Saturday, December 9, 2017
There is a 99.99% chance you will not recognize anyone in this movie. A cast of total unknowns with more television credits than films. Davis-Wilson Productions (Wilson, as in Doug Wilson) will also be unknown to you as well as Sterling World Distributors. Not a problem. The main leads, especially Doug Wilson, do not embarrass themselves and the dialogue is lean with some snappy lines. At about an hour long, this is a decent (Fifties) film proving that low budgets can do wonders in the right hands. This film is Wilson's baby. A number of self-produced films lend freedom to a production without studio bigwigs butting in. Few movies have a more appropriate title than this one. Everyone wants Wilson outta town. Even his mother.
Nothing like a jazz score with a good beatin’ in the dark to get your attention over opening credits. With every punch there is a trumpet blast. All that is missing are the superimposed graphic words, “Pow!” or “Blat!” Wilson’s face is a cross between an older Tim Allen and younger Richard Boone. He walks like an ordinary guy, at times lazily tilting back and forth, side to side, as if one leg is slightly shorter. He does a fine job here and would have made a good Philip Marlowe. Yet this was his last film after only a few roles to his name. The film hardly disappoints aside from scenes which may make your shoulders bounce up and down with laughter.
Told with a brief flashback, we find Wilson wondering what led up to his vicious, opening attack. He is back in Los Angeles to bury his brother. He first encounters a disgruntled police officer, the premature balding, Frank Hardy, along with his partner. Hardy's facial expression gives the distinct impression smiling was never his thing. He hates the sight of Wilson and tells him to get outta of town as quickly as possible. Wilson tries to explain that his three years in prison has changed him though he quickly realizes it is futile to continue flappin' his lips. Niceties are not exchanged. Hardy does not trust the former hoodlum. As Wilson moves on, he confirms to his partner that Wilson is certainly rough. “As rough as a stucco bathtub.” A great line and point taken.
He pays a visit to his former girlfriend, Jeanne Braid, who does not believe in his transformation. She wants him outta town. Braid lets it slip his brother was probably murdered. Wilson sets out to avenge his brother's death one door at a time. When he is not knocking on doors he is leaving a building, pausing to light a cigarette, thinking which direction to go next. This repeats a few times and its frequency is kind of amusing, like a weekly scene that might precede a television commercial break.
Wilson reconnects with “Squirrel,” a nervous stoolie for a local gang. He is thrilled to see Wilson again but you get the feeling “Squirrel” might rat on him just to keep in good with his boss. He takes Wilson out back to a secret door, loosely painted in huge white letters, “Door X.” How the cops have missed this is amazing. Looks like an “Our Gang” clubhouse entrance. He reunites with an old pal who is also surprised to see Wilson. With another noir quip, he tells Wilson he had him figured for a “concrete kimona.” In the ranks is a guy who does not like Wilson simply because he does not know him. Even he is unfamiliar with the cast. He tries to remove Wilson with a screw driver. Perhaps a Phillips-head. Wilson throttles the kid with the butt end of a loaded steel beer can (no sissy aluminum) then a fist to silence him. “Squirrel” goes nuts. Wilson is back!
After the flashback has expired, there are plenty of doors left to knock on as he reunites with Lee Kross and his wife, played by Marilyn O'Connor. She and Wilson have a past and he accepts her advances to find out the whole truth about Kross. He agrees to help Wilson find out about his brother but first, oddly, he says he needs to change his shirt. What he had on looked perfectly acceptable to me. The ending wraps up very suddenly, with rapid-fire verbal exchanges between Wilson and Kross informing the viewer of the latter's backstory. He turns into a sniveling coward when reminded of his slim chance surviving the syndicate. The police arrive to find Kross attempting to make a run for it. Hardy is not pleased that Wilson is still in town.
For the final time, with saxophone in support, Wilson exits a building, pauses, then decides to go right. By now, Braid has come to terms with his life turnaround and she rushes to join him on his walk back to his job in San Francisco. Though more likely only walking as far as the nearest bus terminal or train station.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Very little has not been said about this basement budget movie which turned in a huge box office profit, proving that sensationalism sells. On the cutting edge of mediocrity, it is so bad it is “good.” The production cost savings of combat stock footage smothers the film and is rarely accurate or believable. This Columbia Pictures release is nothing else if not a film about hypnotic power. Mass hypnotic power. To be fair, it is a rather clever “back door” approach to a subject that was on the minds of some big metropolis movers and shakers in the early Fifties. Once the “unthinkable” happens, the director serves up a scary scenario. Though scale models and stock burning building footage were used during the ending nuclear bomb drop on New York City, I imagine Hedda Hopper's quote on the poster rang true opening night, which left moviegoers scrambling to locate said pants after the ending.
This may be the only film to include both actresses who played the original Lois Lane character. Google knows about it. It is also an invasion of a B-movie cast starting with Gerald Mohr, of radio fame. He is the well-known television newscaster conducting interviews at a New York City cocktail bar for his next broadcast. Sort of his “Andy Rooney Moment” perhaps. “Did you ever notice those local bar patrons?” While the broadcast news is playing on an impressively large, wall mounted Admiral television screen, his questions are directed at an amazingly coincidental cross-section of America's wealthy who show up on cue as if in a stage play. There is the pretty socialite, escorted (or hit on) by a California industrialist, a Congressman and a wealthy Arizona rancher. However, providing a leveler for the other side of life is Tom Kennedy, the ubiquitous bartender.
