Saturday, December 9, 2017

GET OUTTA TOWN! (1960)


There is a 99.99% chance you will not recognize anyone in this movie. A cast of total unknowns with more television credits than films. Davis-Wilson Productions (Wilson, as in Doug Wilson) will also be unknown to you as well as Sterling World Distributors. Not a problem. The main leads, especially Doug Wilson, do not embarrass themselves and the dialogue is lean with some snappy lines. At about an hour long, this is a decent (Fifties) film proving that low budgets can do wonders in the right hands. This film is Wilson's baby. A number of self-produced films lend freedom to a production without studio bigwigs butting in. Few movies have a more appropriate title than this one. Everyone wants Wilson outta town. Even his mother.

Nothing like a jazz score with a good beatin’ in the dark to get your attention over opening credits. With every punch there is a trumpet blast. All that is missing are the superimposed graphic words, “Pow!” or “Blat!” Wilson’s face is a cross between an older Tim Allen and younger Richard Boone. He walks like an ordinary guy, at times lazily tilting back and forth, side to side, as if one leg is slightly shorter. He does a fine job here and would have made a good Philip Marlowe. Yet this was his last film after only a few roles to his name. The film hardly disappoints aside from scenes which may make your shoulders bounce up and down with laughter.


Told with a brief flashback, we find Wilson wondering what led up to his vicious, opening attack. He is back in Los Angeles to bury his brother. He first encounters a disgruntled police officer, the premature balding, Frank Hardy, along with his partner. Hardy's facial expression gives the distinct impression smiling was never his thing. He hates the sight of Wilson and tells him to get outta of town as quickly as possible. Wilson tries to explain that his three years in prison has changed him though he quickly realizes it is futile to continue flappin' his lips. Niceties are not exchanged. Hardy does not trust the former hoodlum. As Wilson moves on, he confirms to his partner that Wilson is certainly rough. “As rough as a stucco bathtub.” A great line and point taken.


He pays a visit to his former girlfriend, Jeanne Braid, who does not believe in his transformation. She wants him outta town. Braid lets it slip his brother was probably murdered. Wilson sets out to avenge his brother's death one door at a time. When he is not knocking on doors he is leaving a building, pausing to light a cigarette, thinking which direction to go next. This repeats a few times and its frequency is kind of amusing, like a weekly scene that might precede a television commercial break.

Wilson reconnects with “Squirrel,” a nervous stoolie for a local gang. He is thrilled to see Wilson again but you get the feeling “Squirrel” might rat on him just to keep in good with his boss. He takes Wilson out back to a secret door, loosely painted in huge white letters, “Door X.” How the cops have missed this is amazing. Looks like an “Our Gang” clubhouse entrance. He reunites with an old pal who is also surprised to see Wilson. With another noir quip, he tells Wilson he had him figured for a “concrete kimona.” In the ranks is a guy who does not like Wilson simply because he does not know him. Even he is unfamiliar with the cast. He tries to remove Wilson with a screw driver. Perhaps a Phillips-head. Wilson throttles the kid with the butt end of a loaded steel beer can (no sissy aluminum) then a fist to silence him. “Squirrel” goes nuts. Wilson is back!


After the flashback has expired, there are plenty of doors left to knock on as he reunites with Lee Kross and his wife, played by Marilyn O'Connor. She and Wilson have a past and he accepts her advances to find out the whole truth about Kross. He agrees to help Wilson find out about his brother but first, oddly, he says he needs to change his shirt. What he had on looked perfectly acceptable to me. The ending wraps up very suddenly, with rapid-fire verbal exchanges between Wilson and Kross informing the viewer of the latter's backstory. He turns into a sniveling coward when reminded of his slim chance surviving the syndicate. The police arrive to find Kross attempting to make a run for it. Hardy is not pleased that Wilson is still in town.

