Saturday, March 17, 2018


United Artists distributed this Gramercy Pictures (II) production. Not a great film on the whole but the script has good pacing. Judging by the dynamic, dangerous opening score by Hershel Burke Gilbert one would get the idea you are about to watch a hardened crime story. But it is as lighthearted as it is gritty. And it is not gritty. Sterling Hayden is not in the cast. It portrays a busy day in the life of the police department with enough characters and sub-plots to suit a typical episodic television drama show some fifty years later.

The principle characters revealed in the film are related to one another in some way. The film lays all this out to resolve the main plot for the film, the murder of a police officer. Playing the police captain is Hollywood stalwart, Edward G. Robinson. It is a joy to watch him juggle the script's characters in and out of his precinct. The captain has experience on his side. Calm and compassionate, he can be tough if necessary, breaking with police protocol in order that justice be served. He deftly prioritizes the cases that arise and handles each with appropriate timing. Some encounters are rather humorous.

Known for his befuddled, confounded characters, Porter Hall is simply exasperating here as a “respected” community businessman with no spine. His credentials usually can mask his illicit female encounters. He is not funny but his predicament is. He witnessed the murder of the police officer. His attorney, Barry Kelly, assures him of an early release from custody. Both get a few slick runarounds by Robinson with Kelly at his wits' end. Robinson is not letting Hall go until he gets the truth.

Jay Adler is perfect as the quintessential, nervous weasel with a season pass to the vice squad's interrogation room. Adler has information relevant to identifying the possible killers but his memory is foggy in fear of his own life. Robinson lets him sweat it out until his “fog” clears. With great reluctance he lets it slip about an upcoming bank robbery. Gilbert's pounding score is effective as the robbery is set to take place. Officers are placed throughout the bank thanks to the Adler tip. This scene is fairly tense and exciting leading up to the attempted robbery. Laid back ladies man, Adam Williams, had his part to play. But when he finds out about the earlier police murder, his commitment to the robbery wanes. He skips out via taxi and thinks he is freedom personified.

Paulette Goddard gets second billing here. I got the feeling she relished the part. The police captain and Goddard's character have a long mutual understanding. Each providing the other with valuable information over the years. She runs a ladies escort “bureau.” Bureau sounding much more legit. Robinson gets the lead he needs to track down Williams, the young buck in the gang with a thing for one of Goddard's ladies. This cool, quiet guy suddenly becomes a blue ribbon champion at a state fair's “Angry Yelling” contest once apprehended and questioned about who may have committed the policeman's murder. Perhaps he was bipolar all along.

The clichéd bank hostage gave Ed Binns a safer exit from the bank than his partners. There is wasted footage of him peering out his hideout window with a camera cut to the female hostage. Each staring back at one another. No dialogue. Interspersed between other scenes, it repeats about three times. Silly with no added suspense. She comes up with a plan to distract him and thanks to a good bit of script timing, he leaves the warehouse silently horizontal.

Note: Percy Helton (top image) turns in a brief and memorably humorous performance as one who is followed by shadows. Television pictures all over him. Especially on Wednesdays. Because of more pressing issues, Robinson keeps Helton patiently waiting. He is aware of Helton's condition and compassionately states he simply needs a “witness” to legally have the police look into the matter. Helton sincerely has no clue how to find one. Robinson suggests someone, a local doctor of psychology. Helton is highly encouraged.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Columbia Pictures distributed this Clover Production noir crime film. Directed by Fred Sears with a story and screenplay by Robert Kent, it features a less than convincing introduction by Florida's then Senator, George Smathers. He assures us that Miami has finally cleaned out the mobsters. These docu-crime style films, with melodramatic narration, typically tell of a crime wave in a big, out-of-control city and how the crime is throttled. The actual Kefauver Senate hearings being their inspiration. There are not many surprises to this oft-told gangster tale, including the unlikely way this “clean-up” actually happens. There is a mix of studio sets and automobiles with some location filming for automobile buffs. You will need your suspended disbelief seat belt cinched tight, though. Fortunately the cast saves this film from being a total disappointment. The film perks up with Barry Sullivan's first appearance.

A former Chicago gangster and now widower, Sullivan, has spent twelve years under an alias with his young son on a Midwest farm. Sullivan's former attorney, with the help of local businessmen, devise a plan to lure him out of hiding, as he is their only hope of putting the mob boss before a grand jury. Yes. He was quite a gangster. Sullivan is angry that a fake news headline purports he is back in Miami on “business.” He resists all pleas for his help until he learns that it was the mob boss, Luther Adler, who framed him for his prison term for murder. Sullivan is now committed to the plan, live or die, possibly leaving his son to review adoption papers. He is given unlimited resources and authority to do whatever it takes as local law enforcement await his every command in a far-fetched scenario. After twelve years running a farm he has not lost his hoodlum self.

