Saturday, July 14, 2018
Saturday, June 30, 2018
Saturday, June 16, 2018
Saturday, June 2, 2018
“Violence is a disease caused by moral and social breakdown. That is the real problem, and it must be solved by reason, not by emotion. With understanding. Not hate.”
This quote, if reported as succinctly and honestly, could be applied to the present century. In this case it is the timeless voice-over warning repeated at end of the film. A film that will not come to mind when recalling classic films, but this forgotten gem provides, perhaps, the most contrasting opening and closing bookends in film noir history. Produced by Robert Stillman and released through United Artists, this ninety-two minute crime drama is appropriately supported with a score by Hugo Friedhofer.
Also in contrast are two men drawn together by happenstance. Frank Lovejoy’s performance will leave your emotions in knots. An early standout role which began his first, and only, full decade of acting. He portrays a loving husband and father who moved to California to seek employment but it has brought nothing more than frustration. His opening scenes are innocent and heartfelt, but with Lovejoy at his lowest point of self esteem, he is very vulnerable to the slightest motivation for income. His chance meeting at a bowling alley with an arrogant Lloyd Bridges influences the naive and desperate Lovejoy. Call it, imperfect timing. Bridges likes the finer things in life like a fancy wardrobe, preening and sticking two fingers and a thumb in a heavy black ball and rolling it down a long, narrow wooden floor. He is initially kind of likable. A guy with enough confidence to take charge. His subtle persuasion plays on Lovejoy’s hopelessness and it is a masterful class in salesmanship. Both actors are superb with personalities representing a spectrum of opposites.
Appropriately, Bridges professionally steals his scenes. A young, physically fit male in which social standing is everything. He is a cocky, petty thief who thinks he is invincible, believing he should be admired no matter what he is doing. As only his wheel man, Lovejoy’s first robbery experience does not weigh too heavy on his conscience. On the contrary, his new “employment” brings home enough money to encourage his expectant wife, young son and boost his self esteem. This charade continues for some time. However, with Bridge’s ego expanding blindingly fast, he decides to up his game by kidnapping the young adult son of a wealthy millionaire. Lovejoy is extremely nervous about it. The night kidnapping offers up some excellent camera work of Guy Roe. With Lovejoy’s help, the son is bound by ropes then Bridges pushes him down a stone-covered embankment. The son rolls by the ground-based camera as the stones cascade toward the viewer in a blur. There is a surreal sense of depth looking up at the two, extra tall distorted figures. With no masks hiding their identification, Bridges, in all his demented logic, brutally kills the son by smashing his head repeatedly with a huge stone. Pretty obvious he is not familiar with the term, “ransom.” Lovejoy is instantly sickened. His close-up, with eyes tightly closed, personifies disgust and terror. His life's history passes before him.
Enter Richard Carlson, a local newspaper reporter who fuels his report with hate-filled rhetoric. He puts the “sin” in sensationalism and thrusts the locals into a frenzy. Thankfully he had no Twitter account. But after meeting Lovejoy’s wife and reading his sincere letter of confession to her, he realizes his violent words have vastly overstepped the order of the law. Carlson’s close friend, an Italian psychology scholar, Renzo Cesana, confronts him about his lack of discernment and judgment. It is Cesana who repeats that closing voice-over charge.
Bridges paints the town, spending his easy, unearned cash. Thinking nothing of the murder. His “steady” is the appropriately attired, Adele Jergens. Let us just say she has been around the block more than a few times. The performance of Katherine Locke is worth a mention. She becomes Lovejoy’s awkward and repressed blind date. He seems to take some comfort in Locke’s sensitive manner. His excellent portrayal of a man helplessly numb and detached from his current life or any future life is spot-on. When a nightclub magician repeatedly uses Lovejoy as his comic foil in full public view, we witness Lovejoy’s embarrassment being in the spotlight knowing his crime. He is the only person not laughing. Sitting at the table, Locke pays him awkward compliments in the hope her small talk might flourish a relationship with another total stranger. However, his turn to heavy drink leaves his mind susceptible to the truth and he blurts out his recent crime. Now terrified, Locke realizes she has picked the wrong guy again.
The agonizing crescendo, one of the most unnerving twenty minutes on film, creates a wallop of an ending. The disturbing imagery emblazoned long after the moviegoer has left the theater. The calm resolve and hopelessness on Lovejoy’s face behind bars indicates a man coming to terms with his plight, though frightened beyond words. His honest confession led authorities to Bridges. In total contrast, Bridges' excellent mimicry of a raging, caged animal is chilling. He threatens Lovejoy’s life in the adjoining cell, irrationally thinking he will break out. It reveals the true nature of a violent sociopath. Mob violence rules as both prisoners are seen dragged and beaten from the jail. Lovejoy’s horizontal manhandling exit above the heads of the mob, mosh pit style, foretells future “aggressive mobs” at rock concerts some twenty-five years later.