The pivotal role goes to Dan O'Herlihy as the unknown entity and mysterious, Mr. Ohman (as in Omen). His occupation is a forecaster and Mohr jots down “meteorologist.” Biding his time reading a book entitled, “Mercury,” oddly enough, his character is responsible for the film's premise. With a large brandy snifter in hand, his sonorous tone and experienced way of swishing around liquid puts everyone in a trance. From one end of the counter to the other. Do not deny this has never happened to you. He imparts words of wisdom and a Cold War warning. Many Americans want safety and security but do not want to make any sacrifices to keep it. Through their subconsciousness the ”invasion” unfolds. Suddenly the news becomes catastrophically bad.
Some American aircraft pose as Soviet planes, so it is hard to tell what the enemy is flying in all the edited confusion. Paratroopers are dropped from American aircraft yet reporting suggests these are enemy troops. Making it even more confusing, some Soviet troops are dressed in American uniforms. A convenient use of American stock footage. While air force jets scramble in retaliation, composer, Albert Glasser, weaves in part of the wild blue yonder “Air Force Song” in between threatening chords of angst. Massive amounts of Boeing B-29's pose as the reverse-engineered Tupolev Tu-4 Soviet bombers, dropping A-bombs at will. “Bomps Avey!” A plane that did not have enough range to ever hope of returning back to their homeland, perhaps crash landing in some American suburb or factory, instead. One bit of aviation accuracy, if you are keeping track of what the good guys are flying, is United Kingdom footage of the Intercontinental Convair B-36D bombers taking off, representing the deterrent to further aggression.
Our bar patrons scramble to do their part against the enemy. As if this whole premise is not preposterous enough, socialite, Peggy Castle, wants Mohr. They fall in love in between atomic blasts. Death and Hollywood's stereotypical pessimistic outlook for the future are thrust on the cast until Kennedy brings everyone back to reality by dinging O'Herlihy's solitary snifter. Kennedy escaped that short hypno-trance while cleaning drinking glasses. Keeping him engaged, commenting on the news, was a clever device to fool the viewer into thinking he was in lock-step with those hypnotized and the mayhem was real. The five are thankful it was only a nightmare as O'Herlihy returns to leave them with a final thought provoking comment.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Allied Artists signed off on this slightly average B-movie production. Thanks in part to adequate casting and nearly all of it shot in a desert location for authenticity, it should hold your attention, however. Just keep in mind it was never intended to be funny. The ominous opening notes of the theme music by Edward Kay resembles numerous crime dramas of the era. The opening bars of the melody being sort of a minor key macabre version of the “Laura” theme's first notes, turned inside-out. If you lived in or traveled through California over a forty year period, you might enjoy scenes shot at Roy Roger's Apple Valley Inn. Likewise, you may never have heard of “The Salton Sea,” featured in the closing scenes, unless you have lived on the west coast. There are numerous tell-tale clichés that Roger Corman co-wrote the script. The whole premise is predictable with little singled out that might be construed as creative.
Richard Conte, as usual, is commendable. A fine actor who may have simply needed a better agent. He plays a recently released Korean War veteran who visits Las Vegas where whatever happens in Vegas stays with Conte. He meets Mary Beth Hughes, whose character used to be somebody. Half drunk, she misinterprets Conte's badly versed compliment and loudly demands an apology because he hurt her feelings. It happens all the time today. While hitchhiking his way out of town, he is arrested and brought back for questioning by Reed “Joe White Eagle” Hadley. Hughes has been murdered and there were plenty of witnesses who jumped to conclusions about what may have happened. Conte can take refuge in that there is not yet Twitter. He is hot under the collar and, after a few probing questions, stereo-typically slugs Hadley, holds his deputies at gunpoint, shoots one patrol car tire flat then steals the other Nash patrol car. His self-inflicted bits rack up a lot of violations, usually at gunpoint.
He helps two stranded motorists get their car started and expects to get a ride as thanks. Professional photographer, Joan Bennett, is cool to the idea but her young assistant, Wanda Hendrix, would like to have a hunk along. Bennett's expression while riding in the convertible looks like she smells road kill. Her upper lip being overloaded with lipstick or she is just disgusted by life in general. Her esses and “r” pronunciations are Barbara Walters-lite. I digress. While stopped along the dragnet of highways, Bennett's little dog gets hit by an unconscious speeding motorist. You may protest why they included this scene at all. Only later do we learn why this happens and who is really at fault. Conte tries to fake his persona but the ladies are suspicious. They try to leave him behind at a diner but the car keys are dangling from Conte's hand. He is not much on small talk after this.
Much of the “excitement” is typically resolved with clichéd staging. These scenes make up the bulk of the film. Getting through a sweat-inducing road block or stealing a car that happens to have the keys in the visor to name only two. Perhaps the most preposterous is when Conte commands a delivery driver at gunpoint to move his ice cream truck across the highway to block the chasing police. He shoots the tires flat. Not as flat as the surrounding desert terrain yet Joe White Eagle cannot go around the truck. Apparently, because of a dust danger. He is completely bamboozled. If you have not laughed or cringed by now, the ending should do it.
