The File on Thelma Jordon

The File on Thelma Jordon is a 1950 American film noir drama directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey. The screenplay by Ketti Frings, based on an unpublished short story by Marty Holland,[1] concerns a woman who pretends to fall in love with an assistant district attorney and uses him to acquit her of the murder of her elderly aunt.

The File on Thelma Jordon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Siodmak
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Screenplay byKetti Frings
Story byMarty Holland
StarringBarbara Stanwyck
Wendell Corey
Paul Kelly
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byWarren Low
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • January 18, 1950 (1950-01-18) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States


Thelma Jordon shows up late one night in the office of the district attorney to report a series of attempted burglaries at her Aunt Vera's home. The district attorney is out but she meets the assistant district attorney, Cleve Marshall, a married man, who would rather get drunk than go home. He asks her to join him for a drink and she agrees. Before Cleve can stop himself, he and Thelma are involved in a love affair. But Thelma is a mysterious woman, and Cleve can't help wondering if she is hiding something.

When her rich aunt is found shot to death, Thelma calls Cleve rather than the police, and he helps her cover up evidence that may incriminate her, but he believes her story that an intruder killed the aunt. When the district attorney arrests Thelma as the prime suspect, Cleve is in a unique position to help her due to his job. He arranges to prosecute the case and persuades the jury that a "reasonable doubt" exists due to evidence of an elusive "Mr X" (which he believes is Thelma's estranged husband). Thelma is acquitted. Her past, however, has begun to catch up with her.

Tony, her husband, materialises again. She tells him she has successfully manipulated Cleve. She does not love him but he loves her. Their conversation reveals that it was Tony who conceived the scheme for Thelma to commit the murder and inherit Vera's jewels and money.

Cleve comes to the house and Thelma acknowledges that there is a relationship with Tony. Tony hits Cleve over the head and knocks him out so the two can escape. Unable to deal with her guilty conscience, Thelma causes a car accident that results in her accomplice's death and her own fatal injury. As she lays dying, she confesses the truth to the district attorney. However, she does not incriminate Cleve, saying she cannot reveal his name because she loves him. The district attorney tells Cleve that he will be disbarred for his actions, and he knows he will also get divorced, but he walks away a free man.


Wendell Corey's real-life children Robin and Jonathan played non-speaking roles as the daughter and son of his character in the film.[2][3]


The project was filmed and marketed under the title Thelma Jordon.[4] It was the ninth film noir to be made by director Robert Siodmak.[1] Principal photography took place between February 14 and March 29, 1949. Location filming was held at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, California, and at the Los Angeles County jail.[4]


Though the film carries a copyright date of August 1, 1949, it had its premiere in New York on January 18, 1950.[4] It grossed $51.5 million in adjusted domestic box office receipts.[5]

Critical receptionEdit

Variety praised the film, writing: "Thelma Jordon unfolds as an interesting, femme-slanted melodrama, told with a lot of restrained excitement. Scripting from a story by Marty Holland is very forthright, up to the contrived conclusion, and even that is carried off successfully because of the sympathy developed for the misguided and misused character played by Wendell Corey".[6]

Time Out gave the film 5 out of 5 stars, comparing it favorably to the classic film noir Double Indemnity in which Stanwyck also stars. It singles out Corey's performance as "the nondescript assistant DA she drives to the brink of destruction. The part is played (remarkably well) by Corey, whose haunted, hangdog persona as a perennial loser is echoed so perfectly by the deliberately slow, inexorable tempo of Siodmak's direction (not to mention George Barnes' superbly bleak lighting)".[7] Radio Times also lauds the direction and Corey's performance as "a hapless assistant DA, played to meek perfection by Wendell Corey", and writes about Stanwyck: "In these thrillers Stanwyck has a terrific, deadly allure and the moody lighting and the music conspire with her, keeping the men fluttering around her like moths to a flame".[8]

The New York Times gave a mixed review, stating: "Thelma Jordon is, for all of its production polish, adult dialogue, and intelligent acting, a strangely halting and sometimes confusing work". The review criticized the slow pace of the film and the not-unexpected climax, but gave credit to Stanwyck for "handling a complex assignment professionally and with a minimum of forced histrionics".[9]


The script was adapted for a 1950 radio drama on Screen Directors Playhouse.[10]


  1. ^ a b Greco 1999, p. 132.
  2. ^ Hannsberry 2003, p. 151.
  3. ^ Greco 1999, p. 138.
  4. ^ a b c "The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)". AFI Catalog. American Film Institute. 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
  5. ^ "Barbara Stanwyck Movies". Ultimate Movie Rankings. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  6. ^ "The File on Thelma Jordon". Variety. December 31, 1949. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
  7. ^ "The File on Thelma Jordon". Time Out. 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
  8. ^ Turner, Adrian (2020). "The File on Thelma Jordon". Retrieved February 16, 2020.
  9. ^ "'Thelma Jordon' at the Paramount". The New York Times. January 19, 1950. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
  10. ^ Spicer & Hanson 2013, p. 447.


External linksEdit

Streaming audioEdit