Not wasting any time, Sullivan confronts Adler's authority, threatening to shut him out with his own Cuban-enforced crime “family.” Adler is quite convincing in this role, uncompromising with a Teflon record. A bitter pawn of his and a wee past her prime, is partner, Adele Jergens. who looks the clichéd part. Appearing about fifteen puffy pounds overweight, I think when she is angry—which is most of the time—she eats. Which she loathes. Which in turn makes her eat. John Baer is the handsome, cold blooded killer and right hand man to Adler. His opening scene is also far-fetched as he shoots, from a great distance, two rival Cubans exiting an airliner. The gun is hidden inside a piece of carry-on luggage and equipped with a pop-up sight. Suspended disbelief takes center stage as the crowd never hears the two shots. Some may have assumed it was coming from the grassy knoll. Previously exiting was Beverly Garland who now fears for her own life. The two were friends of hers.

In about the only real noir scene, Sullivan returns late to his apartment to find a seated female, whose face is in shadows, pointing a gun in his direction. She seems cool. Calculating. Dangerous. How Garland got the gun or access to his apartment we do not know. But you know what is about to happen. Sullivan overpowers her with an authentic gangster backhand. Garland's subsequent sobbing is a bit much and seems inappropriate to drag it out. She is not sobbing for the backhand so much as her frustration to find out what is going on and where her dear sister is. They become sort of team to get Adler although she is not sure Sullivan is leveling with her. To his advantage, he finds out her sister is Jergens. When the sisters meet after a long absence, the hugs and kisses are soon replaced by Jergens' self-loathing and vile remarks to her baby sister. She wants something to eat. Garland eventually puts two and two together, Adler and Jergens, who then betrays her dear rotten sister while still recovering in the hospital from a vicious beating by Adler's muscle.

Sullivan is about to put the screws to Adler when he spots an actual newspaper headline that his son has been kidnapped. It is Adler's retaliation for the authorities shutting down his illegal gambling house. Sullivan backs off the threats in order to save his son and agrees to reopen the casino. Speaking of far-fetched, he then orders the police to place forty-pound hidden cameras inside the casino before it reopens. Ironically hidden in the exact location of the film's studio cameras. Exactly where the action will take place. The clarity of the feed on the four inch remote monitors in the nearby bushes is of extraordinary quality. Maybe give another tug on your seat belt.

After a slow motion boat chase, of sorts, in a cove between the police and Adler's yacht, Senator Smathers is pleased with the film's outcome. Miami is finally safe for the whole family. He ain't seen nothin' yet. In a rather abrupt and slightly humorous narrated closing scene, father and son are duck hunting, reminiscent of their first scene. Our narrator wraps up the film like an old film travelogue as Garland is standing by her new stepson, each in matching plaid coats. Garland came to visit and never left. All part of Sullivan's master plan.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Even the dependable Edward G. Robinson cannot keep this sleepy production awake for extended periods. His role is that of a Canadian Inspector. As usual, Robinson is genuine as he calmly, methodically tightens the net on the criminals thanks to his undercover officers posted everywhere in Montreal. Sometimes I picked up a demeanor of the future inspector “Columbo” and his quips. Other times the role is closer to his tracking in, “The Stranger.” This film sinks into a balance of crime scenes, criminals or police lab work and consultation with Robinson. As the music score plays underneath, we are witness to amazing images of enlarged fingerprints, a Teletype machine, the FBI and the Washington D.C. architecture.

George Raft garnered fame about twenty years before this film. His character name is in the title. This movie is stifled by his wooden, one-dimensional characterization in a role that made him infamous. A gangster. Ex-con Raft calls everyone buster or joker. Words that roll off his tongue with experience. Audrey Totter is another memorable face but that may be because she appears in this film to be one-third Gloria Graham/Sylvia Sidney. She is Raft's former girl and happy to be rid of him. With all his short-statured charm, he cannot believe it. Today, few could name the balance of the cast.

