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.