affair with Chandler, is the real estate agent who greets Crawford. Sterling's initial appearance involves lying and keeping from Crawford the knowledge that the previous occupant, drinking heavily and despairing of her hold on Chandler, has died under questionable circumstances by plunging through a railing.
The worldly but vulnerable and unfulfilled Crawford knows how to deal with Sterling and the intrusive over-friendly Chandler. It's when Joan decides to play her own game with Chandler that the stakes mount. Her emotions are not so easy to control, and neither are his. Both Crawford and Chandler bring layers of depth to their roles that cannot be found in the written script alone.
Joseph Pevney directs, and the result is very good, very smooth, well-paced and engaging. The sets within the beach house are great, and photographed in noir style by Charles Lang.
Really, this is an amazingly entertaining movie. The IMDb vote score is a mere 6.0 with 676 votes. Maltin gives it 2/4 or 5/10. They underrate this movie, in my opinion.