The film opens with an encounter from a Hurdy Gurdy man and his money monkey. For purposes of identifying him, Raft is later shown this exact footage but as a supposed personally shot 8mm movie. It is obviously the same footage from the opening by United Artist's film crew. A weak moment in the editing room. Common to the era, it is a story of the Communist's main function. Spying and cheating. A brilliant nuclear scientist, George Dolenz, whose knowledge makes him a kidnapper's go to man, is their target. Peter Van Eyck, smirking through the entire movie, offers Raft big money to get himself out of Spain to do the deed. Raft rounds up his old gang from around the globe, each with their own brief music theme befitting their geographic location. Against the plan, Totter is nonetheless pressured into befriending Dolenz to gain information.

While staking out a ship bound for Europe, Robinson is spotted and taken prisoner aboard the same ship. Raft is informed by Robinson who he has kidnapped. Raft never asked. Robinson suggests that All-American Raft make things right by helping stop the plot. He ends up needing more than a raft to get back to dry land. God bless America. Totter and Dolenz get to continue their growing relationship and judging by the wearisome countenance on Robinson's face, he will probably retire.

Note: As with most posters, this one suggests two famous cinema gangsters at odds with each as the big draw for audiences. But Robinson was able to move on from his early signature role whereas Raft never strayed that far from his roots.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Directed by Norman Foster with a coherent screenplay by Foster and Alan Campbell,
along with sarcastically witty dialogue by Ross Hunter, this Universal Pictures release is a winner thanks to solid performances by the main cast. Maybe “Husband on the Run,” that being the character actually running or simply, “On the Run,” would have been a more accurate title, however. The hugely respected, top-billed actress probably commanded the less than accurate title. The limited budget is pretty well hidden, sending this film into the unknown B+ movie category.

Husband and starving artist, Ross Elliot, is walking his dog late at night and witnesses, what he will soon learn, is a gangland murder. The gunman spots him and fires Elliot’s direction with precise accuracy. However, in the dark the murderer shoots Elliot’s back lit shadow in the head instead. That is Elliot’s good news. The bad news is he is now the prime witness to the murder. He bolts in fear, leaving the police, his wife and his dog trying to locate him.

In this role, Robert Keith is the quintessential police detective in trench coat and a fedora topping off a face full of weary. Providing support is partner, Frank Jenks. Keith is frustrated with Ann Sheridan, as she seems unconcerned about her vanishing husband. He wants to provide protection for her husband but she is anything but helpful. They sarcastically exchange humorous lines back and forth. He is confounded that there is not a single photo of Elliot in Sheridan’s possession. Her husband being a painter, he asks if he ever did a self-portrait. Sheridan says no, he never liked himself that much. He returns later with more news, telling her he went to see her husband’s doctor. She asks, “Why, aren’t you feeling well?” His point being, her husband has a serious heart problem. A shocking detail of which she was unaware. Elliot now has two reasons to be found. How times have changed. Elliot's doctor is stumped by something called, hypertension.

Enter Dennis O’Keefe as a wisecracking newspaper reporter. He is a pro at playing obnoxiously persistent characters. He wants to help Sheridan find her husband for an exclusive story. Their banter is fun and natural. After helping her evade a policewoman tailing her in a taxi, he treats Sheridan to breakfast where they serve the best waffles. “Butter in every little square,” he charmingly tells her. There is a revealing detail during this scene which shifts the plot way too soon. Perhaps the only flaw in the screenplay. This revelation makes the middle section a bit more ponderous were it not for the enjoyment of watching both actors. Through a series of clues her husband leaves behind, a couple of them extremely obscure, she is able to piece them together and locate him. A somewhat interesting script concept but not very likely to happen. But it moves the story to an exciting climax at an amusement park, nonetheless.

A speeding roller coaster at night with screaming riders and laughing animatronic figures in carnival booths can be spooky. Often repeated. The final sequence with Sheridan's terrifying ride on the coaster, though done in a studio, is a nail-biter. She makes it appear authentic. The poster supports this, being central to the illustration. Unfortunately, the same roller coaster spoils the twist in the movie, as well. All the while, Keith has been gluing clues together. Enough to determine the killer, known to the city's crime underbelly as Danny Boy, and his location.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


I was not sure what to make of this Paramount Pictures film with the established and respected Joan Fontaine co-starring with newcomer, Jack Palance. How could this possibly work? Thanks to a sleep-inducing, confusing screenplay, it does not. This poster tries to sell the movie with reference to Palance's previous signature role. The audience may have been disappointed with his 180 degree performance, here. Paul Sawtell's score, periodically, is grounded in adventure but I think even he was not that inspired. Not too relevant to mention but the film was produced in 3D. You will not miss it nor figure where it was used. There is a lot of camera crew action at times yet it still just lays there. Just enjoy the thespians do their thing and enjoy the thick Technicolor. Pop some popcorn.

