Saturday, December 26, 2015

DEADLY DUO (1962)


The first thing to notice about this film, released in early 1962, is the seemingly stock opening music with prominent xylophone. It may remind you of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This is the exact music used in parody skits of old movies. The production budget is not terribly embarrassing with enough location shooting and believable interior sets for realism. But it is an old premise of good and evil twins, played by Marcia Henderson. I was a little uncertain who the deadly duo was. One twin is a well behaved widow raising her young son. Not deadly. The blonde, conniving evil twin is married to Robert Lowry, the perennial bad guy who, in this film, looks particularly sleazy in a black blazer, open collar shirt with a white ascot. Drink in hand. Got it. This is the duo.

Good twin’s husband was killed in a racing accident. He was to be the heir to a mega industry’s throne. His mother, Irene Tedrow, is the CEO. She wants good twin’s little boy to be the future heir and feels he should be tailored in the States, by her side, and not in Acapulco. She and her attorney want struggling LA attorney, handsome Craig Hill, to bring him back. Close your eyes and Hill may turn into Bob Cummings. Their voice quality is shared. He is repulsed by the idea of buying her a grandson and refuses. We next see him checking in at a hotel. The 50k he will be paid reminded him how much he misses Acapulco. 



Naturally, good twin rejects the absurd idea and Hill is shown the door. But Hill and good twin hit it off on their second meeting. Hill has a natural rapport with her son. After getting off to a rocky start, they like each other. Henderson is believable as the good twin but her cliché acting and blonde wig as the bad twin does not come off as well. 

Lowry double-crosses good twin. Did not see that coming. He convinces her to take a restful day to herself so he can tamper with her car and lie to Hill that good twin has changed her mind and is willing to sign the papers to send her son back to Tedrow. A confused Hill blasts away to the house in his cool 1961 Thunderbird rental car. A scene that is repeated about four times in the film. The bad twin awaits in good twin’s brunette wig and signs the papers. Hill does not question her sudden change of heart but is visibly angry at her. And she has such a nice little boy.



Head-strong Tedrow, with her attorney in tow, fly to Mexico after the attorney’s phone conversation with Hill suggests there is a problem with accepting her offer. Upon arrival at the airport, they see Lowry tampering with good twin’s car. How this is possible I do not know, but it is incredible timing on their part. I am surprised they even recognize him. The local police are also aware of this (oh, come on!) and all three decide to fake good twin’s accident. Lowry and bad twin are confident they will inherit 500k from her sister’s will. With all parties present, good twin walks into the room. Bad twin is stunned. Lowry a tad queasy.

The ending is a contrived happy one as everyone is now pleased with each other. The boy can stay with mom and Hill loses 50k in a flash. His trustworthy handling of the affair, however, endears him to the attorney. Maybe “The Deadly In-Law” would have been a more accurate title.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

NAKED ALIBI (1954)


This Universal International Pictures release may give you the impression it is a sequel to either “Crime Wave” or “The Big Heat.” Two of its main stars play similar roles here. In short, we have seen this one before numerous times. You will need to overlook the typical sets, a dubbed vocal and erratic plot. As in “Crime Wave,” Sterling Hayden is once again a wooden police lieutenant. Unsympathetic. Strictly business. He is bent on pinning a policeman’s murder on Gene Barry. Sympathizers of Barry believe it is nothing more than police harassment. But “Dirty Hayden” has issues. He is caught on camera roughing up Barry. The photo is published. He is fired. But he is convinced Barry is no good. He sets out to find him on a dark and grimy Mexico studio set.

Barry, the gentle owner of a local bakery, also frequents Mexico on “business trips” to reconnect with bad girl and nightclub singer, Gloria Graham. The actress with the permanent fever-blistered upper lip. Barry is not the innocent flour thrower we were led to believe, however, leading a double life as a gangster. Graham gets roughed up by Barry, depending on his temperament, but nothing like her devastating scene in “The Big Heat.” Given Graham’s early roles she should have seen this coming. As the mundane script plays out, you get the distinct feeling Hayden has got a hold of something besides Graham. You may actually end up liking him. As for the title, Barry's alibi is the bakery. Once he is apprehended he reveals himself, so to speak, to be a gangster. Naked to the underworld. Perhaps.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

THE GANGSTER (1947)


One of the more stylish noir films, thanks to interesting camera points of view, this limited budget, King Bros. production might remind you of an early TV production. The whole movie appears to be one gigantic set. 