For the final time, with saxophone in support, Wilson exits a building, pauses, then decides to go right. By now, Braid has come to terms with his life turnaround and she rushes to join him on his walk back to his job in San Francisco. Though more likely only walking as far as the nearest bus terminal or train station.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

INVASION, U.S.A. (1952)


Very little has not been said about this basement budget movie which turned in a huge box office profit, proving that sensationalism sells. On the cutting edge of mediocrity, it is so bad it is “good.” The production cost savings of combat stock footage smothers the film and is rarely accurate or believable. This Columbia Pictures release is nothing else if not a film about hypnotic power. Mass hypnotic power. To be fair, it is a rather clever “back door” approach to a subject that was on the minds of some big metropolis movers and shakers in the early Fifties. Once the “unthinkable” happens, the director serves up a scary scenario. Though scale models and stock burning building footage were used during the ending nuclear bomb drop on New York City, I imagine Hedda Hopper's quote on the poster rang true opening night, which left moviegoers scrambling to locate said pants after the ending.


This may be the only film to include both actresses who played the original Lois Lane character. Google knows about it. It is also an invasion of a B-movie cast starting with Gerald Mohr, of radio fame. He is the well-known television newscaster conducting interviews at a New York City cocktail bar for his next broadcast. Sort of his “Andy Rooney Moment” perhaps. “Did you ever notice those local bar patrons?” While the broadcast news is playing on an impressively large, wall mounted Admiral television screen, his questions are directed at an amazingly coincidental cross-section of America's wealthy who show up on cue as if in a stage play. There is the pretty socialite, escorted (or hit on) by a California industrialist, a Congressman and a wealthy Arizona rancher. However, providing a leveler for the other side of life is Tom Kennedy, the ubiquitous bartender.


The pivotal role goes to Dan O'Herlihy as the unknown entity and mysterious, Mr. Ohman (as in Omen). His occupation is a forecaster and Mohr jots down “meteorologist.” Biding his time reading a book entitled, “Mercury,” oddly enough, his character is responsible for the film's premise. With a large brandy snifter in hand, his sonorous tone and experienced way of swishing around liquid puts everyone in a trance. From one end of the counter to the other. Do not deny this has never happened to you. He imparts words of wisdom and a Cold War warning. Many Americans want safety and security but do not want to make any sacrifices to keep it. Through their subconsciousness the ”invasion” unfolds. Suddenly the news becomes catastrophically bad.

Some American aircraft pose as Soviet planes, so it is hard to tell what the enemy is flying in all the edited confusion. Paratroopers are dropped from American aircraft yet reporting suggests these are enemy troops. Making it even more confusing, some Soviet troops are dressed in American uniforms. A convenient use of American stock footage. While air force jets scramble in retaliation, composer, Albert Glasser, weaves in part of the wild blue yonder “Air Force Song” in between threatening chords of angst. Massive amounts of Boeing B-29's pose as the reverse-engineered Tupolev Tu-4 Soviet bombers, dropping A-bombs at will. “Bomps Avey!” A plane that did not have enough range to ever hope of returning back to their homeland, perhaps crash landing in some American suburb or factory, instead. One bit of aviation accuracy, if you are keeping track of what the good guys are flying, is United Kingdom footage of the Intercontinental Convair B-36D bombers taking off, representing the deterrent to further aggression.


Our bar patrons scramble to do their part against the enemy. As if this whole premise is not preposterous enough, socialite, Peggy Castle, wants Mohr. They fall in love in between atomic blasts. Death and Hollywood's stereotypical pessimistic outlook for the future are thrust on the cast until Kennedy brings everyone back to reality by dinging O'Herlihy's solitary snifter. Kennedy escaped that short hypno-trance while cleaning drinking glasses. Keeping him engaged, commenting on the news, was a clever device to fool the viewer into thinking he was in lock-step with those hypnotized and the mayhem was real. The five are thankful it was only a nightmare as O'Herlihy returns to leave them with a final thought provoking comment. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954)


