My comments concern the production, actors or their characters in lower-budget, nearly forgotten, American movies which, in general, have not totally held up for twenty-first century viewers. My conversational writing style includes details which I find interesting, odd or funny. Generally, plots are not revealed, only how the characters fit into the plot and how this equates with real life as opposed to Hollywood's thinking.
Columbia Pictures release, directed by Robert Parish with an adapted
screenplay by William Bowers, is first rate from beginning to end. A
compelling film about corruption, mental delusions and atonement.
Bower’s script bounces humorous quips from one character to another
as one might expect from a film noir of this caliber. Nearly everyone
has a turn at them. The cinematography by Joseph Walker is rich with
wet streets and dark, danger-filled shadows. The well-versed George
Duning provided and effective music score, as well.
detective, Broderick Crawford, is duped by a mob killer carrying an
authentic police badge who appeared to be coming to the aid of a
shooting victim. Crawford learns the victim was a key witness in an
upcoming hearing and that “attending officer” does not exist. The
police commissioner is livid and would like to punish Crawford for
his halfhearted effort to double check the true identity of the
impostor/gunman. For news headline purposes only, accompanied by a
fake picture, he is “suspended.” His real punishment, however, is
a commanded death defying undercover assignment to infiltrate a rough
New York waterfront crime organization and bring down its kingpin.
Needing to redeem his career, Crawford becomes very believable as a
tough, sarcastic and unflappable thug from New Orleans. His noir
quips are expelled effortlessly through his legendary lightning
delivery. Also on the waterfront payroll is Richard Kiley. He and
Crawford become pals. It does not take Kiley long, however, to
frequently question why Crawford is so interested in what goes on. A
relatively unknown Hollywood entity at this point in his career,
Kiley is very authentic in this role. Crawford drops a few key names
which gets the attention of a union thug, Ernest Borgnine. Neville
Brand, nearly at a typecast level in his career, is again playing a
henchman. This time not the psychotic “Chester” from, “D.O.A,”
but a thug with the wherewithal to also deliver a few quips of his
bartender, Matt Crowley, seems to know a lot about what goes on
around the waterfront. For a fee. After frequent encounters, he feels
Crawford can be trusted enough to set up a meeting with Blackie, the
kingpin. A local garage mechanic, working with the police, needs to
repair a “flat” on Crowley’s car first. In reality, the police
put a tracking device under his car about the size of a carry-on
suitcase. Also installed is an equally sized tank that cleverly drips
fluorescent dye on the road so the police can tail the car at night
using an infrared spotlight. Cool. Except they did not figure a city
street sweeper would turn onto their street a few blocks ahead of
them. Just one of the many clever twists in this film you will not
wants Crawford to do him a favor. Kill the suspended police officer
seen in the newspaper. In another twist, Crawford is hired to do a
hit on himself. Not an easy assignment. Blackie has kidnapped
Crawford’s girlfriend and nurse, Betty Buehler, to use as a pawn to
flesh out her boyfriend, who, unknowingly, stands before him. When
she and Crawford meet, each role play as effectively as possible. The
scenario becomes potentially too dangerous and Crawford tries to
overpower Blackie, who escapes with a minor gunshot wound. A hospital
setting ends the film with both Buehler and Blackie recovering.
Blackie later enters Buehler’s hospital room at gunpoint while
Crawford is visiting. From an adjacent building, the police have a
clear shot through the window.
There is a humorous scene when Kiley sets up a date for himself and
Crawford in an effort to find out what Crawford’s game is. The
women in waiting are Kiley’s wife, Lynn Baggettt, and his sister,
Doris, played by Jean Alexander. Crawford immediately hooks up with
the more attractive wife. Seems no one wants to be with sister.