The title role of Shubunka (an original name if there ever was one) is played by Barry Sullivan in his breakout leading role. He is excellent as a small time numbers racketeer who arrogantly thinks he is unstoppable. His front for the racket is a ice cream shop owned by his partner, Akim Tamiroff. Soda jerk, Harry Morgan, offers the only light moments in the film as a man of the world who wants anyone within earshot to know how he treats a real lady. An expert on the subject with little evidence as proof. In hock up to his eyeballs is John Ireland, who frequents the shop pleading with Tamiroff to give him an advance. He eventually comes to blows (literally) with Tamiroff.  Ireland’s wife is played by Virginia Christine who is always pleading with him to come home for some mountain-grown coffee.

Sullivan’s infatuation with a nightclub singer, played by Belita (the real life ballerina and ice skater) takes a toll on his finances, buying her everything. Unknown to Sullivan, a rival is planning to muscle him out of business. The head muscle in this case, Sheldon Leonard. But Sullivan refuses to believe what a frightened Tamiroff tells him. Or that Belita is in on the takeover.



Sullivan’s riveting, rapid monologue in the last half is memorable. Truly told with bullet force. The low camera angle pointed toward the checkerboard ceiling makes him appear bigger than he is. It is a reality check for the viewer. Angrily he comes down on the shop cashier, Joan Lorring, in an effort to justify his lifestyle to all beneath him. Viewers soon realize that this cynical character is rather insecure and all his “accomplishments” are the result of tough talk and limited resources with no lasting impact.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

STOPOVER TOKYO (1957)


I have read that Robert Wagner was not pleased with this film. It shows. His low energy delivery makes you wonder if he understands his role. That of an intelligence agent. Mumbling his lines seemingly without moving his lips. Rarely more than a blank face. Not known for great acting chops, his good looks, wit and charm turned him into a first-rate celebrity.

Wagner’s equal-billed co-star is Joan Collins in this unexciting tale of Communist espionage, mundane conversation and an assassination plot. She’s an airline travel receptionist who cannot understand why Wagner is secretive and aloof. Neither that interested in one another any more than the audience is interested in finding out what happens next. Somehow, after only three days and as many conversations, she confesses her love for Wagner. Happens all the time to RJ. I expected Wagner to say, “Terrific” at least once. His favorite word as Alexander Mundy some eleven years later.



Reiko Oyama, in her only screen role, is cute as the daughter of Wagner’s Japan contact. He finds it difficult to tell her that her father will be gone a long time. He starts a bedtime story that in a subtle way may help explain her father’s murder. He never finishes the story. She falls asleep. Wagner is that boring.

The only real actor in this film is Edmond O’Brien. But his over-the-top performance is embarrassing to watch and his character never develops into anything threatening. One scene in particular, he is nearly a buffoon. Buffoons are rarely on the CIA’s most wanted list. Would love to know how he came to get this part or who was also considered. Still have to pay the bills, I guess.

If you were hoping for a fresh take on this final Mr. Moto novel you will be disappointed. Peter Lorre never got a casting call.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

DIPLOMATIC COURIER (1952)


There is potential to make this early Cold War story a noteworthy Tyrone Power career jump-starter. Perhaps a best forgotten film, it may surprise you how good it might have been. Power turns in a solid performance as a favored diplomatic courier of the state department. Almost as good as his stunt double in a few action scenes. And the action is sparse. But there are plenty of plot shifts and surprises to hold your interest. Intriguing if not thrilling.

