Harrison produced the following films noirs after leaving Hitchcock's employ:
Phantom Lady (1944) 7.2, 121 (6.1), 129
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), 6.8, 116 (5.8), 150
Nocturne (1946), 6.5, 107 (5.4), 128
They Won't Believe Me (1947), 7.2, 151 (7.6), 132
Ride the Pink Horse (1947), 7.3, 125 (6.3), 95
(We leave out the films she produced with Robert Montgomery and Ray Milland in the UK.)
The numbers displayed with the film titles are, in order:
IMDB score; noir-o-meter raw total (on 10-pt scale); "MELO" score from noir elements in noir-o-meter
The rough order of quality, as per IMDB reviewers, puts RIDE THE PINK HORSE in the top position vis-a-vis Harrison's noir productions--an assessment that might be questioned by some who highly value the "early iconicity" in PHANTOM LADY (Ella Raines as "hep kitten" per the "orgasmic" basement jazz set-piece).
It might be a bit surprising to see THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME running neck-and-neck with these two films, but there has been a relentless campaign for it within the insider circles of noir aficionados for years, which is reaching a crescendo now with the attention paid to Joan Harrison. (The recent bio of Harrison by Christina Lane, entitled PHANTOM LADY, is well worth reading--the level of research is impressive, with the full range of Harrison's life and career, which encompassed much more than these five noirs, is given full coverage.)
What the numbers above tell us is that Harrison mostly specialized in what we now call "melo-noir"--films where the hard-boiled aspects of noir are muted by the absence of overt violence and hardened criminality. RIDE THE PINK HORSE, with its widened palette of social classes and a more ruthless group of criminals at its core, is the exception here--and in 2021 it is a more enduring film as a result of those added elements.
(For those who may have forgotten, the "MELO" score, calculated from the ratio of noir elements stemming from melodrama as compared to the ones stemming from "hard-boiled" sources, averages 112 for American noirs from 1940-65.)
The numbers also suggest that THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME is the "most noir" of these films--it checks many more boxes in the noir-o-meter due to its concentration of narrative approaches that align with the "triangle crime" stories pioneered by James M. Cain (specifically, DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE).
In fact, THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME uses noir screenwriting techniques at or near the maximum according the noir-o-meter measures. It scores 9.3 out of 10 for screenwriting elements, which places it with just five other American noirs over 9.0 for this element category: the two Cain films mentioned above, plus DETOUR, OUT OF THE PAST and THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI.
Plot and character convolution almost always accompany films with this level of "screenplay trickery"--the convention of the "thriller" that permits (and sometimes seems to encourage) outrageous coincidence, "breaking the fourth wall" moments, and stunning reversals that often make little or no actual sense but are carried through by the "story momentum." As you'd expect from this description, THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME, with its almost Mobius-strip-like recursiveness, grades out at the maximum for "convoluted plot." (In fact, one could argue it deserves a "bonus" point, given that the lead character needs to remind the audience of certain facts in order to keep them from becoming seriously confused.)
Those who like their "melo-noir" twisty to the point of strangulation have rallied behind THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME, setting aside several absurdities and inconsistencies in the plot to champion the work of a talented producer who has become a symbol of women thwarted by the Hollywood patriarchy. In her book, Lane slants her account of the film's development and production to blame the Hays Office for taking the "fangs" out of the story, when two countering facts work against this argument: 1) the same restrictions that Harrison faced were applied with great consistency by the Hays Office to all films; and 2) her attempts to work around it only resulted in a finale that continues to divide viewers to this day.
The problems with the script, however, go far beyond the finale. The mechanism by which Larry Ballentine (Robert Young) winds up on trial for murder relies on a very shaky process of playing fast and loose with time. The events that occur after Ballentine begins to travel when he is by himself after all of the key female characters are seemingly out of the picture are telescoped into an elapsed time that is so shortened as to be comical. And the process by which Ballentine winds up charged for murder relies on him doing something exceptionally dumb, and then re-introduces a character absent from the film since the early going who has no plausible way of re-entering the picture except by egregious coincidence.
The "thriller" convention, of course, admits (and, to some extent, encourages) such liberties with logic. (It's not a coincidence that Eddie Muller, a vocal cheerleader for the film, makes an attempt to portray it as the precursor to the "ironic twist" school of TV thrillers that would emerge in the 50s, anchored by ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. While that's not a totally far-fetched idea, the notion that the narrative in the film would be stronger with more lurid scenes and more overt sexuality doesn't hold up: plenty of AHP and ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR episodes founder on the same type of implausibilities that exist in THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME, even with benefit of looser censorship.)
Finally, the issue of the 95-minute original v. the 80-minute edit of the film made in the late 50s when it was packaged for television: Eddie clearly watched the original version shortly before hosting a "TCM Twitter party" for it during its screening yesterday, and he was compelled from such a viewing to admit in writing that the 80-minute edit was in no way a butchering of the film.
In fact, a solid argument can be made that the 80-minute element actually improves the film by removing some ultimately extraneous action, thereby accelerating the pace. Since the film is heavily structured around a series of flashbacks told with voiceovers, the best approach for such a structure is to make each successive flashback shorter in length than the one that preceded it. The second flashback (introducing the Susan Hayward character) benefits from the tightening it receives as a result of the cuts, and we get to the pivotal actions in the film more quickly.
And what's actually lost from the cuts does not materially affect the level of nuance in the female characters that Eddie and Christina Lane extol as a feature of the script. (They appear to give Harrison the credit for that presence within the screenplay, but Harrison did not actually write the script--that was veteran novelist/screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, who in turn was following the original story written by Gordon McDonell, who'd demonstrated an ability to create strong, interesting female characters previously in his story for Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). In her book, Lane focuses mostly on the changes in the story that set up the "thriller" finale, which leaves open how much of the screenplay given over to the thoughts and words of the female characters belongs to her or to Latimer.)
The final verdict here about THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME is not nearly so ironically anti-climactic as what happens at the close of the film itself. In short, the plot holes open up in the third act, and the frantic finale doesn't quite paper them over. It certainly validates the idea that Larry Ballentine is an especially sniveling version of an homme fatal--a character function in noir that began to become prevalent in the 40s as noir and melodrama became more self-consciously entwined. Eddie Muller's notion that Larry is noir's first homme fatal is simply unfounded (Hitchcock was onto this much earlier in SUSPICION but couldn't quite pull the trigger with Cary Grant, but did so shortly thereafter with Joseph Cotten in SHADOW OF A DOUBT), but let's give him points for being loyal to Joan Harrison, who'd thought up those ideas during the time she was working with the Master of Suspense.
The number of five-star ratings that I've seen recently for THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME suggests both an uncritical love for these types of narrative devices in noir and what can be termed the "bandwagon effect" that has taken hold amongst internet bloggers. While there are some who brutally disparage the film for the narrative contrivances, who claim Robert Young is miscast (possibly, though he is quite good at being weak), and who decry the ending as ludicrous instead of bold, there can be no question that the film is well-acted, well-shot (the reliable Harry J. Wild), and as well-directed as the script allows (the underrated Irving Pichel). The 80-minute version of the film has a better overall pace: I'd give it 6.5/10. The 95-minute version drags, and only one restored scene (the character Larry meets after his hospital stay who he mistakenly thinks is a blackmailer) really adds anything interesting, so it gets a 6/10.
In terms of Harrison's output as a producer/writer/"auteur" of noir, the order of quality for her five Hollywood noirs (mostly "melo-noirs," as we've seen) is as follows: RIDE THE PINK HORSE, PHANTOM LADY, THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME, THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY, and NOCTURNE.