Saturday, January 30, 2016

NEW ORLEANS AFTER DARK (1958)


Poor Stacy Harris, the stalwart B-movie actor, trying to hold this shoestring budgeted film together while being surrounded by amateurs. Perhaps to give a jolt to realism, a few “actors” are actual police officers. The police captain is a real police captain, Louis Sirgo, with no acting experience. He holds his own pretty well but the family scenes are shaky, mostly do to poor directing and mundane script. Their first family scene awkwardly plays out similar to those teenage etiquette films of the era.

The film opens on a sleazy section of Bourbon Street as an “exotic” dancer is called into the lounge owner’s office. He is angry at all the needle marks in her arm and arranges to have her stowed away in a motel to detox. It is a short night for her. Finding the murderer is a job for professionals. Detective Harris and Captain Sirgo will have to do. Sirgo, being the proper spouse and parent, dutifully calls home frequently to apologize for the constant developments in the case and postponing the family fishing trip. It does not get any more real than that!

To continue the film’s awkwardness, the motel manager, helping describe a visitor that night, with eyes looking up in deep thought, says he can still hear those heels clicking. Cowboy boots. Pant legs rolled down over them. That is some kind of hearing. He should be a spy or something. They find cowboy boots, but attached to the wrong man.

We are taken to another nightclub where dixieland music is playing. The people around the bar apparently are not aware of this because most are tapping their fingers on the bar counter to rhythm from a different club. As I say, the whole production is full of amateurs. In the same scene, one camera may have sharp focus on Harris, while the actor he is interrogating has a soft focus. Looking like old stock footage. Most interior scenes are covered by a single area microphone.

The lounge owner, known affectionately as “The Boss,” is fronting his heroin business as a tobacco exporter. Destroying hundreds of clients, one way or the other. By now, we discover the late cow-booted killer as simply a hired gun. Harris and Sirgo, as well-known local cops, go “undercover” as dishonest sailors. Everyone recognizes them immediately. Even Clark Kent wore spectacles and we know how effective those were. But thanks to their training, they manage to turn the tables on the thugs. They eventually tail the boss to his warehouse where the policemen arrest him after bullets are exchanged. No shots fired. They just exchanged bullets. Believe that, if you want. This movie makes a good case for holding off the “reality” themed television shows for at least another thirty years.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

PLUNDER ROAD (1957)


This gripping tale of an elaborate scheme to heist $10 million in gold from a special government train opens with effective graphic title film over the credits as the highway center line weaves back and forth across the screen. The first fifteen minutes will have you glued, what with the driving rain, a meticulous plan and the main character’s inner thoughts as voice-overs. The film is short with little wasted footage. I highly recommend it.



Gene Raymond is the mastermind. He has never pulled off anything like this before. But Raymond is the only one with a college degree, making him highly qualified. The other four men are from mixed backgrounds, Wayne Morris and Elisha Cook Jr. as the only seasoned criminals. The gang brings the train to a stop with a series of rail explosions. The engineer and crew are disabled and with a long distance detonation, blow open the car carrying the gold.



Their story then unfolds over 900 miles with Raymond not confident everyone will make it. The gold is divided among three trucks, each going different routes, leaving at precise intervals. The guys patiently wait their departure time just as the viewer has to patiently wait for what comes next. An effective director’s device or not, it works. Transportation buffs will enjoy the realism of location shooting. The single driver, then the duo, eventually get apprehended in toned down fashion compared to the film’s hard hitting opening. It realistically captures how mundane these infallible men can be captured. In a surprise, Raymond’s girlfriend is also in on the heist. She prepared the fake delivery papers and passports for their south of the border rendezvous.



Raymond, his girl and driver make it to Los Angeles and they are feeling pretty smug. In a feat that is a bit hard to believe, they melt down their gold into bumpers and wheel covers to fancy-up their air-suspended Cadillac. The ending is the weak point and a bit laughable. Making a getaway on the LA freeways at rush hour was not as well planned as the train robbery. Then a simple fender bender brings over the police who notice a most unusual Cadillac feature. Solid gold bumpers. This is not going to end well. The three, in typical fashion of the era, run for it. From the overpass, Raymond decides to jump onto an oncoming truck trailer on the highway below. His parkour skills not well polished. What happens next is one of those “whoa” moments. Desperation, thy name in Raymond.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951)


This RKO film, directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman, with a distinct and minimal score by Bernard Herrmann, may have a few holes in the script but it is a standout performance by Robert Ryan. He plays a tough detective embittered by years of dealing with urban low-lives. So much so, he has become a violent man and after repeatedly beating several suspects, he is assigned a case in a remote, snow-covered part of the country to find the killer of a young girl. Ryan is “im-paired” with the victim's father, Ward Bond, who only wants to shoot the killer himself. He is impatient with Ryan, wasting his time with his methodical “big city” protocols. One still senses Ryan is about to lose it and hit somebody. 