Never a fan of Patricia Neal. Here, her character just “happens” to meet Power on a flight to Salzburg and her acting is just plain annoying. She seems to be doing her best Tallulah Bankhead impression. Slurred S’s and rapid, witty comebacks trying very hard to be attractive to Power. Her mink coat helps. But soon even Power finds her annoying as she turns up everywhere he goes. He wonders what her game is.

Power becomes involved with Hildegard Kneff’s character. She may be a Russian spy yet she works with Power’s good friend and courier connection, played by James Millican. He has no dialogue after thirty minutes into the film, revealing his fate. Power begins to realize he is also in danger. The never subtle Karl Malden plays a military MP lending backup protection for Power. His superior officer is played by Stephen McNally, in an actual good guy part.

Finally realizing that Knef has been telling the truth, Power rescues her from a Russian agent just before the words THE END appear on screen. How the studios time that so precisely when dialogue runs out has always been a mystery.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

DESPERATE (1947)


This strong film is another Anthony Mann early noir effort which includes great camera angles and lighting. A dandy display of characters with an intelligent script. Steve “B-movie” Brodie and Audrey Long are newlyweds, expecting their first child after four months of marriage. Despite the film’s fast pace, in and out of vehicles, script logic takes a back seat. Brodie is an independent trucker who unexpectedly reconnects with Raymond Burr, a childhood friend. Emphasis on hood. Burr is now a mobster with plans to smuggle illegal merchandise using Brodie and his truck. Brodie wants no part of it even after taking a beating. The swinging overhead lamp, back and forth over Burr’s face will be memorable. Believable makeup for Brodie’s beating and swollen cheek, should also be noted. Burr threatens the wife if he does not go through with it. That hardly ever happens. During the opening heist, Burr’s kid brother was captured and set to be executed for killing a cop. Burr turns a bit psycho because of it and wants Brodie to confess to the shooting. His life for his brother’s. Brodie manages to escape after his first attempt fails. The only thing on his mind is his wife’s safety.


The couple quickly take the next train out of town. Switch to a bus. Steal a car. They are not sure where they are going to be safe nor does the audience have any idea where they are coming from. I could not figure where the story opens but guessing Chicago. Maybe I missed something. The decision is made to head for Long’s aunt & uncle's Minnesota farm. 



Meanwhile, back in mystery town, the police attempt to apprehend Burr and his gang. Burr escapes but a gunshot wound puts him out of circulation for two months. However, the hole in Burr’s stomach is smaller than any hole in this script. By now, no one could possibly find the newlyweds. Never mind the couple’s back rent for their original apartment, which is several months in arrears!

The trail seems impossibly cold until Burr’s cop-on-the-take finds the couple by checking Brodie’s unopened apartment mail. A letter from the aunt and uncle awaits with their return address on the envelope. Burr is roughly a twelve hour drive away, perhaps confirming the Chicago location. The farm no longer a safe haven, Brodie puts his wife on a bus for California while he deals with Burr.

The brief performance by Jason Robards, Sr. should not go unnoticed. He plays the laid-back, wise detective who is more often than not filing his nails nonchalantly when in conversation. His unflappable performance is fun to watch. When Brodie attempts to turn himself in, Robards sees his confession as just convenient lies. But he lets him go simply to track him and capture the entire gang. I would think not an easy task judging by Brodie’s earlier elusive transportation behavior. But Robards pops up at every turn. He soon discovers Brodie is on the level and both want to bury Burr's career.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

-30- (1959)



This over scripted box office flop would almost appear to be a TV series pilot movie. Part sitcom, part drama, it reveals the day’s happenings in the life of a major newspaper. Though respectably acted, there are enough uncomfortable moments to make you cringe. The ingratiating dialogues go on forever. The music score is one of the most ridiculously inappropriate ever used. They appear to have taken "Leave to Beaver," "Ben Casey" or "Lassie" themes of the period and purposely mismatched them with select scenes. Speaking of old television, David Nelson actually appears as someone else. William Conrad seemed to lose focus on his surroundings, treating this more like a staged drama. His performance is so over the top you may find yourself blushing as he chews up the scenery. I will say, Jack Webb gives his most animated performance with a full range of emotions. He is fun to watch. But the film, set entirely in a newspaper office/set, is captivating for the wrong reasons. Yet, I would like to see it again. Always a stickler for realism, Webb uses it here to a fault. A feeling we are intruding on something way too personal. Directed by Webb, this film cost him his Warner Bros. contract. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