Joining Fontaine and Palance are Robert Douglas and Corinne Calvet. We have little clue as to their relationship yet they all seem to know each another. Made me wonder if I missed the opening. Like the cast, the audience is on their own self-discovery adventure. Fontaine first appears distracted, wondering how to get out of this project or what were those papers she signed at the studio. Calvet, with her legit, yet sounding like a clichéd French impersonation, may never have looked better than in light green. Douglas has the condescending tone of a scoundrel so we gather his intent in this movie. We find them all looking skyward from the Tangier airport for a DC-3's arrival. Though a plane can fly in auto-pilot it cannot land with it. To their surprise, authorities find no bodies in or around the crashed plane. Missing in action is a courier, a briefcase with contents worth $3 million and the pilot.

Everywhere Fontaine, Palance and Calvet go in search of the and the courier, Douglas and his unethical entourage follows. In fact, more often than not, within eyesight of each other. Pretty funny when it is obvious they are on the same set or the studio camera only need pan to find either party. This “action” repeats itself with hardly a hint of excitement or any chase defining the word. Sooner or later you are back with two groups devising their next plan. If you miss seeing the first half, just make sure you are there for the last fifteen minutes. The script allows Fontaine to reunite with the pilot, the courier and the millions in a sudden ending. None of which explains why the film is ninety minutes long.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


This sixty-seven minute, independently released sci-fi implausibility film was produced and directed by Roger Corman for his Los Altos Productions. Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna write a compelling and fast-paced story about an alien who comes to Earth in the attempt to save his planet. However, his methods are anything but legal. The film's interesting opening title graphics have an avant-garde appearance while an equally appropriate music score is in support. It is a worthy alternative to the typical alien invasion films of this era. Using a meager one hundred grand with a Corman draw, the film pulled in approximately one million dollars. It is a creepy performance by Paul Birch. Pretty spine-tingling for late Fifties audiences, I imagine. 

The people of a distant planet have developed an incurable blood disease. One of its citizens, Birch, is sent to Earth to extract the blood of humans (that's not nice) which may help cure his planet's dying race (good intentions). Birch's subtle, uneven robotic monotone speech pattern makes it hard to pin point his origin, whether earthly or planetary. No one seriously questions his constant companion, an aluminum briefcase,  stereo-typically used by gangsters for money laundering. A more logical inquiry might be why he wears “polar expedition” sunglasses day and night, though obviously not needing mobility assistance. The audience is way ahead of the cast as the opening scene reveals the death behind those shades. If considered, the audience will find implausibility in how the alien got enough cash to buy an upper class house or how he survived his background credit check. He may have had to secure a home improvement loan, as well, to install a teleportation device. This surely added to the home's value. The device needed for transporting blood by the palette. 

To be his chauffeur and errand boy, Birch hires a young, unemployed hood, Jonathan Haze. A guy the audience will not feel too bad about when meeting his demise. He is paid well otherwise he would not be waiting hand and foot on anyone. I assume the    miscreant was useful in selecting the pre-owned Cadillac for his “blind” boss.  Eventually joining the two is Beverly Garland, who is assigned as the alien's in-home nurse. Her boss, William Roerick, let Birch hire her because of the latter's telepathic power over him. Garland thinks nothing of Birch's odd countenance or the arrangement. Through most of the movie, she does not take much of anything seriously nor suspiciously. To her, nothing could possibly be a problem nor dangerous, dismissing concerns which could be attributed to more astute individuals. A somewhat annoying, flippant, character interpretation. 

A dose of Corman's humor pops up via Dick Miller as a vacuum salesman. He is about to close his sales pitch when he catches a glimpse of Birch's eyes. Feeling his demise eminent, he pauses, stares directly into the camera, shakes his head from side to side, then does a double take. Miller's product is put to shame by the blood vacuuming power of the alien's briefcase. Less humorous is Birch's super-sensitive hearing on Earth. Even an inter-office buzzer sends him into convulsions and gives him an unearthly migraine. Like when you hear a modified Harley-Davidson motorcycle with noise-polluting exhaust pipes piloted by an “in your face” rider constantly tweaking the throttle. I digressed there, a bit.

