Burn it Down

She Played with Fire makes the life of an insurance investigator seem invigorating. There’s a scene within where Oliver Branwell (Jack Hawkins) enters a client’s estate at night, suspecting foul play in their claim. It’s like a haunted house. Someone breathes in the background. Wood creaks. Outside, a full moon illuminates the interior – until cloud cover renders everything dark.

Then comes a fire that upends Branwell’s life. No one can know he was there as he’s in a fling with the client’s wife. Oops. Soon, She Played with Fire involves arson, murder, and blackmail, moody and scintillating stuff. “We’re all escaping from something,” says the mysterious mother (Violet Farebrother) to Branwell. It’s predictive as Branwell tries to run from truth and solve these mysteries.

She Played with Fire involves arson, murder, and blackmail, moody and scintillating stuff

It’s capable material, glossy and well shot, with enough story layers to keep things intriguing. Clues include counterfeit paintings and insurance payouts, using the old adage of “follow the money.” Branwell’s firm personality makes him a strong (yet vulnerable) lead, with Arlene Dahl equally capable as She Played with Fire’s femme fatale. The two pair on-screen well, a 15-year age difference aside.

Complications fall into the past – Hawkins and Dahl had a fling during the Korean war – building a backstory while enriching the otherwise contained narrative. Careful plot threads unwind gracefully, spaced out as to always have something new to offer.

There’s definite classic Hollywood here. She Played with Fire centers on a mansion built and paid for with old money. The family worries about losing what they have in this setting, drawing out the actions of greedy people. A romantic fling lacks, say, Gable or Bogart’s mystique, but carries the same sordid qualities in the story’s underbelly.


One of the longer films in the Noir Archive 3 appears to receive the bottom end of the compression routine. Chunky blocking impacts every shot, choking when in motion especially. Detail wanes from a moderately high-res source, a click above DVD, if held back from more pristine transfers.

Dust and scratches run through the entire presentation, if within reason. Unfortunately, that’s the most film-like element here as grain falls to the messy artifacting.

Luckily, She Played with Fire’s tone isn’t lost. Depth excels, pushing deep blacks to their lowest possible levels, while highlights embolden the sense of dimension. Gray scale holds firm, allowing the deep separation needed to accurately capture the cinematography.


Strained highs and thin range match expectations. The DTS-HD track does what it can, preserving the material minus any loss thankfully. Source audio doesn’t suffer any static or popping. Dialog maintains firmness, unlike the score.



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She Played with Fire
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A capable thriller, She Played with Fire deals in murder, arson, blackmail, and romance to keep this brisk story moving.

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