THE CROOKED WEB (1955)



Columbia Pictures released this Clover Production movie. The mid-20th century script illustrates the reality of what the future Internet will be like: not everything you see or read is true. What lies ahead (pun intended) is a carefully planned trap that has taken 10 years to co-ordinate. Calling the movie a “con” is an understatement as seemingly everyone from America to Germany, on sea and land, has their role to play, no matter how small, to capture sandpaper-voiced Frank Lovejoy for his decade-old crime. Joining Lovejoy is handsome Richard Denning along with Mari Blanchard (as the nation’s oldest carhop) in this tale of clever deception.



What movie the above poster is connected with is a mystery. There is no parlor or a negligee. We can assume the latter, but it’s not in this film. Lovejoy and Blanchard plan to wed and the audience is neatly strung along for thirty minutes until Denning shows up as her ne’er do well “brother,” establishing the crooked part. He has a scheme to unearth “buried treasure” left behind at the end of WW2, located within a current Army reservation. Just the amount of resources Lovejoy needs for a comfortable life in another country. Plenty of twists and deceptions to make this a pretty fun outing. As trained government agents, Denning’s cleverness and Blanchard’s attractiveness come into play numerous times to regain Lovejoy’s confidence and quell suspicions. Lovejoy comes off rather bland in this outing, to the point of almost being a bit dense. No great range of emotions. He never suspects anyone would spend a decade setting him up. Who would? He does fear a double-cross and at the last moment confesses to Blanchard of his past and seals his fate. Finding out who Blanchard really was offered no encouragement, either.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

PASSPORT TO TREASON (1956)



Super popular western and TV star, Rod Cameron, gets work overseas in modern day London. His stoic persona and physical presence adds credence as the lone American in this British film. His deadpan delivery never lights up the screen in this fog-fest, however. A slow start might make you fast forward but there is no need. There is always a change of pace and the film climaxes at the end, as low-budget movies are supposed to do. Not a lot of action. The brief fist fight sound effects, however, sounds as though each blow completely crushes every facial bone. Cameron is the detective out to discover the hidden purpose of a peace organization. As to be expected, he is captured and given a truth serum to reveal what he knows. As expected, he manages a night escape, stealing a car to get away. What I think was the influence from the serum, he weaves erratically from lane to lane. In reality, he may actually be forgetting to drive on the left. Mostly night scenes can cover a lot of editing mistakes. The film only brightens at the end. Still it plays out more like an early forties serial mystery. There is nothing gritty to be seen here. All quite familiar. A fairly intelligent script that never quite gets the heart pounding. Except for the lovely Lois Maxwell a few years before her famous 007 role. Here, ironically, working for MI5. She had connections.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

CAGE OF EVIL (1960)



One cannot assess lesser-known films fairly without understanding the era. This film could easily be dismissed as a cheap production simply because it is old and starring B-movie actors. While that is true in this case, I think this is better than most might give credit. In somewhat documentary style, it is told through the eyes of his superior, played by John Maxwell. He tells of the last assignment of a young, ambitious officer with a short future the department. Viewers can guess the outcome but cannot guess exactly how it unfolds. Maxwell’s high register, lackadaisical vocal narration is a better suited for a lighthearted travelogue film.