Allied Artists signed off on this slightly average B-movie production. Thanks in part to adequate casting and nearly all of it shot in a desert location for authenticity, it should hold your attention, however. Just keep in mind it was never intended to be funny. The ominous opening notes of the theme music by Edward Kay resembles numerous crime dramas of the era. The opening bars of the melody being sort of a minor key macabre version of the “Laura” theme's first notes, turned inside-out. If you lived in or traveled through California over a forty year period, you might enjoy scenes shot at Roy Roger's Apple Valley Inn. Likewise, you may never have heard of “The Salton Sea,” featured in the closing scenes, unless you have lived on the west coast. There are numerous tell-tale clichés that Roger Corman co-wrote the script. The whole premise is predictable with little singled out that might be construed as creative.


Richard Conte, as usual, is commendable. A fine actor who may have simply needed a better agent. He plays a recently released Korean War veteran who visits Las Vegas where whatever happens in Vegas stays with Conte. He meets Mary Beth Hughes, whose character used to be somebody. Half drunk, she misinterprets Conte's badly versed compliment and loudly demands an apology because he hurt her feelings. It happens all the time today. While hitchhiking his way out of town, he is arrested and brought back for questioning by Reed “Joe White Eagle” Hadley. Hughes has been murdered and there were plenty of witnesses who jumped to conclusions about what may have happened. Conte can take refuge in that there is not yet Twitter. He is hot under the collar and, after a few probing questions, stereo-typically slugs Hadley, holds his deputies at gunpoint, shoots one patrol car tire flat then steals the other Nash patrol car. His self-inflicted bits rack up a lot of violations, usually at gunpoint.


He helps two stranded motorists get their car started and expects to get a ride as thanks. Professional photographer, Joan Bennett, is cool to the idea but her young assistant, Wanda Hendrix, would like to have a hunk along. Bennett's expression while riding in the convertible looks like she smells road kill. Her upper lip being overloaded with lipstick or she is just disgusted by life in general. Her esses and “r” pronunciations are Barbara Walters-lite. I digress. While stopped along the dragnet of highways, Bennett's little dog gets hit by an unconscious speeding motorist. You may protest why they included this scene at all. Only later do we learn why this happens and who is really at fault. Conte tries to fake his persona but the ladies are suspicious. They try to leave him behind at a diner but the car keys are dangling from Conte's hand. He is not much on small talk after this.

Much of the “excitement” is typically resolved with clichéd staging. These scenes make up the bulk of the film. Getting through a sweat-inducing road block or stealing a car that happens to have the keys in the visor to name only two. Perhaps the most preposterous is when Conte commands a delivery driver at gunpoint to move his ice cream truck across the highway to block the chasing police. He shoots the tires flat. Not as flat as the surrounding desert terrain yet Joe White Eagle cannot go around the truck. Apparently, because of a dust danger. He is completely bamboozled. If you have not laughed or cringed by now, the ending should do it.


Conte has inherited from his family a house on coastal waters that is dry when the tide is out and when the tide is in every room has its own wading pool. A family heirloom. It is his final hope to connect with a fellow veteran, his only alibi on the night of Hughes' murder. Hadley—he finally had the courage to go around that truck—arrives to take a Bennett bullet in the shoulder yet he treats it like a mere BB gun hit, rubbing the wound with his fingers. “Gee Willikers, that stings.” Conte chasing Bennett in apparent slow motion through knee-deep water is...well...not as funny as Bennett, in near panic of drowning in waist deep water, with her arms held up as if preparing to signal a field goal. It makes for a silly but revealing ending befitting this effort to produce a film which has not stood the test of time.

