If I Could Turn Back Time: ‘Repeat Performance’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Usually when a film does a time loop it’s a Groundhog Day situation, where the day keeps repeating over and over again. The main character gets more than one chance to turn events around. For a film to only do one time loop takes a lot of restraint, and while the idea can be traced to William O’Farrells novel, Repeat Performance deviates in enough other ways from the book that director, Alfred L. Werker, could’ve changed that, too, if he wanted. In fact, part of Repeat Performance’s appeal comes from Werker and screenwriter, Walter Bullock, deciding to make Sheila (Joan Leslie) the main character instead of Barney (Louis Hayward) after casting Leslie (the book is told from Barney’s point of view).

In her commentary film historian, Nora Fiore (who goes by the handle “Nitrate Diva”), describes Repeat Performance as being: “like a woman’s weepy had a baby with The Twilight Zone.” The Twilight Zone wouldn’t premiere until ten years later, but the description still holds. It’s New Year’s Eve, and if Sheila’s coat doesn’t recall Mildred Pierce, the situation she’s in will. Her husband is dead. Sheila killed him, and boy, is it a dramatic reveal. Like only in movies does the wind pick up to mirror the emotions of the scene.

With the police already at her door (because of course they heard the gun shots), Sheila looks for her friend, William (Richard Basehart), at a New Year’s Eve party. William takes the news well. You’d think he had friends confess crimes to him all the time but surely those friends didn’t wish they could redo the year and have their wish come true shortly after.

By having Sheila relive 1946 once, Repeat Performance avoids the monotony that can set in with Groundhog Day films. There’s also not that shared awareness of what’s going to happen between the audience and the main character. Other than Barney’s death, the rest of 1946 is only known to Sheila, so it’s really like living through it once. On the negative side, when Sheila doesn’t stick to her guns it’s more frustrating, because she should be staying firm. This is her second chance. She shouldn’t risk it.

Bonus Features:

Repeat Performance isn’t alone when it comes to mixing noir with the supernatural. In his introduction “noirchaeologist” Eddie Muller talks about the controversy over classifying Repeat Performance as a noir and brings up Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Alias Nick Beal as two other examples of noir fantasies.

Film historian, Farran Smith Nehme, provides a thoughtful profile on Leslie and notes how decency can be questioned more than nefariousness on screen. There’s also a featurette written by film historian, Alan K. Rode, on Eagle-Lion, the independent studio that produced Repeat Performance, an essay by Brian Light that goes into the differences between O’Farrell’s novel and the screen adaptation, and a copy of the 1947 pressbook.

If Leslie’s performance can be over the top, that’s what melodrama’s for, and with Flicker Alley, you’re not just getting a movie. You’re getting the complete package. All of the bonus features are subtitled, and that in itself shows how much care went into curating this release.

Repeat Performance is available on Blu-ray and DVD Dual-Format edition from Flicker Alley.

%d bloggers like this: