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


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 his 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. After a few hard knocks from Conrad, Powell tells him 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.

Note: 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’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.