Once again, ignore the poster's enticing content. Conte is not a “thrill-killer” nor do we see any female with a strap around her neck. The cast never drove a Kaiser Manhattan, here attempting to burst through a roadblock, either.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

99 RIVER STREET (1953)


John Payne is a tough prize fighter in another film for director, Phil Karlson. A familiar tale of a “man against the world.” George Zuckerman's story is pretty far-fetched and cannot be believed as routine. If this Edward Small production falls short of being a great movie, the spot-on performances allow one to overlook weaknesses. Today, old films seem to be full of clichés, however. The budgeted studio sets with perpetually wet city streets was a standard device to give a city life. The painted or rear-projected buildings are present to add depth. There seems to be a very noticeably odd “processing” during the harbor climax scene which looks like a stage scrim has been set up in front of cargo ships. 

Though Payne has starred in gritty, career changing films before, he is believable as a guy beaten down inside and outside the ring. Payne is on a career roll, leaving behind his lighter characters. There is never a dull moment. The boxer's volatile temper, blunt dialogue and realistic action catapults the film above the average, late film noir offering. I found the opening boxing scenes more believable than the over-the-top Rocky Balboa bouts. Though both films seem to use the same sound effect of punching a cardboard box with throw pillow inside. Because of the potential permanent eye damage during his championship fight, Payne's heavyweight career comes to an end. Three years on he is now a taxi driver with dreams of owning his own service station. His wife, Peggy Castle, is a nagging, unsympathetic wife who blames him for her lack of social importance and personal career crusher. Owning a lowly gas station is the last round for her. Castle is already two-timing with a jewel thief, Brad “Smarmy” Dexter. No secret to Payne. 



Jay Adler moonlights as a backroom jewel fence, incognito as a pet shop owner. He refuses to pay off Dexter for his latest jewel delivery, not only for killing the original owner, but primarily because he brings Castle into the mix. Adler tells him there is no deal if a woman is involved. Emotional attachments have a way of altering the end game. Dexter takes his “advice” and gets rid of Castle, hiding her cold body in the back of Payne's cab. The frame is set. 



Playing an aspiring actress, Evelyn Keyes has two supporting roles with Payne. Besides being his co-star, she is a frequent taxi fare. When she finds about his predicament she wants to help but he is reluctant to get her involved. Keyes' attractiveness is her persona more than being naturally beautiful. One actress who might have preferred one camera angle over another but who cares. She is good. Jack Lambert, Adler's muscle, has a good turn here, also. He has an underdeveloped sense of humor. Calls everyone at gunpoint, “kiddies.” His fight scene with Payne is worth noting. Suspecting he is in with Dexter, he slaps Payne around from behind who is slowly coming to full boil. Lambert becomes a body-double for a punching bag. He completely did not anticipate the jackhammers hiding at the end of Payne's arms. Poor Lambert is repeatedly blasted over furniture and becomes wall décor, after a fashion. It is well choreographed, vicious and believable. 



Adler and crew are confused about Payne's supposed involvement in a jewel heist. He is picked up on 99 River Street and they need answers to a few questions. After the butt-end of a revolver from a revengeful Lambert, Payne tells Adler about his frame-up then all bullets have Dexter's name on them. Continuing to hone her acting skills, Keyes' role playing comes in handy as she lures Dexter out of the diner. Spotting Payne outside, Dexter makes a run for it with Payne taking a bullet in the arm. One arm is plenty and Dexter is soon down for the count. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (1954)


This lower budget Columbia Pictures drama succeeds thanks to its excellent cast and screenplay. A better than average B-movie centering around an automotive theme. It starts off in realistic fashion, hiding the plot initially with racing sequences filmed on location in southern California. Outside of these scenes, a studio Jaguar XK120 prop car is being hounded by rear-projected cars, however. Scenes are also filmed at an actual automotive repair shop and it is an eye full for foreign car fans and Detroit's contribution as well. Under echoes of the garage's concrete interior, each vehicle is lined up in their stall as their tune-up awaits.