Though a tired premise and enough dull moments to attest for the low budget, Zenith Pictures pulls together a fairly plausible story. It’s a tidy script with enough suspense to keep you locked in. Ron Foster stars in another Robert Kent Production, again with co-star, Harp McGuire. Foster is competent in this role as an officer who feels he is being passed over for promotion. An officer with good intentions who goes afoul over Patricia Blair, girlfriend of a diamond thief. She is, shall we say, well known in the underworld. Foster is assigned to shadow her in order to gain her confidence. Blair is temptation personified and she holds the key to the cage in which they will soon find themselves in. The two fall into a scheme to remove her boyfriend's future and fly to Mexico with the stolen jewels. Where else. Around every deceitful turn, they plunge deeper into futility and the viewer will not be surprised by any of it. The film ends in a shootout as the couple climb higher up a stairway to nowhere.



The title film score does not fit this movie, sounding more like a light comedy which might include dance numbers. Paul Sawtell did fine work, but Dimitri Tiomkin is what you want here. Look for young, future TV stars, Ted Knight and Henry Darrow near the end.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

THE MAN WITH MY FACE (1951)



Not much to say here. It is an “amazing” story of science fiction with a cast that tries to sell it to the audience. United Artists had the courage to distribute this one for Edward F. Gardner Productions.


Imagine arriving home one evening and someone who looks exactly like you has taken over your life. Even your wife does not know you. I cannot imagine it either. Except maybe for that last part. Barry Nelson stars, along with a cast of unknowns, in a film that is hard to fathom. In under fifteen minutes the plot is revealed and the balance of the movie is assumed. You will find yourself always ahead of the script. The movie never convinces that there is a Nice Nelson and a Evil Nelson. Nice Nelson simply may be a bit loopy. There may have been a Half Nelson in there somewhere. Talk about identity theft! But this is not supposed to be a science fiction movie. Not much of a film noir, either, though it seems to fall into that category. Nice Nelson finds his picture plastered on every newspaper as the robber of 500k so the police are after him. Evil Nelson has trained dobermans in pursuit of Nice Nelson, creating bad press for the breed. Let’s face it, this is more predictable than blinking. If you are interested in seeing Jack Warden in his movie debut then it is worth watching. He is a friend who owns facial recognition software. Nah! You will never believe that either.

Many low-budget movies might have been more respected by shaving minutes and offering it free through television. This would have made a better than average episode of, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

ACCUSED OF MURDER (1956)



Filmed in Naturama (Republic’s answer to Paramount’s VistaVision) and True Color, which for interior shots looked crisp and realistically, but cold, this is a pretty lackluster outing for a mostly competent cast. They lift this to a solidly average B-movie. You witness a murder. You arrange to meet the assumed murderer, hit man, Warren Stevens, with the intent of blackmail. How dumb do you need to be? Like Virginia Grey in this role. Her “dance for hire” job stinks and she looks marked for death from her first scene. Stevens insists he did not commit any murder and decks Grey. But neither are quite through. She pesters him by phone later, with Stevens returning to severely beat her as a final warning.

Stevens is on a short list of suspects, the other being Vera Ralston, who portrays a singer (after a fashion) whose nightclub is frequented by Sydney Blackmer, an underworld lawyer and assumed murderee. To him, her dubbed vocals are like sugar to a cockroach. I could of used closed captioning for some of her dialogue due to her thick accent. Despite this possible communication problem, Blackmer is interested in marriage, a thought that never occurred to her. He does not take her decision gracefully.

During the investigation the police lieutenant, David Brian, after hearing and translating her story, gets more involved with Ralston than official police procedure. His performance is solid and believable, coming off strong yet compassionate. He is sympathetic toward Ralston believing she is innocent, though growing evidence provide doubts. Squint-eyed Lee Van Cleef pressures Brian, suggesting he has a conflict of interest. Cleef possesses a most unfortunate name for an aspiring sergeant. Lackey. There are a few twists and curves to keep one guessing of how Blackmer expired with an ending which may surprise you. But by shaving fifteen minutes never to be missed, it could have played better as an sixty minute early TV drama.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

RAILROADED (1947)


Anthony Mann kept busy directing in the late forties. With this very predictably loaded script, one wonders how the police could accuse someone on hearsay and speculation and such a bad judge of character. Obviously, things have not changed that much since. Sheila Ryan isn't a good judge of character either, as she assumes John Ireland is just having a bad day. Again. He was typecast as a bad guy or down and out loser. Hugh Beaumont, on the other hand, typically played a person in authority and is solid here as a thorough, cool and collected investigator. Just the opposite, Ireland loses his cool often with no sanctity for life. This film adds an extra dose of noir in noir. So dark at times it is hard to see what’s going on. In the climactic scenes, Beaumont and Ireland aim guns in cave darkness better than most. You might enjoy this one, watching competent acting by Beaumont before "retiring" as an investigator, whose skills will come in handy with Wally and Theodore.    