Conte has inherited from his family a house on coastal waters that is dry when the tide is out and when the tide is in every room has its own wading pool. A family heirloom. It is his final hope to connect with a fellow veteran, his only alibi on the night of Hughes' murder. Hadley—he finally had the courage to go around that truck—arrives to take a Bennett bullet in the shoulder yet he treats it like a mere BB gun hit, rubbing the wound with his fingers. “Gee Willikers, that stings.” Conte chasing Bennett in apparent slow motion through knee-deep water is...well...not as funny as Bennett, in near panic of drowning in waist deep water, with her arms held up as if preparing to signal a field goal. It makes for a silly but revealing ending befitting this effort to produce a film which has not stood the test of time.
Once again, ignore the poster's enticing content. Conte is not a “thrill-killer” nor do we see any female with a strap around her neck. The cast never drove a Kaiser Manhattan, here attempting to burst through a roadblock, either.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
John Payne is a tough prize fighter in another film for director, Phil Karlson. A familiar tale of a “man against the world.” George Zuckerman's story is pretty far-fetched and cannot be believed as routine. If this Edward Small production falls short of being a great movie, the spot-on performances allow one to overlook weaknesses. Today, old films seem to be full of clichés, however. The budgeted studio sets with perpetually wet city streets was a standard device to give a city life. The painted or rear-projected buildings are present to add depth. There seems to be a very noticeably odd “processing” during the harbor climax scene which looks like a stage scrim has been set up in front of cargo ships.
Though Payne has starred in gritty, career changing films before, he is believable as a guy beaten down inside and outside the ring. Payne is on a career roll, leaving behind his lighter characters. There is never a dull moment. The boxer's volatile temper, blunt dialogue and realistic action catapults the film above the average, late film noir offering. I found the opening boxing scenes more believable than the over-the-top Rocky Balboa bouts. Though both films seem to use the same sound effect of punching a cardboard box with throw pillow inside. Because of the potential permanent eye damage during his championship fight, Payne's heavyweight career comes to an end. Three years on he is now a taxi driver with dreams of owning his own service station. His wife, Peggy Castle, is a nagging, unsympathetic wife who blames him for her lack of social importance and personal career crusher. Owning a lowly gas station is the last round for her. Castle is already two-timing with a jewel thief, Brad “Smarmy” Dexter. No secret to Payne.
Jay Adler moonlights as a backroom jewel fence, incognito as a pet shop owner. He refuses to pay off Dexter for his latest jewel delivery, not only for killing the original owner, but primarily because he brings Castle into the mix. Adler tells him there is no deal if a woman is involved. Emotional attachments have a way of altering the end game. Dexter takes his “advice” and gets rid of Castle, hiding her cold body in the back of Payne's cab. The frame is set.
Playing an aspiring actress, Evelyn Keyes has two supporting roles with Payne. Besides being his co-star, she is a frequent taxi fare. When she finds about his predicament she wants to help but he is reluctant to get her involved. Keyes' attractiveness is her persona more than being naturally beautiful. One actress who might have preferred one camera angle over another but who cares. She is good. Jack Lambert, Adler's muscle, has a good turn here, also. He has an underdeveloped sense of humor. Calls everyone at gunpoint, “kiddies.” His fight scene with Payne is worth noting. Suspecting he is in with Dexter, he slaps Payne around from behind who is slowly coming to full boil. Lambert becomes a body-double for a punching bag. He completely did not anticipate the jackhammers hiding at the end of Payne's arms. Poor Lambert is repeatedly blasted over furniture and becomes wall décor, after a fashion. It is well choreographed, vicious and believable.
Adler and crew are confused about Payne's supposed involvement in a jewel heist. He is picked up on 99 River Street and they need answers to a few questions. After the butt-end of a revolver from a revengeful Lambert, Payne tells Adler about his frame-up then all bullets have Dexter's name on them. Continuing to hone her acting skills, Keyes' role playing comes in handy as she lures Dexter out of the diner. Spotting Payne outside, Dexter makes a run for it with Payne taking a bullet in the arm. One arm is plenty and Dexter is soon down for the count.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
This lower budget Columbia Pictures drama succeeds thanks to its excellent cast and screenplay. A better than average B-movie centering around an automotive theme. It starts off in realistic fashion, hiding the plot initially with racing sequences filmed on location in southern California. Outside of these scenes, a studio Jaguar XK120 prop car is being hounded by rear-projected cars, however. Scenes are also filmed at an actual automotive repair shop and it is an eye full for foreign car fans and Detroit's contribution as well. Under echoes of the garage's concrete interior, each vehicle is lined up in their stall as their tune-up awaits.
McCarthy―looking surprisingly like Max Headroom at times―has been scouting local race tracks for a fast driver, though his interest has nothing to do with competitive racing. He and Kelly single out Rooney as their ideal unassuming candidate. Like diesel fuel in sub zero weather, the plot thickens. Along the way, most of Kelly's lines are witty remarks usually at Rooney's expense. Script lines perfectly befitting Kelly's condescending delivery. McCarthy wants Rooney to drive a crooked, dangerous road in twenty minutes that would safely take forty. In mock fascination, he pumps up Rooney's ego on what it would take to do this. The script's accurate and lengthy details of the customization needed for a heavy, fourteen-year-old American sedan to make such a drive is spot on. And Rooney could not be more authentic explaining it. Puzzled, he cannot figure their intense interest in automobiles or why twenty minutes is so important. The two need twenty minutes to get away from the bank they plan to rob. Rooney immediately yanks the handbrake on the plan. McCarthy smoothly calms him and suggests he see Foster before deciding. She lays out a prearranged story and loony Rooney's spark plugs ignite again.