Especially Kiley, who protests. He says there is nothing wrong with
Doris. “Why can’t he like Doris?!” The sister quickly adds,
“Why can’t somebody?” After numerous teasing lines between
Baggett and Crawford, the sister turns to her brother, “Well, say
something to me.” Kiley hesitates then awkwardly replies,
“Oh...uh..how ya’ been?”
a crowded Chicago commuter train load of details to sift through
during this average B-movie from Clover Productions, distributed by
Columbia Pictures. The voice-over details in documentary style plus
the added dialogue make it difficult to keep things straight at
times. Probably does not matter. I have grown to appreciate Dennis
O’Keefe's talents. His character here, through no fault of his own,
is probably too amazing to be real. He knocks down the analytical
accountant stereotype of a numbers cruncher. A Chicago newspaper
editor, civic leaders, along with a detective, the ubiquitous John
Zaremba, want him to go undercover to flesh out the syndicate
responsible for killing a bookkeeper who had evidence on the
syndicate’s boss, Paul Stewart. Feeling they have the wrong guy for
the job, O’Keefe is totally against the dangers associated with
going undercover. They plan to pay him sixty grand to do it. He gives
it try. O'Keefe handles everything like an experienced secret agent.
Cool under pressure and light on his feet. Fists of iron. Pencils
with no erasers. Stewart is excellent as a seemingly good-natured
crime czar whose only love comes from his mother. The suave insurance
scammer has little fear but his patience has its limits. He can be
vicious. O’Keefe’s plan is to capture assumed microfilm to put
Stewart away on tax evasion.
of hard to believe, Allison Hayes’ role has her going undercover,
on her own initiative, using an alias to avenge her bookkeeping
father’s death at the hand of Stewart. This is after spending time
in a mental institution over the traumatic event and subsequent
suicide of her mother. She has recovered very quickly. O’Keefe
befriends her to gain access into Stewart’s nightclub. Once he is
informed of who she really is, he suggests she stay out of harm’s
way. But Hayes comes in handy. O’Keefe’s amazing accounting
expertise places him in good favor with Stewart after the police
arrange a jewel theft and nifty insurance scam.
with O'Keefe is Abby Lane, Stewart’s tolerable girl. She drinks too
much when she is not performing with her real life husband, Xavier
Cugat. The squinty-eyed, rotund devil had a thing for a woman over
thirty years his younger. Cugat was given some lines to say. Yay.
With numerous roles already under her strapless gowns, Lane does
alright in the part. You may find yourself singing her opening
number, “One At a Time,” long after the ending. O'Keefe suggests
Hayes cater to Stewart's social weaknesses which makes Lane jealous,
who then threatens to reveal Stewart’s “edited” books. His
goons do a sixty-second beating in a separate room in full earshot of
all the dinner guests. Awkward. Lane comes out of the room instantly
bruised by a lot of strategically placed dark, smudgy makeup and
In a bit
of a nail biter, Zaremba and police arrive to catch Stewart with his
account book on a tip from O'Keefe. To his dismay, Stewart burns the
pages in his mommy's wood stove. With the expected knock on the door,
O’Keefe volunteers to answer it. To not blow his cover, he decks
Zaremba. Now horizontal, he whispers to him that the book has been
burned. Both men pull off the charade successfully. As I say, one
amazing accountant. Kind of funny when Zaremba tries to enter the
room, though, as he does a comical triple take as if confused. What
the...hey! Stewart knows Zaremba well but O'Keefe covers the incident
by telling him he thought he was a hood.
hidden bookkeeping microfilm evidence is revealed by the Cugat then
Stewart tells O’Keefe to light a match to it. Instead, he pockets
the microfilm, and with a punch to Stewart's face, makes a run for
it. The pursuing Stewart and his goons offer up a free bullet for
O'Keefe. As if expecting her son to come by any moment, from her
upstairs window she witnesses Stewart being brought down by the
police fire in front of her apartment building. He was such a good
could easily assume this RKO film’s cinematographers were
supervised by people who love trains. No doubt the Chicago,
Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad’s co-operation was a
significant force to show their first-class railroad at work. Typical
of dramas in this era, there is no distraction or needed help from a
music score. This filming of actual freight train operations is
singularly unique with an opening landslide expertly done and
authentic. The occasional use of miniatures are processed extremely
well. No CGI necessary. The acting is more than satisfactory, though it is typical 1930 melodramatic storytelling. Some scenes are treated like a stage play with
cued entrances. But first and foremost this is a railroad film which
happens to have actors in it. Just the opposite of "Titanic" (1997) about a concocted love story in which the lovers happen to be on a "boat" that sinks. In this regard, "Danger Lights" stands alone.