Saturday, September 19, 2015

T MEN (1947)




Hardly a dull moment as Anthony Mann directs this story about Treasury Men going undercover to break a counterfeiting ring. An excellent film noir with outstanding cinematography by John Alton and an appropriate score by Paul Sawtell. Amazing what could be done with less than a five-hundred grand budget. Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films, this production cleaned up at the box office. After an informer is murdered, the Treasury Department decides to enlist Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder as undercover men. O’Keefe is first rate in his standout role as he leaves his earlier music or comedy films behind him. Both men encounter a myriad of criminals but he and Ryder blend into the crime world without suspicion. In the beginning. Plenty edge-of-your-seat moments. None more intense than when O’Keefe witnesses his partner’s demise and cannot do anything about it without blowing his own cover. The creepy steam room scenes are a little unsettling as well. Or maybe it is just the thought of Wallace Ford sweating under a towel. The era’s details on producing phony bills is surely dated and the film is not without flaws, as when a federal agent comes down hard on a shop owner for not noticing when she gets counterfeit bills. This is after already establishing that it takes an expert, under a magnifying glass, to know the difference from real bills. Few were as menacing as Charles McGraw, the hit man, during this period. He always appeared on the edge of violence with a voice that could leave abrasions on your face. This is one of the best examples of film noir produced during this era and should be on your list for sure.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

CRY DANGER (1951)



Lending a noir flavor to this movie is a speeding passenger train at night beneath opening credits. Getting off the train is Dick Powell, a man sent up to prison for a robbery and murder he did not commit. His sentence drastically shortened when an alibi is provided. This film is great fun thanks to Powell's performance.

Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures for Olympic Productions, this is a tidy crime drama with lots of fun dialogue as Powell seems to be carrying over his Richard Diamond radio character with its glib humor, acting more like an experienced P.I. than a blackmailed ex-con. Though there is a heavier dose of sarcasm here. The lines roll off him second to none. Few had his ability to spit out these comebacks so charmingly yet with a tough guy hidden underneath. But he is not the only witty character written in by screen writer, William Bowers. The guy providing the alibi, Richard Erdman, turns out to be a total stranger to Powell, neither serving in the same division during the previous war as he alluded. Erdman, a war amputee, confesses that he is simply hanging around Powell in hopes of getting part of the 100K if it is recovered for his reward. Powell is suspiciously grateful for Erdman's fake alibi. Powell sets out to clear himself and another inmate—the husband of Ronda Fleming's character—sent up for the same crime. Causing some speed bumps along the way is a detective, Regis Toomey, who shadows Powell with his every step.


Powell and Erdman end up sharing a grungy mobile home in the trailer park where Fleming is living. Erdman is attracted to a sunbathing neighbor, Jean Porter, almost as much as he is to alcoholic beverages. Powell's humor pops up now and then in an effort to curb is roommate's reliance on strong drink. Porter plays the scene-blasting bimbo, who, when not modeling, is a highly trained pickpocket. A late example in the movie of Erdman's wit is when he is recovering from a gunshot wound and subsequent car crash. A case of mistaken identity as the hit was meant for Powell. Never lend a car to a pal. He delivers a gem, mockingly demanding the police chief provide him with a new wooden leg. In knotty pine. To match his den. 


Adding a dangerous element, not surprisingly, is William Conrad, the double-crosser who apparently is the one responsible for Powell's incarceration. There is a tough scene between them as Powell plays Russia Roulette with Conrad's head, who is flat on his back on top of his desk. Powell tells Conrad they get along better when he is on his back. Most of the time Fleming looks blandly aloof with a voice resembling a comforting cup of hot cocoa. Toomey has plenty of reasons of why he is following Powell and it includes Fleming.