The studio prop car's “driving” sequences are pretty funny during their shortcut's dusty escape. The studio's stunt driver and sound department put on an impressive show, however. Rooney's faking of the prop car steering wheel suggests he understands and respects the car's limits. He supposedly hits 100 mph at one point with Kelly hanging on for dear life in the back seat as the rear-projected scenery out the front windshield swifts abruptly left to right, tires squealing in the dirt. Not wacky like W.C. Fields' climactic driving in “The Bank Dick,” but nonetheless, amusing.
Showing sincere remorse for towing Rooney along, Foster bluntly spills her guts much to McCarthy's ire. Rooney knows a bit too much at this point. It is Kelly's job to eliminate him along the coastal roadway. As an excellent driver, Rooney also knows how to roll a car. Rooney survives and stumbles back to McCarthy's with Kelly's gun. The one in the poster that suggests Rooney carries it with him all the time, being a hired killer or something. The ending minute leaves the story somewhat unresolved but it does not take a certified master mechanic to figure one.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
This is the first picture produced by Bel Air Productions, a studio known for B-movies and location shooting to protect a budget. There is nothing unique here. It is about as typical as it gets. Even the film's title was used before and after this one. There is the usual frame up, someone getting beat up yet nothing ever heats up. Richard Denning adds the only spark to this clichèd drama. He is easy to like despite a mostly forgotten film career. Marie Windsor receives top billing, in a role against type as a decent sole. But it is a pretty enjoyable romp thanks to a talented cast.
Out-of-work engineer, Denning, is looking for a job in Oklahoma oil country. Thinking he might at least triple his nine dollars, he joins a back room gambling table after meeting hostess, Windsor, in the adjoining tavern. James Griffith stands over the table. He wins most of the time. As Denning discovers, Griffith's dice are loaded. After losing, Denning calmly walks over and removes his nine bucks from Griffith's pile of cash. Windsor and her boss, Carleton Young, take notice of his bold move. They hope to persuade Denning to help Young's oil well turn a profit. He has limited time to strike oil or the well defaults to his sister, Fay Baker, as per their father's will. Baker is a manipulator by profession and there is no love lost between brother and sister. She is determined to get all his holdings one way or the other. Using all her feminine wiles, she tries to get Denning to change sides. He rejects her and the offer. Griffith is devoted to Baker and will stoop low enough to make her Will a reality. After Windsor's boss is murdered, Denning is set up to take the rap while at the crime scene. Young's Will is a real dividing point for the two females. It leaves his ranch to Windsor, not his conniving sister.
Taylor Holmes plays the attorney who represented the father before he died. Holmes was also the previous owner of all the land mentioned in the Will. He lives with a talented, unemployed organ grinder monkey. His character is annoying because of his perpetual drunk routine. Since the beginning of entertainment, stumbling drunks have been either harmless, lovable creatures or used for comic relief. In reality, alcoholics are pathetically in need of help. Even Otis Campbell. I digress. No sooner than Baker can say, "Thy Will be done," she is shot and killed by, apparently, the camera man, as the audience is left to guess who pulled the trigger. Thanks to the monkey's brilliant hurdy gurdy moves, Windsor's life is spared from Holmes' remaining bullets. The suddenly sober Holmes was planning to eliminate all family members, claiming the well for himself. Never trust a fake drunk. Windsor gushes over Denning as their oil well strikes a pose.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Howard Hughes puts his trademarks on this film, what with the flying sequences and microscopic closeups of his leading lady. A film that is hardly unknown. With the pairing of two popular Hollywood stars, Victor Mature and Jane Russell, it is hard to ignore. The perfect sneering couple. Throw in Vincent Price and you have great movie potential.
With similar “dangerous” facial features, testy pout and a noteworthy sneer, Jane Russell reminds me of a female Elvis. She could hardly be called flat except for her acting. Adequate, but her eyes are generally expressionless. True, few men of the era were really that interested in her eyes. Her potentially witty comebacks are not as pointed as in “His Kind of Woman” a year earlier. Perhaps due in part to a screenplay by Frank Fenton or her costar, Robert Mitchum, who knew his way around witty dialogue. Nonetheless, she had one of the most beautiful smiles in Hollywood. But lately, those smiles only happen when she is around Hoagy Carmichael.
Hoagy—as Happy—is the casino pianist. Thanks to his delivery, he lightens the film considerably, if not frequently. His opening narration sets up the background for the film's stars prior to their appearance. Hoagy's folksy tone of a “country cool cat” is endearing. He performs an early “rap” song with, “The Monkey Song.” The difference with his rap is that he uses an actual melody. Not percussion-backed rhyming. From 1938, “I Get Along Without You Very Well” is reused for this film. Written for this film, “My Resistance Is Low,” is a fun song but hard to sit through because of the syrupy delivery and slurring lyrics by Russell. She is filmed only from the waist up, providing another comparison to Elvis. But with opposite intentions.
Russell's husband, Vincent Price, insists on vacationing in Las Vegas. He is undoubtedly a character with selfish motives and is determined to play the tables in hopes of winning enough to pay his debts. Russell preferred a flight anywhere but Vegas from fears of running into her old flame, Victor Mature, now a lieutenant with the Sheriff's Department. Through most of the film, he and Russell get along without each other very well. Their parting years before, the result of poor communication skills. Russell's necklace becomes Price's collateral with the casino owner taking possession. In between a couple of songs, he ends up dead and the necklace goes missing. Getting off the same plane was Mr. Smarmy himself, Brad Dexter. He has been assigned by his insurance company to watch Price and Russell's...uh...necklace.