Today's viewer needs to accept this, otherwise it will only play as
an outdated, corny film with yucky, polluting trains.
Wolheim, who would die suddenly in the next
year, plays the burly rail yard boss in Miles City, Montana. A
singular career man who gets things done. Nobody loafs or gets a free
ride on his watch. A few boxcar hobos are quickly put to work to help
clear the tracks after the landslide. Robert Armstrong, a former
railroad engineer, is one of them. Wolheim recognizes Armstrong
simply needs to get his self-esteem back and hires him. Jean Arthur,
Wolheim's fiancé, knows their love story is far-fetched. Her father
has long desired she marry the hard working, honest and polite
railroader. But he exudes all the romantic charm of a jack-hammer. As
she also surely knows, a couple of steam locomotives are more
attractive than he. This is where handsome, energetic Armstrong comes
bounding in to fill her void. Once he and Arthur meet it is full
steam ahead and Wolheim is uncoupled and placed on a siding.
films paint a more accurate picture of steam’s “romantic” era
than one scene from inside Arthur’s living room. As curtains
flutter in the summer breeze through the open windows, we see a
freight train in the distance and hear the engineer’s unique,
personal whistle signifying it is Armstrong to Arthur's heartfelt
delight. This is authentically true as many engineers had their own
recognizable, rhythmic “song.”
young couple decide to elope on the next train to Chicago. During the
spots them walking down the tracks and goes into a jealousy rage,
pounding toward them with double steel fists. Armstrong steps between
two tracks as one switches, getting his shoe caught in between.
Suddenly, Wolheim's anger is thwarted by what he sees. Armstrong is
in the path of an approaching high speed train. Danger lights! The
big-hearted boss yanks him free but he takes a nasty hit by the
locomotive’s cylinder. A stuffed dummy is used to show this. Had it
been a real person he would have died instantly. Not in Hollywood.
Wolheim’s only hope of survival is to get him to specialists in
Chicago in record time. Armstrong volunteers as engineer. After
returning home, the recovering Wolheim resolutely acknowledges to
Arthur his first love will always be the railroad. Though she feels
guilty for not honoring his long courtship, inside she is secretly
jumping off the walls and ceiling with joy.
are doses of humor from Wolheim. Armstrong and Arthur have a humorous romantic encounter as he is washing up, singing a jaunty tune. But it is Hugh Herbert who must carry the torch. Herbert doing
double duty as the film's dialogue director and a
who expects a great deal of respect for his position in life. He
sheepishly threatens to report the railroad if he is not treated
properly. Wolheim acts tough but the old softy takes it in stride.
Herbert hanging on for dear life between two rail cars during the
climatic, dusty, record run to Chicago certainly cures him of
wanderlust. That race to Chicago, by the way, is an eyeful for
locomotive fans and exciting for everyone else. Beautiful pan shots
of the train crossing an iron bridge, around curves and top-mounted
cameras through towns.
This is one of the most authentic Hollywood railroad movies ever
made. A true time capsule of an era that might otherwise remain
unknown. As proof the director, George B. Seitz, excelled in action
serials, at the halfway point he uses documentary footage—an amazing display—in the
Miles City yard of a tug of war contest at night between two facing
steam locomotives. The powerful locomotive noise, coal dust and
deafening screech of whistles blowing full blast must have been
unforgettable. Many lost their hearing that night.