Toomey would revive a similar role during the first season of television's "Richard Diamond." David Janssen carried the Diamond torch at the suggestion of Powell.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

HIGHWAY 301 (1950)


Warner Brothers was responsible for this disturbing B-movie noir starring a real life bad boy, Steven Cochran. Narration by Edmon Ryan starts this crime story off in pseudo-documentary fashion, introducing each robber by their rap sheet. So you are sort of glued already. Cochran is the over confident leader and ruthless, cold blooded killer. Standard fare in one sense but it keeps you wondering how it will all play out. Things keep getting worse for each gang member as one by one they succumb while playing dodge bullet with the police. Noted is an early performance of television's perennial leading man, Robert Webber. B-movie standout, Richard Egan, is along for the ride. Virginia Grey (married to one of the robbers) cannot be without her portable radio and her favorite program...of organ music. Grey provides the wisecracks. She always reminded me of a bad drawing composite of Loretta Young and Lucille Ball. Her attempt to pass herself off as a reporter to the police goes badly. There is a scene when Cochran shoots a lady who he feels double-crossed him. As soon as the elevator doors open he fires. Needless to say, the elevator operator is a bit shaken but his lips are sealed. Never a dull moment as the perfect climax arrives for an escaping Cochran. He gets his due from a speeding...well...it’s worth watching. In real life, Cochran was maybe not that far removed from this character (outside of the murdering and probably had more fun). He spent his off-screen hours partying and thinking he was God’s gift to women.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

JOHNNY DARK (1954)



This Universal International release is a fast-paced film about a talented, young and ambitious automobile engineer working for an independent manufacturer. An outstanding poster illustration tells all you need to know about this movie. 

It is an early “vehicle” for Tony Curtis, which co-stars his love interest, also on a career upswing, Piper Laurie, as an up and coming automotive designer. The only ground-breaking aspect of the film. Most of the film includes the mundane happenings of engine tests with racing being a good barometer for improving automobiles. The stodgy automotive CEO wants no part of any sports car in his lineup, however, demanding employees stick with cars that seat six, the standard American family. By film’s end, he softens his stand, finding a place for a sporty model in the company’s roster after our hero wins a major race in one. Worth a look for vintage automotive enthusiasts as there are real driving sequences in actual period sports cars. Interesting if not exciting. Beyond that it is standard fare for the period with studio backdrop shots of Curtis “speeding” ahead of the stock studio backdrop competition. 

I imagine this was a must see for teen fans of Curtis and Laurie with many licensed drivers leaving the theater wanting to get their hands on a Jaguar XK120.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

FRONTIER RANGERS (1959)



If this smells to you like an early TV series, you would be right. Not much to add here. It is compiled from edited episodes of the series “Northwest Passage” distributed by MGM, not Disney. These edits make the “movie” highly episodic finding yourself off-subject more than once. Surprisingly, some of the action can be a bloody affair as Indians succumb to a well-placed hatchet in the chest or head. Nothing gory as the series was broadcast in black and white. Still, a definitive way to expire. An embarrassing, child-like opening theme song sets the stage for kids in boomer land. Much of the background music is hacked together with some unusual results. Mostly shot under studio lights on a sound-stage, it is made worse by studio-enhanced vocals and obvious stuntmen stepping in for Keith Larson (handsome hero hatchet king) or sidekick Buddy Ebsen for levity. Don Burnett makes up the trio. On the positive side, there are outdoor scenes (perhaps reused from feature films) making it all look rather authentic. As a TV series, I can imagine a 10-year old looking forward to the next episode. The actors do their best to sell the story.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

CRIME WAVE (1954)