The exciting climax, perhaps filmed at the former Tonopah Army Airfield, was the first car and helicopter chase sequence in a movie. Flying twice through an open hanger was a groundbreaking sequence and I imagine approaching something of science fiction for the era. Mr. Smarmy's kidnapping of the necklace and Russell is a useless attempt at a sedan escape. The foot chase between Mature and Dexter is typical of the era, resulting in Dexter making a final curtain call. Price is given a sentence for embezzlement and divorce papers to sign while incarcerated. The film ends unresolved but one gets the feeling she and Mature have a future together. Viva Las Vegas!
Saturday, September 30, 2017
This film hardly falls into the unknown category for any film noir fan. It is generally highly regarded despite a familiar B-movie path. Directed and produced by Otto Preminger with screenplay by the typically great Ben Hecht, it follows the story of another cynical detective who hates criminals to the core. Subconsciously because his late father was a gangster in his own time. His methods of getting a criminal to talk are not by the book and the Inspector, Robert Simon, in his first film role, repeatedly calls him on the carpet for it.
“Dirty Dana” Andrews plays the aforementioned detective where violence seems to be around every corner. Murder suspect and gambler, Craig Stevens, who is particularly soused, strikes Andrews across the jaw then he is decked, hitting his head on the floor. Andrews tries to wake him but he is out. Permanently. Andrews turns white with fear. He will surely lose that parking spot in front of headquarters! When he finds out Stevens was a war hero and the silver pate in his head is what killed him, he feels even worse. Things get more dicey after Andrews discovers that Gene Tierney was his wife. Andrews' web of deceit plunges him deeper into self-loathing. Andrews devises a plan to detour the manslaughter rap.
Gary Merrill is Andrew's gangster nemesis. It was Andrew's father who set Merrill up in the mob. His character is somewhat in the mold of Richard Widmark's screen debut role, though not mentally unstable. Cool, calm and polite with nice threads, Merrill's quirk is his apparent addiction to nasal inhalers. A medicinal gimmick that seems to only afflict the underworld. Hiring Neville Brand as a heavy, here doing double duty as a massage therapist, was also a customary gimmick during this period.
Tierney was another actress of the era with a slight overbite. Not nearly the Nutty Professor but not entirely appealing. This physical “feature” is noticeable only when she speaks. Which is every scene she's in. I guess they cannot all be Grace Kelly. I digress. Her father, Tom Tully, is a cabbie who has been understandably angry with his good for nothing son-in-law, Stevens. Because of this and his whereabouts near the time of Stevens' demise, he is inadvertently accused of the homicide. Newly promoted Lieutenant, Karl Malden, is convinced Tully is the killer despite Andrews' attempt to throw the killing in Merrill's direction.
At his personal sidewalk ends, Andrews is abducted and driven to the gangsters hideout. There is a creepiness being helplessly trapped inside a car as it is lifted to the upper level of a parking garage. No dialogue. No music. Just the sound of mechanical hydraulics at work. Feeling more despondent and no better than his father, he hopes to be killed so the authorities can at least pin one murder on Merrill, who is not taking the bait. The gangsters hightail it when the sirens get louder and they lock Andrews in the garage. In their hasty retreat, the gang forgot about an unlocked rooftop door and out pops Andrews. He stops the elevator's descent between floors with Merrill and gang being arrested.
Andrews had written a confession letter to be opened in the event of his death. Simon, now all smiles and grateful to Andrews for bringing down the mob, indicates there is no reason, thankfully, to open it. Awkward. He wants the letter read anyway. In front of Tierney. The Inspector's smile is turned upside down. Andrews will have time to contemplate his future career move. Perhaps security detail at a Woolworth store. As expected, Tierney promises to wait for him.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Thanks to the Internet, this movie needs little introduction. Mickey Rooney's characterization is legitimate as a young auto mechanic—an occupation he returns to four years later in, “Drive A Crooked Road”—who longs for a lifestyle he cannot afford in somewhat of an ego boost. Throughout the film, he provides his inner thoughts in voice-overs. His innocent borrowing of twenty dollars from the garage's cash register is only the beginning. Though he has every intention of paying it back the next day, his descent into crime pulls him down deeper as each misdeed gets more risky. The twenty dollars is soon forgotten. Rooney improves this film and keeps it from sinking. Many seem to gloss over Rooney's heavy dramatic career shift in the Fifties. This one removed him from Andy Hardy for good.
Not helping is dangerous Jeanne Cagney, who is temptation personified. Saying she is well known in the neighborhood is an understatement. Peter Lorre, seedy owner of a penny arcade, could teach a detailed history class on Cagney's past. Barbara Bates plays the wholesome, unappreciated good girl who has taken her relationship with Rooney seriously. She rounds out the quartet of main characters. Like anyone not taking responsibility for their actions, Rooney's audible inner thoughts express his disgust with the “bad luck” that has befallen him. Things get so bad, Rooney ends up robbing a soused bar patron near the arcade for his large bank roll. And there are eye witnesses.