The first fifty minutes of
this Harry Popkin Productions film are the strongest as it sets up
the impact on a husband whose wife hates him beyond his
understanding. Brian Donlevy is first rate as a highly paid
automotive production manager and loving husband. Helen Walker
delivers a convincing performance, too, as many viewers would have
wanted to reach out and slap her had the film been released in 3D. In
a role before her career shift to television, Ella Raines adds a
freshness to the film and more than enough encouragement for
Donlevy's character. The musical score by Michel Michelet does a
great job of enhancing the mood of most scenes. Charles Coburn plays
a police lieutenant with a weak, intermittent Scottish accent whose
mounting evidence convinces him that Walker is surely guilty of
New England dialect works best when she is syrupy sweet. It falters
when she is angry. She is as devious and fraudulent as they come. She
arranges her current male interest—call him “Fling Boy”—to
pose as a family cousin and rendezvous with her despised husband. Fling Boy's
cryptic conversation along a dark, dangerous and curvy mountain
highway is awkward for Donlevy. After a brief stop, the fake cousin
manufactures a slow leaking tire, later selecting the worst possible
spot to fix a flat. On the narrow curve of a studio set. One
passersby parks right in the middle of the road to offer aid.
is not an accident prone area. Fling Boy makes his move.
Donlevy gets a concussion from a tire
iron and a kick down the embankment. A Bekins moving van stops to help him get back on his feet. Speaking of impact, Fling Boy has escaped in a panic with Donlevy's Packard but he is pancaked by a gasoline semi, sending both cascading over a cliff. All done with obvious miniatures. The resulting flames like those from a gas fireplace set on low. The Bekins truck stops again in an effort to put out the flames with
a single extinguisher. Perfect for a toy semi. Conveniently, the moving van's rear loading doors had been open. Furniture and carpet hanging on for
dear life. The film got no endorsements from Bekins. Donlevy climbed aboard to the next town. His phone call to his wife's relative
reveals Fling Boy's alias does not exist. Donlevy's subtle changes in
facial expression are perfect. His six-year devotion to his wife has
been foolishly wasted. It is a powerful scene as he emotionally
breaks down in tears.
The headlines assume Donlevy
was the one burned beyond recognition. But where is Fling Boy? For
that matter, where are his dental records? Walker cannot figure why
he is not at their getaway point. Donlevy becomes a three month
resident of a small, rural town, getting hired at the local service
station run by Raines, who is taking a hammer to an engine amid his
grimaces. She admits she knows jalopies but not very good with the
new cars. Too high tech, perhaps. In her second scene, she does her
best Princess Leia impression with hair twisted into stereo
headphones. His decision to stay does not make a great deal of logic.
Donlevy could call the police and the movie would nearly be over. He
simply wants to disappear. Raines is cast for a reason, however, to
transform Donlevy's thinking and provide a happy ending. As their
friendship grows, Raines convinces him to return to San Francisco and
tell his story. She is determined to see him through the ordeal.
and wife meet in the squad room as the music comes effectively to a
crescendo during a closeup zoom of Walker's face. One can see the
wheels turning in her warped mind as her facial expression changes
from shock to loathing. Developed to lie, she accuses him of plotting
to kill Fling Boy then go into hiding with Raines. Right. Donlevy
convinced Fling Boy to deliberately crash into a semi.
Donlevy killing his wife would be more logical but there is zero
logic in killing Fling Boy. The script's implausibilities are silly
but no one noticed. Not even the director. Donlevy's convoluted story
is no less hard to believe and he is arrested.Donlevy's long-devoted
housekeeper, Anna May Wong, has evidence to convict the wife and
Raines convinces her to help with Coburn's support.
Knowing what the viewer already knows,
the closing courtroom scenes provide only a smattering of surprises.
