Noir Nook: Uncommon Ladies of Noir – Loretta Young

Noir Nook: Uncommon Ladies of Noir – Loretta Young

Some film fans remember Loretta Young from her popular television show, where she’d sweep into the frame each week with an elegant flourish of her floor-length gown. Others think of her in her Oscar-winning title role of The Farmer’s Daughter (1947). Still, others know her best from her pre-Code features.

Loretta Young Headshot“A charming woman is a busy woman” – Loretta Young

As for me, I like to shine the spotlight on Loretta Young’s film noir features, which are seldom discussed but worthy of note. This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at this veteran actress and her contribution to the noir era.

Gretchen Michaela Young was born in Salt Lake City in 1913, the third of four children born to John, a railroad auditor, and Gladys Young. (Her two sisters – Polly Ann and Elizabeth Jane – better known as Sally Blane – would also become actresses.) When Gretchen was three years old, her parents separated and the family moved to Los Angeles. Following her divorce, Gladys Young married a Los Angeles businessman and had a third actress-daughter, Georgiana, who would later wed actor Ricardo Montalban.

When Gretchen wasn’t yet five, she was paid $3.50 a day to play a child crying on an operating table in The Only Way (1917), and she and her sisters played extras in a variety of films, including Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik (1921), where they played a group of Arab children. She got her big break by accident, several years later, when Mervyn LeRoy, then an assistant director with First National Pictures, called the Young house in an effort to get Polly Ann for a part in a Colleen Moore picture. Polly Ann was already working on a film, and when Gretchen answered the call, she told LeRoy, “I’m an actress, too, and I’m available.” Gretchen wound up getting the part – and a new name. Colleen Moore, deciding that Young’s given name sounded “too dutchy,” insisted on renaming her after “the most beautiful doll I ever had.” And so, Loretta Young was born – and 20 years later, she starred in her first film noir.


The Stranger (1946)

Young dipped her toe in the film noir water with this feature, where she starred as Mary Longstreet, the daughter of a Supreme Court judge who marries a college professor, Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). Turns out, though, that Kindler is a Nazi war criminal, a fact that is first brought to Mary’s awareness by Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), a member of the Allied War Crimes Commission. Unsurprisingly, Mary is initially reluctant to believe Wilson’s claim: “He’s not one of those people!” she insists. But it doesn’t take long for Mary to see the light, and she ultimately winds up single-handedly bringing on her husband’s downfall. Literally.

The Stranger (1946) Noir Loretta Young Movie posterShe said: “Kill me, I want you to. . . but when you kill me, don’t put your hands on me!


The Accused (1948)

Of Young’s three film noir features, The Accused is my favorite – Young plays Wilma Tuttle, a repressed, tightly wound college professor whose carefully crafted façade is pierced by Bill Perry (Douglas Dick), a handsome young student who gets his kicks from making inappropriate remarks. Bill pays for his behavior when he takes things too far and Wilma kills him. It’s an accident, but he’s no less dead, and in a panic, Wilma covers up her role in his death by making it look like an accident. The rest of the film focuses on Wilma’s efforts to quell her terror at being found out – which is heightened by her growing relationship with the attorney who was Bill’s guardian.

The Accused (1948) Noir Loretta Young Movie PosterHe said: “You little firecracker – don’t pretend you don’t like it.”


Cause for Alarm (1951)

Young’s final foray into the land of noir has another “panic-stricken woman in peril” theme. Here, she’s a housewife, Ellen Jones, whose husband George (Barry Sullivan) is insanely jealous. While George is bedridden, recuperating from a heart ailment, he spends his idle hours imagining that Ellen is having an affair with his doctor and that the two are plotting his murder. George is so successful at convincing himself of this scenario that he puts his suspicions in a letter to the district attorney, which he gives to his wife to mail. He then reveals the letter’s contents to Ellen and promptly drops dead of a heart attack – and Ellen spends the rest of the film feverishly trying to retrieve the damning letter.

Cause for Alarm (1951) Noir Loretta Young Movie PosterShe said: “I did everything wrong. They’ll all think I’m guilty.”


If you’ve never seen Loretta Young in film noir, you’re in for a treat. Track these down and see what I mean!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:


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11 Responses to Noir Nook: Uncommon Ladies of Noir – Loretta Young

  1. Patrick Keenan says:

    Loretta was a good actress but no femme fatale!

  2. Grand spotlight on 3 movies I never pass up the chance to enjoy.

    PS: Someone, I know not who, perhaps it is owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy (something for the Gilbert and Sullivan fans) has put Joseph Cotten in the place of Barry Sullivan in the Cause for Alarm! section.

  3. David Hollingsworth says:

    She was a terrific actress, but she didn’t get the chance to play the femme fatale. It would have been interesting to see her do so.

  4. Sara Stewart says:

    I’ve only seen The Stranger and it was wonderful. I love Loretta Young, the Bishop’s Wife is one of my all-time favourites!

  5. Laura A. says:

    I’ve only heard of the stranger but haven’t seen any of these films! They sound amazing though! When I get to watch them I’ll let you know what I thought!

  6. Pingback: A Big Thank You from CMH: The 2nd Annual “Give a Gift, Get a Gift” Promotion | Classic Movie Hub Blog

  7. The postman and George’s aunt were so incredibly infuriating and ratchet up the tension in “Cause For Alarm” Sometimes the character actor performances are really outstanding and memorable even though the roles may be small.

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