Seedy Lorre blackmails Rooney over the robbing and in exchange for his silence, requests a new car. Between a rock and a hard place, the mechanic steals one but those pesky witnesses are everywhere. His boss wants the car's price reimbursed at nearly twice the Blue Book. The less-than-lovely Cagney hatches a plan for Rooney to steal money from Lorre's arcade to pay for the car. Been there, done that, she thinks she is entitled to half so she can buy that mink coat she has lusted over. A driving suspense theme kicks in during the theft. A nightwatchmen spots someone inside the arcade and fires a shot. Despite the darkness, a light bulb turns on for Rooney who parts company with the female quicksand. He offers what funds are left to his unethical boss who promptly attempts to call the police. The ominous suspense theme returns with good effect as Rooney viciously stops his boss from speed dialing. Sure he has committed murder, he panics and runs.
Bates returns to see Rooney and the film to the end. She is head over heels in love with Rooney no matter what. In a surprising bit of unlikely good fortune, he hijacks a car driven by a sympathetic lawyer. The most unbelievable sequence in the script. After long driving advice, Rooney sends Bates and lawyer back inland while he tries to sail south until things cool off. He quite literally, misses the boat, but does not miss a bullet from one officer. The lawyer's car does a U-turn when its radio reports that Rooney's boss is recovering nicely. The good news. The bad news is that Rooney is off to prison for a few years. All because of a lousy twenty bucks! Life is not fair, man. Bates promises to wait and I believe her. She is determined to get married.
This United Artist release has a slightly amusing ending as three extras peer in the car's rear window, jockeying for a better view inside the studio prop car as the stationery trio inside calmly discuss the lawyer's fine print of his invoice. Those extras nearly steal the scene.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
The slow motion dissolving opening credits of a shimmering font seems to establish a whimsical tone. The orchestral music crescendos gently as each main credit slowly appears then decrescendos as credits fade. Then the cycle repeats. With a complicated lead character and screenplay, this movie needs to be watched more than once to catch all the nuances that make this low budget film work. The cinematography by John Russell is certainly a highlight. A couple of chase scenes have actors running into or stepping over a camera letting the viewer see their approaching and retreating action. The sets nicely masquerade for location filming and a few bits of well placed dialogue adds appeal. But the film would never be considered concise. I was a bit frustrated with this film's pacing for the first thirty minutes.
The insomniac city is Chicago and Chill Wills gives it voice. A good bet this is the only fantasy noir released by Republic Pictures. The film is the city's tale of one night in The Windy City. When Wills pops up out of nowhere to be Gig Young's substitute patrol partner, the script adds a quirky fantasy element. Nearing the film's end, once he is confident Young has everything under control, he magically vanishes just as fast as he appeared. This really is an odd choice to have Wills materialize into the film and I am not sure it even has a point. Young does not seem to be affected by any of Wills encouragement or wise counsel. An angel of sorts seems out of place in this humorless crime drama.
Young is strangely nonchalant with his unhappy lot in life. Uncommitted. He has grown weary of his job and restless with his marriage of an interminable three years. Few could play nonchalant better, though. It took me awhile to realize the early references to “Pops” was more than everyone's affectionate term for a senior policeman. Young is his son, carrying the family torch in the line of duty. Young's brother, on the other hand, is tempted to a wilder side by local magician turned criminal, William Talman. Another odd character. The magician angle is irrelevant to the movie or with anything Talman does. Unless he prepared those opening credits. Nothing magical about him. He is a local hood. Or as officer Thomas “Steve Allen” Poston near the end calls him, a “who’d.” Talman is indelibly etched into this film. Smooth and calculating with a stone in place of a heart. He and Edward Arnold, in another role as a powerfully crooked attorney, have had “arrangements' in the past. His plan is to do Talman a “favor” by getting him safely to Indiana. Talman is apparently unaware of the post office wanted posters in the neighboring state. He would be put away for a long time, getting him out of Arnold's hair. What there is of it. The attorney wants Young to transport him.
In the mix is an “exotic” dancer, Mala Powers, who Young is not that committed to either. He would like to be but it is complicated. Powers is an aspiring ballerina whose bit of bad fortune placed her in the company of less aspiring dancers. Also in love with Powers is perhaps the film's most unusual character. Wally Cassell plays the club's unique entertainer whose job behind an elevated glass case outside the nightclub is to fool the public into believing he is actually a mechanical man. This he does in shifts for the equivalent length of this movie (ninety minutes) with five minute breaks in between! With face painted silver atop a black tuxedo, this quirky character may be the only witness to a murder outside the club. Talman waits in the shadows to find if he is real or not before firing. Cassell is that good.
There is a nice ending twist of confusion for Talman regarding father and son. The father takes the police radio call in place of his son. Thinking he is Young, Talman is stunned to learn father is there to handcuff and arrest him. Young is devastated over the outcome of Talman's brutal action. His career commitment and life purpose hit new heights, no thanks to Wills. The ending is the typical gunfire exchange while running to total exhaustion. But this time down Chicago's elevated train tracks. A particularly helpless location if not timed just right. Talman's narrow escape between two speeding trains is exciting. He looks particularly terrified. But it is the electrified rails that concern both men the most as they side step over them. Running the gauntlet of stepping into well-placed automotive tires at an NFL training camp would not be this challenging. Nor this dangerous. This climax is well-timed, pretty suspenseful and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Based on Longfellow's 1855 epic poem, at times this film seems sincere about its treatment of the story with filming locations setting a wonderful tone. Composer Marlin Skiles' score takes the film up a notch, mostly complimenting the location and light action scenes. The movie opens under beautiful visuals and a soothing voice-over reading of a poem, after a fashion. As a segue from poem to film, the main credits are uniquely held until the end so the viewer stays in the moment. This was the last film produced by the low-budget production company, Monogram Pictures. Considering the era depicted and story, the low budget is pretty well hidden. Until the actors show up.