This taut film is a good one of the era. Plenty of Los Angeles location filming helping to carry off the believability factor. A world-weary, disgruntled and toothpick-chewing Sterling Hayden plays a detective without much compassion. His “driving” in the studio prop auto is hilarious as he stares out the windshield, mesmerized by traffic, as the car rocks back and forth in repetition. He had just played a policeman in “Suddenly” in which any tender piece of dialogue was delivered with the sensitivity of a WWF wrestler. Once again Ted De Corsia plays a mobster. After release from prison his latest robbery scheme pressures former cellmate, Gene Nelson, to join in. Now going legit, Nelson wants no part of it. But after his wife’s life is held accountable he plays along for her safety. And with clever end results. Phyllis Kirk plays the wife, here reunited with her co-star from, “House of Wax,” the soon to be renamed, Charles Buchinsky. Timothy Carey’s uncredited role as “Johnny” is about as creepy as it gets. His cult status character has significant mental and emotional problems. He almost seems out of place in the film since we have no connection to him before he just shows up in the last third of the film. And is unforgettable. In the end, there is a beating heart inside Hayden and understands Nelson’s motive for eluding the authorities.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (1947)


Robert Young is good as a philandering coward (against type), equally tender and pathetic. Young’s wife is not as good looking as the other female costars. He realizes this rather quickly. He and Jane Greer have plans but Young cannot leave his wife’s money and Young and Greer go their separate ways. Enter Susan Hayward, his 2nd fling, who has a manipulative mind of her own. After sending his wife divorce papers, Young plans to run away with Hayward, but their late night automobile accident kills her beyond identification. Apparently they could not find her teeth. During the same period, unknown to Young, his wife accidentally falls to her death at her favorite spot near their ranch. Everyone assumes the auto victim was his wife and Young plays along. This could actually work out for him. He would kill his wife and no one will know the difference. After discovering his wife’s body, he stupidly dumps her in the nearby pond. No one will ever find her floating on the surface.



The ending may be the most unbelievable thing about this film. The movie is told through flashbacks as Young testifies under oath he did not kill his wife but his story seems so unbelievable, even he finds it all hard to believe, and is convinced the jury will convict him. As the verdict starts to be read there is a close up of a screaming courtroom witness. The camera fixes on Young who is about to roll (not jump) out the window to certain death. The court police officer pulls his gun and kills him. Nobody is going to commit suicide on his watch! With no brief shot of Young dashing out of his chair, immediately followed by the screaming lady, it seems like unfortunate editing. Suspended disbelief I guess. By then, everyone in the theater knows the verdict. This probably worked in 1947. Many rate this film very high. It would rate higher with me if it were not for the aforementioned implausibilities. A well acted drama nonetheless and worth a viewing.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955)


Check this film out on the next go around on TCM to discover this twisty script. During the first thirty minutes you might think this is a Kraft television drama as 95% of the film takes place on a diner set. You will probably be hooked by then anyway, but past this point the story line slowly unfolds. A story not about the Life of Pie, but centering around a common theme during this period. National security. This slow-burn film has an interesting mix of characters participating in a “who do you trust” world. Condense this down to 50 minutes and you would have one of the better hour-long Twilight Zone episodes. 

There is Lee Marvin, a character who swings from lecherous slob to comical buddy in his attempt to be seen as every diner’s short-order cook. If Marvin seemed to be under appreciated he did not go unnoticed. He is quite versatile here, handling a dual role. His weight-lifting routine with Keenan Wynn, the sarcastic eatery owner, is delightfully full of witty banter as each try to out manly each other. Throw in smokey-voiced tenor, Frank Lovejoy, who has a few trade secrets himself. Throw in naive waitress, Terry Moore, and you have a reason to show up at the diner. Her performance seems a bit overblown but as the lone female in the film, justification may be in order. Whit Bissell is in most films during this era, it would seem. Here, as the D-Day buddy of Wynn’s character. 

Enjoy this good script, top acting, and a couple of twists along the way in this rather unconventionally titled film. The movie surely got lost in the cracks on its opening weekend, but all should be proud of their efforts, nonetheless. Do we witness the backstory to Jerry Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo (Len Lesser)?