Saturday, April 2, 2016


Not many films of any era are centered in Ketchikan, Alaska. There is not much noir with this location and it is one reason the film just does not excite. There are no night scenes and barely a shadow is cast, except on the poster. By the mid-fifties film noir was getting stale, often using recycled scripts. This film is a good example.
Mark Stevens stars and directs this familiar story about a vengeful San Francisco ex-cop who loses his wife and daughter in a bomb explosion. Himself disfigured in one of the most obvious and poorly executed latex make-up jobs in show business. Being framed and spending three years in prison makes a man self-obsessed, too.

The film also stars Douglas Kennedy, the hoodlum on Steven’s revenge list who he believes is responsible for destroying his life. Kennedy is assuming a new life with his young daughter. When they meet, Kennedy tries to reason with him but Stevens goes a bit psychotic talking about how Kennedy is going to suffer.

Adding a bit of scenery to the otherwise gray landscape is Frontier Tavern owner, Martha Hyer, the calm and level-headed equalizer for the disturbed Stevens. In one interior scene she wears an out-of-place spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress while on duty in the rustic, wooden tavern. Ahh...summer in Ketchikan. She and Kennedy are close but she becomes more attracted to Stevens and soon understands why he is in Alaska.
But the showstopper is the unhinged hitman, Skip Homeier, and his bleached white hair, black thick-rimmed glasses and bow tie. Pee Wee Herman’s evil brother. In less than three minutes into the film he makes a bad impression on Stevens and the audience. His smart-aleck, condescending tone deserving a fist in the face. He tracks Stevens to Ketchikan. Pretty visually funny when he slowly pops up in the backseat of Kennedy’s studio prop car. For his amusement, Homeier skips a stone across a lake after killing Kennedy in cold blood.

The dialogue is mundane, lacks snap, except for one brief scene when Joan Vohs, Homeier’s lush-friend, shows up at the tavern to warn Stevens. She asks the bartender for a drink unfamiliar to Alaskans. A screwdriver. Puzzled, the bartender asks, “Somethin’ loose?” She replies, “Comedy, yet. You drink it, Hyrum!” “The name’s Rusty.” “So’s your sense of humor.” She eventually returns to Homeier’s room. Sick of seeing her drunk again, his remedy is for her to take one bullet and not see him in the morning.
Knowing nothing of Kennedy’s demise, Stevens’ plan to kidnap his daughter as payback quickly disintegrates. With child-like acceptance, she is glad to see him again and kisses him on the latex side of his face. She asks Stevens to return the kiss, like her daddy does, and this nearly crushes him. A rather touching and pivotal scene of surrender.
After a slow mountain car chase, more dusty than exciting, Stevens finally catches Homeier, his real target, on top of a dam. Homeier oddly points his gun down and to the right, getting off two shots. Nearly hitting the dam. Some hitman! Stevens’ directing took a more direct hit. Stevens’ aim is more true and Homeier stumbles. 
Cleared of any wrongdoing, marose Stevens returns to San Francisco but leaves the viewer open to the possibility he might return someday (yawn) to start a new family with Hyer and Kennedy’s little girl.   

1 comment:

  1. I find Stevens' career interesting, and just may have to catch this one someday. I'd especially like to check out the Homeier character.