Witnesses' testimony are misinterpreted and seem to go against
Donlevy. Thankfully, Walker becomes a hypocritical idiot on the stand
as she continues to bury herself with uncontrollable, outrageous
lies. But it is her handwriting analysis which dooms her. Suggesting
it was their fault all along, she plans to sue the Parker pen
This sixty-seven minute RKO
Radio Pictures project is a dandy and hardly unknown to film noir
geeks or fans of the lead actors. So I will not single out the entire
production staff. Information that is readily available online.
Suffice to say it is nearly flawless in execution and Charles McGraw
got noticed. Naturally, there are a couple of clichés
that may bring a chuckle or two from Twenty-First Century viewers.
Directed by Richard Fleischer, it displays his penchant for realism
with his early trademarks of location filming and attention to police
procedural details. The latter point well displayed when the
authorities comb the area for clues where the robbers abandoned their
getaway car. That scene is also enhanced by a lean screenplay with no
wasted dialog for the excellent cast. The cinematography is
outstanding as well. The score is not memorable but at least it does
not get in the way of the actors.
You do not want to get on the
bad side of detective, Charles McGraw. He makes no compromises with
criminals and also appears a tad weary of a daily routine of trying
to apprehend them. He is grilling Steve Brodie, above, past the halfway point in the film. The opening, low camera closeup of him on a phone
call sets up his persona. Ruggedly handsome with a face chiseled from
stone and just about as animated. He plays it exactly how his
character should be. His gravel voice help define his film destiny,
though. He had no fear of competing against the likes of Danny Kaye
for a musical comedy. Today, his voice and maturity would have had
him auditioning with the likes of Liam Neeson.
He and his long-time partner,
James Flavin, are called to the less famous Wrigley Field. The one in
Los Angeles used by the farm team of the Chicago Cubs. Both
detectives are miffed it is another waste of their time. A false
alarm. In reality it was William “He’s got Bette Davis eyes”
Tallman who called in the fake alarm in a pre-robbery timing to
discover how long it takes for the police to get there.
Tallman enlists three petty
criminals to help him with the armored car robbery when it stops in
front of the stadium. Always dependable, Steve Brodie, thinks an armored car robbery will
not work. Risky. He says it might work if it were run by Tallman but
does not realize he stands before him. Awkward. Doug Fowley is
married to Adele Jergens (above, right) who is in love with Tallman. Gene Evans
finalizes the four losers in the robbery. The detailed robbery plans
of who is where and when are not described in the film. Smartly, we
discover the end result as it happens. What mastermind, Tallman,
could not foresee is that McGraw was on patrol nearby and responds to
the emergency call rather quickly. Evans pulls his sputtering jalopy
purposely behind the armored truck and fakes a look under the hood.
With all three “brinks-men” set to enter their truck, Evans sets
off an explosion of tears gas. In an exchange of bullets, Flavin goes
down quickly then Fowley gets seriously wounded. McGraw jumps in his
car in hot pursuit of the bandits, but an evasive maneuver damages
his tire. McGraw later arrives at the hospital, pulling alongside a
vehicle parked in front of a no parking sign. Nary a ticket issued.
He solemnly meets with Flavin's widow but realizes his words are
Tallman was adept at playing
despicable criminals before he turned over a new leaf, went to law
school and competed with Perry Mason in the courtroom. He has no
sympathy for the mortally wounded Fowley. To help him forget this
pain and give them a chance to get through a clichéd
roadblock, Tallman angrily slaps his face a few times. After the
officers look over their car and give them the go ahead, Brodie
cannot get the car started. A tension "device" used
countless times in crime movies. Once at their hideout, Fowley,
gasping for life, demands a doctor and his share of the loot. Tallman
gives him a final parting gift. Three bullets. He later gives Brodie
a lesson about who is boss. After punching him in the stomach, he
violently takes both hands, clapping them hard against both sides of
Brodie’s head, nearly rupturing his eardrums. It is shocking and
perhaps the first time the violent act was used on film.