A female alien's unexpected visit to Earth has Birch accidentally stealing blood for her transfusion that contains rabies. One less alien. “Curse these dark glasses!” Feeling his  behavioral pattern may be suspect, he reaches for a tube of last resort from his briefcase. Out pops an “umbrella cabbage.” It is truly a laughable special effect prop. It slowly dangles through an open window (no one installs screens in these movies) and encompasses Roerick's entire skull. Birch then plans to “dispatch” Garland back to his planet as an example of what Earth blood can do. His pursuit of her up the staircase, white eyes glaring, is menacing. Her loud scream temporarily debilitates him as it might any other male. She escapes. He tracks her in his bulbous, waffling Cadillac, sometimes only a few feet away, navigating among the trees. The period Cadillac going off-road is scary enough, seemingly impossible. It is cleverly unsettling. She manages to call her friend and patrolman, Morgan Jones. But Birch's telepathy commands Garland to return back to the teleportation device. Meanwhile, Jones is in hot pursuit on his motorcycle. With several traffic violations pending on his home planet, as well as parking in a No Parking Zone on the opposite side of the street on Earth, it is no surprise he is not a driving enthusiast. The blaring siren zaps his concentration and he loses control, dying in a crash. His death releases the hold on Garland, who finally has her suspicions about Birch, giving her pause while collapsing in hysteria.

The final scene finds Jones and Garland standing by Birch's grave discussing the pros and cons of blood-extracting aliens. In the distance, between their heads, a mysterious man approaches. He is wearing dark sunglasses, carrying the same transfusion briefcase.

Note: In the opening hospital scene there appears to be another male (alien) actor, though it makes little sense. It is Birch who exits the Cadillac but it appears to be someone else in the waiting room, though it is clearly Birch's voice. During the hypnotism of the doctor, the out-of-focus close up looks more Gene Hackman than Paul Birch. The soft focus and back-lighting are suspicious. Birch returns to the scene when Garland monitors his vitals. The above photo comparisons may support my theory. Note the down-sloping mouth and lips, the ear lobes and the crease angle in the cheek, originating at the nose of the mystery actor when compared to Birch. In addition, the side profile of the this actor has more slope from chin to neck. Only Corman could explain it. Perhaps an extra transition scene was needed after Birch moved on to another project. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017


This notable and hardly unknown film from Twentieth Century Fox was adapted from actual FBI files. Though you may never notice, some roles were played by the actual personnel involved. It was photographed in the original locale whenever possible, albeit in fictitious “Center City.” The documentary style is typical of the era with amazing revelations of the highly technical procedures used to catch criminals during this era. An oft-parodied melodramatic narrator keeps us informed in case we cannot fully grasp what we are seeing.

Though Mark Stevens gets top billing, it is Richard Widmark's film. Stevens is excellent and believable, but Widmark extinguishes any flame that might have been erupting from the former. Widmark plays an underworld kingpin with an addiction, of sorts, to nasal inhalers and suspicious of drafts from open windows. Only bad guys have nasal congestion, apparently. Add Lloyd Nolan, John McIntire and Ed Begley into the mix and you have got a solid acting troupe. The screenplay includes no lulls in the action and the film is satisfying from beginning to end. A ninety minute lesson in how to do film noir, thanks in big part to William Keighley's direction.

After a holdup at a nightclub ends in a murder, the FBI, headed by inspector Nolan, meet with police chief, Begley and Police Commissioner, Howard Smith, to put a stop to the current crime wave. Nolan is introduced to undercover agent, Stevens, whose assignment is to infiltrate the gang responsible. He is set up in a hotel room across the street from fellow agent, McIntire, who will be his eyes and ears. Using an alias, Stevens causes enough prearranged trouble to get the attention of Widmark, who subsequently has Stevens' social security card stolen. His system of uncovering someone's background, aided by a corrupt official. Widmark likes what he finds and enlists Stevens for his next big heist. Right before the heist is to take place, however, Widmark gets a call from his informant that the FBI knows all about it. 

There is a great scene done without a stitch of supporting music. Stevens needs evidence from Widmark's gun to help convict him. Under noir, he returns to the gang's hideout, the basement over Widmark's boxer training gym. Widmark arrives and is suspicious of a light in the lower level. Stevens escapes with Widmark always a few steps late to identify him. In his retreat, Stevens glances a boxer's punching bag and the subsequent chain creaking as the hanging bag swings back and forth is the only sound hears as Widmark silently investigates.

It is a pretty exciting ending after Steven's fingerprints from Widmark's gun are identified and the FBI man's future looks short. On Widmark's plan, the police arrive at a prearranged warehouse robbery with instructions to kill the identified Stevens. A case of mistaken identity kills one gang member and to the kingpin's surprise, all guns are instructed to fire his direction. The dirty police official feels pretty smug assuming he has tied up all loose ends. The truth shall not set him free.