Saturday, September 24, 2016

THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956)


Budd Boetticher lays out a well-paced movie and the many on-location scenes add reality to a traditional script. There are enough hypothetical situations to slot the film into a B-movie category, despite an incredible performance by Wendell Corey and ever competent acting from Joseph Cotton. However, it is an oft-used premise with an ending that is contrived and implausible. Cotton does seem irritated throughout the film, perhaps for good reason. He accidentally kills an innocent person, his wife wants him to change careers and his life’s in the balance from an escaped prisoner. Either that or he was not fond of doing the film.

Though initially touted as a hero by tackling one bank robber, Corey is discovered to be part of an inside job and the police close in on his home expecting a standoff. Cotton accidentally shoots and kills Corey’s wife in the darkened house and the supposed mild mannered bank teller begins his journey into a mentally unbalanced world. Never underestimate the importance of background checks. Being a model prisoner with the hope of an early release, he is transferred to a prison honor farm. Corey's idea of an early release is to kill a guard and make his escape.

Blind as a bat without his eyeglasses, Corey looks deranged, in a trance, as he walks slowly through a middle-class neighborhood looking for the Cotton home. His slow and slightly hesitant gate add to his unsettling persona. He stops first at John Larch’s home, an old army buddy who used to tease Corey, calling him “Foggy” for his deep voice and spectacles. An irritating jab from an entire life of ridicule. Larch tries to reason with Foggy, I mean Corey. He suggests he does not have much chance of getting far. Corey seems to understand and remorsefully, momentarily, thinks it over. Corey disagrees. He shoots Larch dead right through the milk bottle he is holding as his wife screams in horror. A hungry, unshaven Corey looks away in disgust. Obviously he is lactose intolerant. Corey uses the wife’s hooded plaid rain coat, white rain boots and purse to transform into a six-foot two-inch lady. Just another day in LA. This is certainly a point to burst out laughing if you want. He is a fashion plate.




Cotton hastily arranges a “charade vacation” to move his wife, Rhonda Fleming, to a fellow officer’s home for safety. Not wanting to frighten her, he never mentions that she is Corey’s primary target for revenge. It is a poorly executed plan by Cotton and Fleming catches on quickly during their road trip in the studio prop car. Fleming’s character is one dimensional as a self-centered, harping wife. Her lines are delivered blandly. She gives her husband little support or understanding. It is a standard police script and makes their interaction the low points in the film. After a good verbal thrashing...uh...eye opener by police wife, Virginia Christine, Cotton’s intentions become clearer to her. She skips out, returning by bus where half the men she sees might be Corey. A useless device because the audience recognizes Corey. Besides, Foggy does not have the courage to get on the bus in that plaid raincoat and white boots.

The police stakeout the Cotton home late at night and soon spot a tall, thin lady in a raincoat and white boots but lose track of her. From a nearby bus stop, Fleming decides to walk the few blocks home. How Corey knew she would be walking home when he was prowling around then hiding in the bushes for her is an improbability. They report a curvaceous redhead walking by and Cotton blasts his fellow officers for not recognizing his wife! Fleming deliberately walks past her home (in a cagey police move) leaving Corey to wonder if he is tracking the right woman. Is that anyway to end the film? No. At the last minute she tries to make a dash back to her front door with Lady Corey in pursuit. The entire neighborhood is aroused by gunfire. Just another day in LA.

Aside from the horror genre, Corey’s performance newly defines scary. He is not sadistic like Widmark in his screen debut or Mitchum a year earlier. He seems disturbed, helpless, by his evil deeds. After killing Larch, his wife lies motionless from fainting. Corey looks down at her and in a soft, reasoning voice says, “What else could I do? It was the ONLY thing I could do.” From teller to killer, Corey is mesmerizing and chilling. He is the reason to watch this film and the director thought so too. I can only imagine what audiences thought of Corey during its first run. Just do not call him “Foggy.”

Saturday, September 10, 2016

DARK CITY (1950)


Do not let a couple of A-list actors fool you. Hal B. Wallis produced a B-movie. With the likes of Don DeFore, Harry Morgan, who again plays a slightly brain-impaired character, and always fun to watch, Jack Webb, with his cutting delivery of snide comments, it could be none other. Add Dean Jagger, Ed Begley and Wallis’ favorite, Lizabeth Scott, you have a very competent cast. Charlton Heston in his screen debut barely holds his own. Still, he stands out from all the rest with a rugged, chiseled handsomeness the others do not possess. He delivers a foot-in-the-door performance. There are some typically awkward B-movie segue edits of actor’s faces or action that do not match the previous frame. And in a casual driving scene in Vegas, they used an obvious stand-in driver for Heston. Guess it was too risky for him.


The item of note is the huge contrast between the acting of Jagger, the police detective, and Heston, a small time bookie with partners, Morgan, Webb and Begley. Jagger’s whole face is animated with vocals that rise and fall with emotion. He is genuine and believable. Heston, on the other hand, is able to move his mouth. An acting style better suited for some future heroic projects. Heston seems to have been asked to overdub his dialogue at times, being louder and clearer than a co-star, even though he is turned away from the camera.




Studio musician, Trudy Stevens, has her work cut out for her dubbing Lizabeth Scott’s three and a half songs. Unless you enjoy seeing Scott or hearing the chosen songs, you should skip right through these. Her introductory scene and first rehearsal is all that is needed to establish her character. If the lyrics pertained to the plot or another character, this could almost qualify as a musical. But who would watch a musical starring Charlton Heston?