Jergens plays her usual role,
though her employment changed for film to film. This time she is a
burlesque “queen.” Brodie stops in the burlesque house in hopes
of getting his money from her. It would have been the first time they
met. McGraw is there with handcuffs and both miss the entire
performance. Back at headquarters, there is an effective, tight
closeup of them both, nose to nose. With no fear of the murder wrap,
the accessory to robbery spills the truth about Tallman. McGraw’s young new partner, Don McQuire, volunteers to take Brodie’s place and meet
“the queen.” A solid plan except Tallman knows his partner is
locked up. His gun is there to meet McQuire outside the
establishment. Jergen's wired car allows the detective to audibly send
location points to the tailing patrol car. Tallman is suspicious of
these hints and tells him to get out, whose life is then saved by
Jergens, preventing Tallman firing a second time. Or third. Or a
fourth. Just to be sure.
The lovebirds attempt a
getaway via chartered plane. Tallman, not happy the plane has been
recalled back to the terminal, threatens the pilot at gunpoint. This
is always pretty silly and Hollywood still does it. If he shoots the
pilot they are going nowhere. Tallman grabs the suitcase of loot and
in his panic does not see a taxiing DC-3. The suggested prop
distributes him and divides the cash up in smaller denominations. A
happy ending for McGraw. Well, not so much, judging by the grimace on
his face. The happy part is when he shares a news article with
McQuire, recovering from that gunshot wound. It is all about their
success in the robbery. Both officers are mentioned at the bottom of
the article and as the young partner starts reading he pretends his
name is so minuscule he has to get real close to the page to see it.
They both laugh.
Note: For a limited role,
Don McQuire (above with McGraw) does a fine job. He and McGraw hit it off by the end.
Today, this movie might have had a sequel based on their chemistry if
the studio gambled they could make more money. But things were
pleasantly different in 1950.
is a sixty-one minute visual slice of Americana. Though
lulls, the movie will never be on anyone’s
It makes a better television drama than an MGM movie. Yet it turned a
small, six-figure profit from its minuscule budget. Some suggest this
project is a General Motors self-promotion film. No doubt. What is
more important is Louis Forbes’ opening piano score that sounds
frighteningly like a depressing medical melodrama in which absorbent
facial tissues will be needed. Elsewhere, the score seems lifted from
a typical Fifties or Sixties sitcom with dominating flutes.
It opens with views from a
landing DC-3 as it establishes the All-American city below. The
downtown is a wonderful snapshot of post-war America and its quiet
neighborhoods are tree-lined with white picket fences. No gas powered
lawn mowers or leaf blowers disrupting the silence. Harley-Davidson
motorcycles are mostly used by patrol officers. All of which are
equipped with standard exhaust and not today's personal, unregulated,
noise-polluting aftermarket units.
Lynn plays a sore loser and grumpy most of the time. A two-year Senator who was not re-elected and quite defensive about his loss. The photo above comes toward the film's end after his realization he was born to run a newspaper and not people's lives. He was way too wrapped up in
himself to realize he was not making any impact in government. Now
back in his hometown, Lynn inherits the senior editor position of the
town’s newspaper and plans to use this platform for political gain.
Shame. Shame. The parallels to today are obvious as Lynn starts
spreading fake news about the evils of big corporations and their
profits. Apparently not coming to terms with the fact that most
people in business set out to make a profit. He also attacks one
industry’s dumping of pollutants in the local river system though
the CEO, Donald Crisp, provides evidence their process does nothing
of the kind. Lynn remains selfishly skeptical. His buddy and news
reporter, Alan Hale, Jr., looking particularly handsome and oozing
charm amid a big smile, comes to blows with Lynn’s attacks and
fiancé—that is not a typo—Marjorie Reynolds, levels with him
about why he lost the election. And maybe a wedding. Voters thought
the celebrated war hero would make a difference, but they knew it was
a mistake soon after pulling the lever. Ouch! Equally to my eyes and ears,
Reynold's actual voice, at times, sounds like it has been dubbed.