Mickey Rooney is first rate as a naive master mechanic and part-time racer of the aforementioned Jaguar. He lives and breathes automobiles leaving little time for socializing. Throwing a wrench into his garage is Dianne Foster, who brings her car in specifically asking for Rooney to work on it. The very next day, Foster again has “car trouble” with her British Hillmanprobably expected―but Rooney has to drive to her apartment this time. Being the perfect gentleman, he gets her car started with no more than a thank you expected. She quickly gets him started, twisting him so tightly around her finger it is cutting off the circulation. He is unpretentiously smitten by the amazon female towering over him. She is a woman with interior...uh...ulterior motives. Kevin McCarthy and Jack Kelly finish out this deceitful trio.


McCarthy―looking surprisingly like Max Headroom at times―has been scouting local race tracks for a fast driver, though his interest has nothing to do with competitive racing. He and Kelly single out Rooney as their ideal unassuming candidate. Like diesel fuel in sub zero weather, the plot thickens. Along the way, most of Kelly's lines are witty remarks usually at Rooney's expense. Script lines perfectly befitting Kelly's condescending delivery. McCarthy wants Rooney to drive a crooked, dangerous road in twenty minutes that would safely take forty. In mock fascination, he pumps up Rooney's ego on what it would take to do this. The script's accurate and lengthy details of the customization needed for a heavy, fourteen-year-old American sedan to make such a drive is spot on. And Rooney could not be more authentic explaining it. Puzzled, he cannot figure their intense interest in automobiles or why twenty minutes is so important. The two need twenty minutes to get away from the bank they plan to rob. Rooney immediately yanks the handbrake on the plan. McCarthy smoothly calms him and suggests he see Foster before deciding. She lays out a prearranged story and loony Rooney's spark plugs ignite again.

The studio prop car's “driving” sequences are pretty funny during their shortcut's dusty escape. The studio's stunt driver and sound department put on an impressive show, however. Rooney's faking of the prop car steering wheel suggests he understands and respects the car's limits. He supposedly hits 100 mph at one point with Kelly hanging on for dear life in the back seat as the rear-projected scenery out the front windshield swifts abruptly left to right, tires squealing in the dirt. Not wacky like W.C. Fields' climactic driving in “The Bank Dick,” but nonetheless, amusing.


Showing sincere remorse for towing Rooney along, Foster bluntly spills her guts much to McCarthy's ire. Rooney knows a bit too much at this point. It is Kelly's job to eliminate him along the coastal roadway. As an excellent driver, Rooney also knows how to roll a car. Rooney survives and stumbles back to McCarthy's with Kelly's gun. The one in the poster that suggests Rooney carries it with him all the time, being a hired killer or something. The ending minute leaves the story somewhat unresolved but it does not take a certified master mechanic to figure one.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

DOUBLE DEAL (1950)


This is the first picture produced by Bel Air Productions, a studio known for B-movies and location shooting to protect a budget. There is nothing unique here. It is about as typical as it gets. Even the film's title was used before and after this one. There is the usual frame up, someone getting beat up yet nothing ever heats up. Richard Denning adds the only spark to this clichèd drama. He is easy to like despite a mostly forgotten film career. Marie Windsor receives top billing, in a role against type as a decent sole. But it is a pretty enjoyable romp thanks to a talented cast.

Out-of-work engineer, Denning, is looking for a job in Oklahoma oil country. Thinking he might at least triple his nine dollars, he joins a back room gambling table after meeting hostess, Windsor, in the adjoining tavern. James Griffith stands over the table. He wins most of the time. As Denning discovers, Griffith's dice are loaded. After losing, Denning calmly walks over and removes his nine bucks from Griffith's pile of cash. Windsor and her boss, Carleton Young, take notice of his bold move. They hope to persuade Denning to help Young's oil well turn a profit. He has limited time to strike oil or the well defaults to his sister, Fay Baker, as per their father's will. Baker is a manipulator by profession and there is no love lost between brother and sister. She is determined to get all his holdings one way or the other. Using all her feminine wiles, she tries to get Denning to change sides. He rejects her and the offer. Griffith is devoted to Baker and will stoop low enough to make her Will a reality. After Windsor's boss is murdered, Denning is set up to take the rap while at the crime scene. Young's Will is a real dividing point for the two females. It leaves his ranch to Windsor, not his conniving sister.