Note: The film is based on events that occurred in 1933 concerning two men arrested for kidnapping and murder. The suspects confessed and were lynched by a mob of locals. The 1936 film “Fury” was inspired by the same incident. Reissued with a tawdry title of, “Try and Get Me!,” it was seemingly to promote the singular electrifying performance of Lloyd Bridges.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Allied Artists Pictures distributed this basement budget crime tale for E & L Productions. A one-time gesture apparently. About the only thing lowering this below other heist films of the period is the hilarious “pre-hippie” sub-culture. In this regard the film could stand alone. A position it richly deserves. Thankfully brief, the lame performances are the comedic low point in the movie though the opening jazz combo is cool enough. Dig it, daddio? Other than the opening, an innocuous score seems to be added without the director's knowledge. After an opening seemingly longer than fifteen minutes, the plot unfolds and the film does get better. But make no mistake, this film is funnier than intended.
Edward “Sorry about that, Chief” Platt, steals the film and delivers a convincing performance as a scoundrel in studio makeup beard and silk lounging robe. A bit of humor can be found beyond the coffee house performers, thanks to quips from Ned Glass, Platt's leg man and wristwatch fence. Platt is certainly full of himself as he frequently quotes famous literary passages, making whomever he is with feel inferior. Glass assumes he is a master chess player because he never loses. On the contrary, he simply hand picks customers who cannot play the game well. He appears to be the biggest beatnik sellout. In reality, his Los Angeles coffee house provides him cover where sunglass-wearing weirdos with van dykes spout poetry—after a fashion—or leotard-clad females attempt interpretative dance all in an effort to “find themselves” through overt behavior. As most surely know, bongo drums have a magically power to transform people into groovy cats. Can you dig it?
Being the wise judge of character he is, Platt condescendingly hires three frequent coffee house losers...uh...patrons he has been monitoring. He asks their help to rob an armored truck of one million clams during the stopover in Chicago of the Los Angeles to New York train. All three men could use a financial portfolio booster. Top-billed and obviously acting, Gregg Palmer, and his wife, Kathleen Crowley, are struggling because he cannot land any acting gigs. (He was lucky to get this one) She suspects he is not trying that hard. It is not that he lacks potential. He is quite believable when coming up with excuses. John Lupton has writer's block and Don Sullivan's only achievement, barring a few suicide attempts, is being the rich brat-of-a-son to his famous actress mommy.
The slickly planned and timed professional heist during the train's four hour layover in Chicago goes without a hitch as each do their assignment expertly. Assuming all things could go as planned, these scenes are feasible. Platt “shaves off” his studio beard and dons a clerical collar. A good disguise as all the elderly ladies on board think he is swell when quoting scripture. But one cannot judge a priest by his collar.
Sullivan's greed gets the best of him and he plans to keep the entire take for himself. When he turns up dead, Palmer suspects someone is not playing fair. Dig, my brother? He and Lupton spot a type-written suicide note designed to quell any suspicions. But Palmer astutely blurts, “Except that looks type-written.” Yes. It certainly does. Next up, Lupton departs the speeding train against his will. Palmer, finally buckling down to something, levels with his wife about his so-called all night casting calls then leads a police detective to the money's location. But it is missing.
Palmer initiates a long—can it only be seven minutes?—foot chase to capture Platt and his money-filled duffel bag through a rail yard in which the director never threw away any editing room footage. If it were an actual chase, both men would have been exhausted in the first minute. But film editing can do wonders for your stamina. Just when you think Platt will be pounced on, he escapes—his cane becomes a force to reckon with—under or over rail cars or climbing up boxcar ladders. Reset. Platt is spotted then disappears again. Reset. They each sprint through a locomotive shop being completely unnoticed. Reset. Palmer finally gets hands-on with Platt as the chase finally comes to...no wait...a railroad employee comes to the “reverend's” defense. After beating off the employee, Palmer is back in the chase after one wily priest for an electrifying finish.
Note: In the middle of that climatic chase we witness an odd placement of deliberate humor. Three hobos silently crawl forward on all fours to peer out from their individual, triangularly stacked large sewer pipe sections, wondering what all the commotion is about. When they spot the railroad police all three pop backward inside their pipe like a turtle in its shell. A scene seemingly lifted from a silent film comedy.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
This is Dick Powell’s directorial debut and he should have felt pretty good about the project. Roy Webb's powerful opening score adds a real sense of danger. Accompanied by a custom title font symbolizing electric voltage, it sets the movie up as, literally, an explosive tale of prisoners and hostages near a Nevada atomic test site. Interspersed with stock footage of an actual test, it is the one unique element about the movie. Beyond this, it is another, nearly forgotten, RKO crime thriller. The film does not get any more “B” than this, with actors, Stephen McNally, Jan Sterling, Alexis Smith, Robert Paige, Richard Egan and Keith Andes, all trying to stay alive in Arthur Hunnicutts’ neighborhood.