The casting department's budget was thin. An obvious reason for a forgettable film. The cast sounding like they just completed their first month at a New York school of drama. The main leads, Vincent Edwards, Keith Larsen and Yvette Dugay, each wearing identical non-gender Indian wigs, do not totally embarrass themselves, however. Edwards seems to fit the part of the even-tempered, peaceful tribesman and does possess more charisma than a cigar store Indian. Larsen delivers his lines as if it were opening night of a melodramatic stage play. With tribal names like Pukkeewis, Megissogwon, Chibiabos and Mudjekeewis, better turn up the volume and have an encyclopedia handy. I will say, the arrows shot into a couple of bare backs are very realistically done. Would like to know the film wizardry behind this. I liked the period appearance of the canoes, though adapted from modern ones.
Selected by the Ojibway council, Edwards/Hiawatha is sent on a peace mission to the Dakotah tribe. Fellow tribesman, Larsen, insists Edwards is a weak coward because he is so nice and even tempered. Plus, Edwards removed his chest hairs with Nair. Larsen constantly spreads fake news and real arrows to undermine Edward's mission so he can elevate himself in the eyes of the tribe. Edwards has a choreographed fight with a black bear costume and you will burst out laughing when the bear takes an arrow from one Dakotah, who comes to Edwards' aide. While recovering, you witness one of the fastest courtships in film history as Dugay/Minnehaha falls in love with Edwards after only their second scene together. She is all gitche gumee about him. The subsequent wedding is clouded by a manufactured war between the two tribes, instigated, naturally, by Larsen, who prefers to make war, not love. Acceptance and peace win out and war is averted as Larsen gets justice thrust upon him once and for all. Rest assured, Edwards and Dugay will one day have a tribe of mini-hahas running around.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Twentieth Century Fox agreed to distribute this tidy sixty-seven minute noir despite a lead cast that has been mostly forgotten. Okay. Totally forgotten. Giving the viewer some common ground is a supporting cast of more familiar faces whose careers were gaining momentum, Jeff Chandler, James Arness, Joe Sawyer and Charles McGraw. Other than the ridiculous premise of identical twins from different mothers, there is not much to fault here.
The title refers to a murder case where the victim is found with a single rose in her hand. It does not make up the crux of the film, however. Sawyer is first seen smelling the rose at the crime scene. He sniffs up the aroma with great nostalgia as he recalls, as a child, his mother's rose garden. Lovely.
Don Castle, at times looking like a cross between Rory Calhoun and Robert Taylor, plays a dual role of the new D.A. and a criminal with the exact same appearance. Establishing both characters with matching mustaches and hair color and style makes for one gullible audience. If that is not confusing enough, pretty Peggy Knudsen and Patricia Knight play, respectively, the good guy's fiance and bad guy's wife. Of similar height, hairstyle, clothes and hooked up with—in reality—the same guy, it may take a few minutes to sort things out. Knudsen, a crack newspaper reporter, appears to be wearing wax lips when not talking or with a lower lip that could burst at any moment. The ladies have no trouble identifying their man, however, as each have a kiss that is more distinct than fingerprints.
A wheelchair-bound mob boss is filled in about the new D.A. by crooked cop and rose smeller, Sawyer. He informs him that the new D.A. will not “cooperate” like the last D.A., who was apparently voted out for that very reason. After bad Castle is released from prison, he spots a photo of the new D.A. in the newspaper and recognizes himself. Posing as the real D.A., he visits the mob boss in the hope of convincing him he could play the new D.A. since he is the same person. However, the boss is not fooled. He recognizes bad Castle from a program cover for his performance in “Othello” by The Prison Players with a talented supporting cast! Obviously, bad Castle has the acting chops to pull it off. They initiate a prison revolving door plan and manipulate the judicial system.
A mob goon, Chandler, abducts the real D.A., taking him to a secluded location for a few days until the fake D.A. is ready to roll. Good and bad Castle finally meet, always with a blank door between them in the background, a safe distance apart. When the opportunity arises, the D.A. jumps corrupt Castle, knocks him out and places him in an upright position as Chandler's automobile pulls into the drive. The D.A. exchanges clothes with the unconscious twin. How timely...how ridiculous. Dressing himself and a limp body in less than a minute is suspended disbelief at its briefest. Through his own initiative and just for fun, the goon (unknowingly) shoots the corrupt Castle. After pushing the real D.A.'s car over a roadside embankment, Chandler roughs him up and shoves him down the slope to make it believable that he was thrown clear of his car. While recovering in the hospital the real D.A. keeps his kidnapping and bad driving skills vague to the authorities and his girl while a smug Sawyer looks on.
Knudsen, however, smells something rotten in this Castle. Later at gunpoint, she questions him until he reminds her of their first kiss. After their third date. They kiss and she instantly knows he is the real deal. Well, he is at least alive. The real D.A. assumes the persona of the “dead D.A.” for Sawyer's sake. Oh brother! Knight unexpectedly drops by his office and expects a familiar kiss from her husband. Upon leaving, she lets Sawyer in on what a kiss means to her as they motor away. A little too personal for Sawyer. His face turns red as a rose. I imagine. The real D.A. is now her fake husband. Or something. She disappears in the film for a while. The audience not too concerned since they are way ahead of the script.
