Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE HOUSTON STORY (1956)


William Castle offers up his final noir about an ambitious oil driller who discovers a way to steal oil then sell it to distributors or foreign interests for huge profits. The film's first half is the stronger section as we are not sure of the main character's intent nor occupation. Whether legit or crook. The opening morgue scene involving a female's body gets the intrigue award. The script can be complicated about the benefits of underworld “investing” and whose pipes are being gleaned. It starts to disintegrate during the last third of the film, however, offering a commonplace resolve.

Gene Barry puts the con in conniving. A greedy, unscrupulous businessman who romances a nightclub singer to infiltrate a Houston mobster's organization. With handsome, hero looks, Barry more often than not left the crooked roles behind. He is a decent enough fit in this role as a womanizer. More believable in this aspect than the original choice, Lee J. Cobb, might have been. Most women in the audience would prefer to be kissed by Barry over Cobb.


Barbara Hale—the aforementioned morgue lady—is the newly identified nightclub singer and mistress of local mob boss, Edward Arnold. Her facial features are a standout from any angle. Hale plays the role well despite her obvious, yet convincing, dubbed vocal number. She has cheating plans of her own. Escape town with lots of oily dough, leaving Barry barren. She will need to wash the platinum from her hair before Perry Mason would ever consider her as his assistant.


There is enough backstabbing in this film to be another Castle horror movie. Arnold, in his next to last movie, could play corrupt like few others. Barry needs his financial backing. Arnold goes along with Barry's scheme, vouching for their newest board member, chaired by “Mr. Big,” John Zaremba. But Arnold never wavers from his plan to dispose of Barry once the funds start rolling in. Apart from Houston's temperatures, Barry begins taking heat from investigators. He sets up nightclub owner, Paul Richards, another Arnold associate, to take the fall for an oil well sabotage to get them off his back. But Richards shifts the blame to Arnold, putting him on an slippery slope. For the first time in his career, he is a hunted man with no place to go. Out of nowhere, instantly, mister tough guy spits out his startling confession to Barry. “Now I gotta run! I never had to run before! I don't even know how to run!” At his size, he was accurate about the running. His rapid escape out the front doors where the police are waiting will not even allow him be arrested for jay-walking. Sensing trouble, Zaremba wants Barry removed “peacefully” from his “board of elders” and sends two gangsters to...uh...find him.

With all his shrewd and detailed planning, Barry would have made an excellent professional organizer some fifty years later. Organized for him will be a trial. A sentencing for graft, corruption and an itty-bitty murder. Digging himself out of prison might be his next drilling adventure.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

THE SCARLET HOUR (1956)


This ninety-five minute film's premise is what God meant about his Tenth Commandment. Though the title is a bit of a mystery—no scarlet noted and the film is over an hour—the suspense is pretty well handled by director, Michael Curtiz. The only thing new about this film is its debut of some future television regulars. Paramount's Vista Vision gamble, Carol Ohmart, stars with Tom Tryon, Elaine Stritch, David Lewis and James Gregory in their first film, along with seasoned actors, Ed Binns and E.G. Marshall. In fact, this movie might have played better on the small screen. At least it would have been free. Of note is a smooth vocal performance by Nat King Cole.

Ohmart's successful husband, played by Gregory, knows his wife will do just about anything behind his back. Straight-arrow Tryon proves to be a real sap by succumbing to the devious female and her plan to have him intercept jewels after thieves steal them. A plan she originates after they both secretly overhear a conversation between Lewis and his two operatives. The house to be burglarized? It is Lewis' own home.


On the night of the theft-intercept, the abusive Gregory follows his wife, catches her, and spots Tryon. Obvious to her, he would like to kill her as he has threatened to do before. He pulls his gun and enters her car. They struggle as Ohmart pleads with him. Gregory's gun goes off in the wrong direction and he is shoved out onto the pavement. Though she despised him, she plunges into hysterics, calling out his name in sorrow. How could her plan possibly have gone this wrong? This segment is hard to fathom as she drives off, arms shaking, with Tryon trying to figure what happened back there as he was dodging burglar bullets. Surely Gregory was shot with a stray one. 

Ohmart has the brazenness to be jealous of Tryon guessing he is secretly seeing her late husband's secretary, played by Jodie Lawrance. She, by the way, had more movies under her waist before 1956 than the other stars combined. Lawrance wants to protect him for the decent man he really is as she hopes for a future together. Ohmart drops a none-too-subtle suggestion to the police that she might have killed Gregory. When Tryon finds this out he is...how to put it...livid. He arranges for the police to gather at Ohmart's estate as he gives her a big dose of verbal reality. She stares out a second story window as Lawrence and Tryon embrace in the courtyard below. As for Ohmart, I am not sure how severe the charges will be, given her husband's accidental death and the theft of stolen fake jewels. Perhaps a series of counseling sessions and a year of community service. She has issues.


Hard to believe today there would not have been a script change, so I found this amusing. When the police come to the office of Tryon for questioning—Tryon portrays E.V. Marshall—he meets the lieutenant, played by E.G. Marshall. I thought I saw E.G. smirk a bit but really only wishful thinking. E.G. seems to have sucked some helium before filming certain scenes.

At least for this film, Ohmart is Madame Tussaud's Barbara Stanwyck. Given her resemblance along with a similar story line, one might assume it is a re-think of a famous Stanwyck role. But in this case, “Double Dumbdidy” might be a better title. To be more accurate, her face is a mash-up of seventy percent Stanwyck and thirty percent Meryl Streep. Even at one-hundred percent it would not have helped Ohmart's movie career who quickly transitioned to television. Her over-the-top acting quirks come off as if she is trying to steal any scene she is in. Constantly fidgeting some part of her body. None worse than her scene poolside with Lewis as her character, with all the femininity of Marlon Brando, nervously shakes in between severe drags on a cigarette. She is the weakest link in the movie and Hollywood noticed.