McNally is typecast again as a ruthless criminal and recent prison escapee. With a heart as small as an atom. His two cohorts, a badly wounded Paul Kelly, and Frank de Kova, as “Dummy,” are along for the ride of their lives. During their gas station stop, Smith and her affair, Paige, are taken hostage by McNally and his Dummy. At the same time, Andes is on his way to interview McNally, picking up Sterling along the way. One would think the interview would provide some bad press for the escapee, to say nothing about his whereabouts. Send the state troopers to “interview” him! Fortuitous timing as both parties end up meeting along the dusty highway. McNally hijacks Andes' station wagon. At this point the entire cast, minus Hunnicutt, is in this vehicle with barely enough room for dialogue. All positioned like a seasonal office portrait so that everyone can be seen. The cast head for an old resort town near the epicenter of an atomic test site. For obvious reason, it is now a ghost town. But in McNally's mind, it is the perfect hiding place.
Hunnicutt plays his usual backwoods character, this time as a prospector, an old-timer who remembers seminal moments from 1901. Hunnicutt’s real age and suspension of disbelief collide. After the cast has settled into a dusty building, he stumbles onto the entourage. All the characters are now intertwined into talkative, character developing scenes. Knowing he is irresistible, McNally makes a pass at both woman. First, Sterling, who appears to have rented a Shelly Winters style wig for her role. Her wound-tight platinum wig about to break a spring. Contrast this with her dark eyebrows, it symbolizes her life-long pent-up anger. It is a harsh look, but she has all the witty quips that typically end up in Powell’s scripts. The street-smart Sterling seems to have her head screwed on right, however. A more trustworthy person than the self-centered socialite and cowardly Smith, who begs McNally to take her with him, caring little for anyone else, even though Paige is standing right beside her. Paige is disgusted with the whole thing (outside his affair with Smith). He is always loudly threatening McNally. For an insurance broker, he lacks an abundance of common sense. He is unable to understand McNally’s persona in spite of obvious revelations. Paige ends up on the pointy-end of two bullets. McNally warned him several times to shut up.
McNally’s best bud is Kelly, who has a heart though barely beating. McNally found out that Smith’s husband is a doctor, played by Egan—once again cast as one half of a shaky relationship. McNally calls him from a phone booth in a nearby town and threatens to shoot Smith's head off if he does not come and save Kelly. Okay. That is clear. The operating scenes and the attempt to overpower McNally is tense and handled well by director, Powell.
Perhaps for their own amusement, those in command move the atomic test up one hour with actor, Clark Howat, calling the excruciatingly slow countdown. McNally makes a split section decision. Smith throws herself into the car with Kelly sandwiched in between. In their escape they go the wrong way, heading straight toward the detonating tower. Smith lets out a blood-curdling scream. Not enough to be mortally wounded, Kelly then loses his hearing. The funniest part is the bouncing miniature car as it backs up to go the other direction. Naturally, the real car gets stuck in the sand. Tense. The ending blast effects are good with the escape vehicle rolling with the nuclear winds providing a bit of a happy ending for some moviegoers. Except we lose that beloved criminal, Kelly.
Hunnicutt and the three remaining cast members found protection in an abandoned mine for the next fifteen years! All four completely forgot about “Dummy” who was knocked out during McNally's escape. Ooh. Sorry. Who's the dummy now?!
Note: RKO had planned their team of Victor Mature and Jane Russell to star as leads. Either would not have had as much of an impact, although the pairing might have brought in a few more moviegoers. Russell would have been typically bland in the Smith role. The latter being quite energetic yet with little doubt she is acting. She seems to go a bit atomic with her emotional swings. Emotions that would remain under the surface for Russell. McNally makes a much more disgusting criminal than Mature could have projected. Along with Egan, the three males co-star two years later in a more diverse crime story, “Violent Saturday.” Also set in desert climes with its own unique angle. An Amish family.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
After a million dollars is stolen from a treasury vault, the trail takes O’Keefe to London and with the assistance of Scotland Yard, they attempt to break up the racket. He and Philip Friend, the British detective he is teamed with, hit it off right out of the departure gate. They are always on the same page, each having an eye on Sheridan. The film is a procedural account of the authorities trying to find who is behind the profiteering from the sale of synthetic diamonds.
Sheridan transferred to a London hub to be with her father, a renowned atomic scientist, busy making synthetic diamonds for industrial research in a spooky mountain top castle rented from Dr. Frankenstein. The process is a dangerous mix of towering flames, giant dials, lights and switches. These laboratory scenes are in stark contrast to the mundane search by O’Keefe and Friend. A few abrupt edits back and forth between the scenes can be jolting and irritating. O’Keefe’s accumulating evidence suggests the scientist’s integrity may be in doubt. Sheridan refuses to believe it.
The film is a routine investigation with a slow beginning, but it is nonetheless an entertaining effort. Starring less competent actors, there might be a channel change in the first thirty minutes. But hang on for a worthwhile explosive ending.
Note: A couple of scenes to mention. One, in a later Peter Yates style, has O'Keefe at the top of an escalator returning fire at a criminal holding a drawstring bag full of fake diamonds. The thief first falls backwards but the escalator slowly brings him back to the top as the diamonds spill out of his bag and roll to O’Keefe’s feet. Another is the filming of a ship's funnel as her steam whistle blows. Clever if not original, the camera then pans backward to reveal simply a model on the bridge of the real ship they are on.