When the two men come upon a cabin occupied by a blind Ida Lupino, the killer’s sister, it begins Ryan’s transformation from hyena to hamster. Lupino is a gentle and loving person who has cared for her mentally ill brother since the death of their parents. Ryan is reflected by Bond’s single-minded rage and his transformation is quite moving. His pride still intact, but his face indicates we are witnessing a new man. Though things do not turn out exactly as planned, Bond shows remorse. And until the day Lupino spills that hot coffee in Ryan’s lap, we sense a long future for them.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

THE SHADOW ON THE WINDOW (1957)


Here is another opportunity to see John Drew Barrymore playing a Sociopathic hood and leader of a makeshift trio of dim bulbs, which includes Cory Allen. Location filming adds realism to the story but it plays out more like a TV episode.

While playing outside the home where his mother is temporarily employed, Jerry Mathers hears her screams. Running to the window he sees mom, Betty Garrett, being thrown violently to the floor. Coupled with his witness of the homeowner’s murder, the boy goes into a state of shock. He wanders off, never blinking, down a road until two truck drivers help him get to safety. Enter police detective, Philip Carey, with a most envious character name of Tony Atlas. It is his boy who was rescued and wife being held hostage. He is told of the boy’s condition then proceeds to find out where he came from and what happened to mother. Carey’s stoic, low key performance does not always fit the compassionate father role. Maybe a hug would have helped the boy. Not until they track down the truck drivers hours later are they able to locate the secluded farmhouse. There is a scene I could mention with potential for Garrett’s rescue but it turns out to be irrelevant for her and the audience alike.

This B-movie includes the usual tense moments as Garrett tries and fails to befriend one of the gang and a briefly exciting chase to apprehend Allen. This must have been the era to have psychos with light blonde hair. From Raymond Burr to Skip Homeier and now Allen. None have their head screwed on right. We know the three losers are not going to make it. But how? Seeing Barrymore break down his bravado into a sniveling coward when seriously challenged is ...uh...expected. Though the hostage premise is not unique, and the hoods are typical of the era, it is not an embarrassing film and may be worth seeing.

I find the poster funny due to bad perspective. The gun in hand tells us that Carey is able to shoot around corners or Garrett has the gun in her itty-bitty hand. I think the illustrator was told after finishing the art to add a gun for excitement.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

MOHAWK (1956)


There are enough embarrassing movies to do a very long film festival, but this film ranks (in the literal sense) pretty high. The actors mostly justify their salaries so it is not their fault. The main leads are Scott Brady, Neville Brand, Ted De Corsia (everyone's favorite gangster, frequent Indian), Allison Hayes (Miss B-movie), John Hoyt (the face of crookedness) and Rita Gam. All destined for television notoriety. 



Brady plays an artist looking for paint and action in early America. The Iroquois, mostly from the Bronx, are favorite subjects for both. Brand is cast in the little known sub-tribe, the Irritated Iroquois, and is suspicious of “paintman” Brady and the white man in general, thanks to the lies from Hoyt. But can he dance! De Corsia is hilarious with a mohawk and his four-day-dead, grayish-violet makeup. Gam had a beautiful European facial structure (being born in Pittsburgh) so naturally she is cast as a Native American. The casting call net was not very large. She eventually becomes the central love interest while barmaid, Hayes, tries to turn up the heat on Brady. I should add that Lori Nelson is also in love with Brady. Captain Kirk should be so lucky. 



The set designers were going through their violet period. There is a lot of it on Ted, trees and tee-pees alike. I figure Brady painted them, too. Beyond the obvious outdoor “sets from Bonanza” are sequences from 1939’s “Drums Along the Mohawk,” the film’s highlight. 

If this had meant to be a comedy, Mel Brooks could not have skewered the stereotypes much more, but unintentionally funny can also bring the tee-pee down. There are few scenes when the viewer will not laugh or groan. In the end, we learn nothing authentic about early American history, except that oil paints travel well in saddlebags.