Taylor Holmes plays the attorney who represented the father before he died. Holmes was also the previous owner of all the land mentioned in the Will. He lives with a talented, unemployed organ grinder monkey. His character is annoying because of his perpetual drunk routine. Since the beginning of entertainment, stumbling drunks have been either harmless, lovable creatures or used for comic relief. In reality, alcoholics are pathetically in need of help. Even Otis Campbell. I digress. No sooner than Baker can say, "Thy Will be done," she is shot and killed by, apparently, the camera man, as the audience is left to guess who pulled the trigger. Thanks to the monkey's brilliant hurdy gurdy moves, Windsor's life is spared from Holmes' remaining bullets. The suddenly sober Holmes was planning to eliminate all family members, claiming the well for himself. Never trust a fake drunk. Windsor gushes over Denning as their oil well strikes a pose.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952)


Howard Hughes puts his trademarks on this film, what with the flying sequences and microscopic closeups of his leading lady. A film that is hardly unknown. With the pairing of two popular Hollywood stars, Victor Mature and Jane Russell, it is hard to ignore. The perfect sneering couple. Throw in Vincent Price and you have great movie potential.

With similar “dangerous” facial features, testy pout and a noteworthy sneer, Jane Russell reminds me of a female Elvis. She could hardly be called flat except for her acting. Adequate, but her eyes are generally expressionless. True, few men of the era were really that interested in her eyes. Her potentially witty comebacks are not as pointed as in “His Kind of Woman” a year earlier. Perhaps due in part to a screenplay by Frank Fenton or her costar, Robert Mitchum, who knew his way around witty dialogue. Nonetheless, she had one of the most beautiful smiles in Hollywood. But lately, those smiles only happen when she is around Hoagy Carmichael.


Hoagyas Happyis the casino pianist. Thanks to his delivery, he lightens the film considerably, if not frequently. His opening narration sets up the background for the film's stars prior to their appearance. Hoagy's folksy tone of a “country cool cat” is endearing. He performs an early “rap” song with, “The Monkey Song.” The difference with his rap is that he uses an actual melody. Not percussion-backed rhyming. From 1938, “I Get Along Without You Very Well” is reused for this film. Written for this film, “My Resistance Is Low,” is a fun song but hard to sit through because of the syrupy delivery and slurring lyrics by Russell. She is filmed only from the waist up, providing another comparison to Elvis. But with opposite intentions.

Russell's husband, Vincent Price, insists on vacationing in Las Vegas. He is undoubtedly a character with selfish motives and is determined to play the tables in hopes of winning enough to pay his debts. Russell preferred a flight anywhere but Vegas from fears of running into her old flame, Victor Mature, now a lieutenant with the Sheriff's Department. Through most of the film, he and Russell get along without each other very well. Their parting years before, the result of poor communication skills. Russell's necklace becomes Price's collateral with the casino owner taking possession. In between a couple of songs, he ends up dead and the necklace goes missing. Getting off the same plane was Mr. Smarmy himself, Brad Dexter. He has been assigned by his insurance company to watch Price and Russell's...uh...necklace.


The exciting climax, perhaps filmed at the former Tonopah Army Airfield, was the first car and helicopter chase sequence in a movie. Flying twice through an open hanger was a groundbreaking sequence and I imagine approaching something of science fiction for the era. Mr. Smarmy's kidnapping of the necklace and Russell is a useless attempt at a sedan escape. The foot chase between Mature and Dexter is typical of the era, resulting in Dexter making a final curtain call. Price is given a sentence for embezzlement and divorce papers to sign while incarcerated. The film ends unresolved but one gets the feeling she and Mature have a future together. Viva Las Vegas!