Oh, the synopsis. Needing money after being shut down by the police, Heston and his hustlers fleece out-of-towner DeFore out of five grand that is not his during a rigged card game. DeFore is so distraught he hangs himself and his protective big brother sets out to kill each hustler one by one. Note the giant emerald ring that keeps getting into tight camera shots. The ring of a psychopath. Heston meets DeFore’s wife, Viveca Lindfors, and they nearly become an item. But the only thing Heston wants is the identify of her disturbed brother-in-law. Heston gets a dealer’s job in Vegas to elude death and be the decoy Jagger can follow. Heston and Scott do not board a studio prop plane but remain in Vegas under assumed happiness. Trudy Stevens tagging along to sing for Scott.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958)


This eighty minute Roger Corman production masks any low budget thoughts as the money has been spent wisely. It is an entertaining tale of gangsters in the early 1930s. The non-stop opening and period background score gets the viewer anticipating what comes next after a slickly planned getaway with a loot hand-off and the usual car swapping. Charles Bronson, in his first film lead, plays the title character who has a death fear rather than a Death Wish, as if promoting his future movie. Even Bronson tells co-star Susan Cabot, “The fear comes over me...like a Cold Sweat.” His 1970 movie. Though no one in the cast would be considered Oscar worthy, Bronson is competent even at the beginning of his career. Everyone is living up to their salary, including Morey Amsterdam. Who probably was paid the least, however.

Smirking Cabot, perhaps never looking better than in this role, has been the gangster’s “personal agent” from day one and her condescending attitude keeps Bronson under her thumb. All the while smiling as if she is invincible. Her attitude in this movie has become the standard for many criminal or sicko in today’s movies. That evil is a pleasure. In that regard, like it or not, Corman may have broken new ground. On a personal level, I found Cabot’s annoying, bright and pronounced esses irritating. A split second steel-on-steel sound which sometimes arises from acting out a female character you are not supposed to like. Annunciating, rather than slurring the words, will usually help this affliction. Perhaps the best/worst example of this was Sally Kellerman’s delivery. Equally annoying is her mom, played by Connie Gilchrist. Ma is proud of her criminal daughter and thinks she could do a lot better than Bronson. She belittles him with every opportunity, turning him into the Rodney Dangerfield of gangsters. Gilchrist not only runs her mouth but also a house full of “ladies” who bring in money.

Morey Amsterdam, the gang’s light-hearted weasel/stool pigeon, returns with the loot from the film’s opening heist but several thousand are missing. He tries to laugh it off then denies he took any for himself. He lied. Bronson is none too happy. He later plots a meeting with him to talk over another job. Corman throws in an odd premise concerning one of the gang members, Frank DeKova, who was a big game hunter before one arm was mangled by a natural habitat African. He now keeps a mountain lion in a cage. Behind his gas station. It is DeKova’s place they meet. Bronson stalls the conversation before pushing Amsterdam against the cage and, somehow, the weasel loses an arm to the lion. I doubt any moviegoer saw that coming. Nor found it believable. In what seems like a short time, Amsterdam is back in the business. All smiles and a several pounds lighter.

After a botched robbery, thanks to Bronson freezing up when he spots a casket being delivered across his path, he decides to go big. Ma Gilchrist finally will give him some respect. Logically, he takes up kidnapping. He and Cabot abduct a steel executive’s daughter and her nurse, played by Barboura Morris. Richard Devon completes the kidnapping trio as a sleaze ball who cannot help but make a pass at the young nurse. Devon plays “Apple” and he and Bronson are at odds. Devon challenges Bronson at gunpoint during a heated exchange. Bronson, in his trademark, clinched teeth and monotone phrasing, his machine gun pointed at him, explains, “Go ahead Apple. And I will peel and core you.” Hey! That is some tough talk. Being another family outing, Cabot’s mom and dad show up at the hideout with food and encouragement. Suddenly Gilchrist does a complete 180, being so kindhearted and gentle toward the little girl, fawning over her. Perhaps Corman wanted to illustrate that over half the people in this movie have serious personal issues.


In an amusing sequence, the police bring the Amsterdam weasel in for questioning. After he leaves the squad room, two officers lose his trail because “he snuck into the ladies room.” Their diligence cast a cloud over their upcoming promotions. But the weasel, seeking revenge, gives a tip on Bronson’s location via an “anonymous” phone call (they immediately recognized Amsterdam’s’ voice). The gang goes berserk when Amsterdam arrives and I imagine most moviegoers noted that anyone on screen at this point may not make it to the ending. DeKova demonstrates his mental problems which, up until this point, outside of the lion behind his gas station, there were no suggestions of his illness. Giving some final Dangerfield zingers, the police arrive, taunting and belittling Bronson before hauling him off to prison. In the real 1933, the arrest was overshadowed by a famous breakout of John Dillinger and his future gang on the same day.

Typically, Hollywood has never been too concerned about facts. They like to blur them, though. Their business is entertainment at any cost. The truth has been warped here as well. An Internet search might square things. It is understandable they would make Bronson a tough guy, even though Kelly was not as tough as his wife led people to believe. Bronson and Cabot are not married in this film, however. Why they changed the kidnapped person to a little girl of a wealthy businessman and not the businessman himself is anyone’s guess. It would have eliminated the out-of-place scene with Gilchrist and the girl, for one. Put yourself in 1958 and that perspective will allow you to watch this movie for its entertainment value. Of which, there is plenty.