The jailbird accused in the murder agrees to turn state’s evidence on his crime family. Meanwhile, the mob boss will pay Sawyer to get out of the country but Sawyer turns the table and threatens the boss at gunpoint in his own plan to come out smelling like a rose. With an armed wheelchair Ernst Blofeld would envy, the mob boss mortally wounds Sawyer. Police arrive to haul off the dead and charge one with the illegal use of a wheelchair. Knight is called in to sign papers and divest herself from her late husband. As she goes out the door, she reminds Knudsen that her fiance’s kissing needs some practice. Well, of all the nerve!
Saturday, July 29, 2017
A limited budget movie with opening narration is sometimes a clear signal the film is going to stall out somewhere along the way, not sustaining its “docudrama” set up. There is no escaping that reality here where escape has a double meaning. One, of having all roads out of the city blocked by police for any fleeing fugitive, and the other, trying to escape a homicide rap. This is a rare crime B-movie where none of the principles die. There is a lot of faking in this film, from dubbed singing to a rooftop escape which looks particularly manufactured. One might relish the scenes of vintage San Francisco but only if you grew up there.
The film starts off fairly optimistically thanks to Lew Ayres in a likable role well suited some five years later for a young Jack Lemmon, perhaps. He appears to be a flippant, carefree songwriter who is eking out a living playing piano at a nightclub. Actually he cannot get his composing mojo back and wallows in self-doubt and drink. His dubbed vocals being way off the believability chart. To say nothing of the piano “playing” before his hands get near the keyboard.
Marjorie Steele, girlfriend of Sonny Tufts, is adequate in her role. Her trumpeted, curling upper lip when talking is annoying as if she continued as a thumb sucker through sixth-grade. But I digress. While chatting with Ayres in the nightclub, she is whisked away by a wealthy James Griffith, in possibly his briefest role ever. A quarrel later ensues with a lamp base going to Griffith's head. All of which is assumed but never filmed. Fearing she has killed Griffith, she becomes an over-the-top bundle of nerves, jumping three feet whenever a phone rings or a siren blares. Ayres later stumbles into Griffith's apartment to return the “pity cash” he received from Griffith in the nightclub. He leaves enough fingerprints to incriminate himself. It eventually occurs to Ayres that she only knocked out Griffith with someone else returning for the kill.
Tufts as a policemen seems a stretch, as one gets the feeling he will go into a jealous, maniacal rage at any moment. Slightly unstable roles like this seemed to be more the norm for him in the Fifties as his career self-destructed. But I digress again. Tufts would prefer to pin the crime on Ayres but Steele feels guilty about that. She helps Ayres escape—without leaving town—but there is no escaping the mundane sections throughout this film which are not integral to the plot and make it seem a lot longer than it is. There are a few clever close calls or two but hardly worth mentioning. In a moment to catch their breath, Steele pointedly challenges Ayres to snap out of it and return to being the composer he once was. In the end, he sees a fresh horizon with a newly written song and encouragement from his new girl.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
This film is perhaps better titled, “The Film that Blew Too Much.” For a supposed secret agent spy yarn it is bogged down for a lack of action, a lot of talk and a convoluted plot, tiresome script and boring performances by the principle players. The opening music reminds one of the typical Sixties beach party films. The score gets more appropriately “007ish” as the credits role, however. The music editor’s blew it, though, with some repetitious themes with no benefits to the action. None worse than when our hero is walking through the inside of an airliner while a burping brass score sounds as if the players were sight reading. Funny, wobbly, if not out of tune. The choreographed scuffles using obvious stuntmen and paper furniture keeps the realism dangerously low. The faked high performance engine sound effects from the (apparently) “Ferrari” knock-off—whatever it is—was probably mandatory coming a year after “Bullitt.” On the other hand, the gunshot sound effects are rather impressive in a film where everyone apparently carries a .44 Magnum.
Former CIA spy, Adam West, with the cheesy name of Johnny Cain, spends his retirement running a nightclub and is reluctant to leave his comfortable lifestyle. But the CIA's David Brian needs him more than ever. A committee known ironically as, WEST, also want his services. There is a big build up of his credentials as if they are expecting to hire Rambo. But one gets the feeling West is about as menacing as Woody Allen.
West's job is to find out who murdered a mob kingpin unceremoniously and literally dumped at his nightclub. The killing is an early step by the committee to have the Communists methodically take over the crime syndicate. So West is out to bring down WEST. We find him bouncing from one co-star to another to solve the crime and stay alive. Location filming normally helps these spy movies and that is one redeeming quality. Yet in “all this excitement” West remains quite comatose. A character that is so laid back he simply appears to be lacking sleep most of the time. But what a tan!
The film gets no lively help from deadpan co-star, Nancy Kwan, either. Bland Kwan relies on her attractiveness to the end. So it is up to Buddy Greco's performances to resuscitate the film, doing what he did best in this, the first of his two films. A Buddy Greco Film Festival making for a short evening. Always available and dependable, Nehemiah Persoff, hangs in there throughout the film as the police lieutenant and West's part-time protection.
Despite fawning “Batman” fans, Adam West simply does not sell the role in this supposed career upgrade. He never completely leaves Bruce Wayne behind. West fans will probably love it for that very reason. Being filmed in color may be its most noteworthy quality. Filmed in grainy black and white, it would be another B-movie. Which it is, of course, in any coloration. The film may not rank as the worst budgeted film of 1969 but it still ranks.