Melinda Plowman's voice (Lynn’s baby sister) has been dubbed by
sixteen fingernails across a blackboard. Judging by the vast age
difference between brother and sister, she was obviously a very late
“surprise” to mother and father. While on a school field trip her
life is spared, ironically, by a big corporation’s heavy equipment,
the rapid expertise of its workers and its available air
transportation. Lynn humbly edits himself and stays at the newspaper
with no future political ambitions. Probably. We hope.
A couple of humorous scenes of
note. Hale's attraction to Marilyn Monroe's savvy character are
delightful thanks to her trademark breathy deadpan delivery.
Another funny scene of camera trickery comes up later. While gazing
Monroe’s direction, without looking, Hale throws his fedora like a
Frisbee behind him, across the editing room, where it lands properly
on a female colleague’s head. I suspect no viewer saw that coming.
Note: Hollywood promotion
being what it is, every poster gives the false impression the
nearly unknown Monroe is a major factor with Lynn's character. On
modern DVD covers she appears to be THE hometown story. Even given
her now legendary status, it is a shady sales ploy. Ray Teal had
nearly as much screen time but he was not even credited. Admittedly,
Teal's sweaters do not fit quite the same. And there was something
about his walk. Also uncredited are the familiar faces of Byron
Foulger and Hugh Beaumont. The latter feeling quite at home in this
This United Artist release is
a standard film noir, arriving a bit late to that party. Though there
is hardly a dull moment, starting with an attention-grabbing opening.
Directed by Edmond O’Brien and Howard Koch, the latter may have
obliged the star to take top credit. The music score by Paul Dunlap
is used sparingly and only when effective. Like an episode of
television’s “Columbo,” there is no surprise who is guilty of
murder after the opening scene. What is unknown is how O’Brien, a
sixteen-year police detective with a volatile nature, is finally
brought to justice. Another authority figure who goes astray of the
law. This time using his badge as a shield for murder. Do not be too
surprised by O'Brien's occasional overacting. It sometimes reflects
badly on an otherwise talented actor.
O'Brien covers up his deed
suggesting it was a justified, but errant shooting. No one bothered
to check his revolver's chamber. It would have indicated he shot
three bullets, not just two heard by passersby. Never bothered to
check the distance the fatal bullet entered the deceased, either. But
I digress. His false scenario could almost be legit but for his
lifting of twenty-five grand from a well-known bookie’s coat. The
money hounds him throughout the film. In between the hounding,
Hollywood once again portrays a male being tempted to do whatever it
takes to make his girl and himself happy. Marla English is the girl.
A cigarette girl at a nightclub. A job O'Brien loathes as she's being
ogled by male patrons nightly. The loot may be his ticket to “untrue”
happiness. In hopes of buying a particular home under construction
for the two of them, he buries the bag of cash in his personal “dirt
vault” near the foundation.
One gets the feeling that all
the detectives think O'Brien is probably guilty of something as they
clam up when he walks into the captain's office. A seasoned police
reporter, Herbert Butterfield, hangs around the squad room in hopes
of a Pulitzer on O'Brien. He was quite pessimistic about that opening
scene. O’Brien’s young partner, John Agar, refuses to believe it.
O’Brien is something of a hero to him, helping turn his own wayward
youth in the right direction. However, building a new house on a
policeman’s salary sets off an internal siren.
Notorious bookmaker boss, Hugh
Sanders, wants his twenty-five grand “investment money” back and
hires two private detective goons to tail O'Brien. One of them,
Claude Akins', is quite good. The script gives private detectives
some bad press as these two usually beat the truth out of a suspect.
O'Brien being one recipient. This police's hatred for private
investigators was no help to Jim Rockford twenty years later. Later,
Akins' head takes the blunt of O'Brien's revenge who now wears gauze
headwear. Their final shootout in a crowded indoor swimming pool set
several lap records for some swimmers. Bullets flying between
them—both lousy shots—with little regard for the patrons. One
swimmer, prostrate on a high dive, hesitates, then decides to dive in
between bullets. And they call it a health club!
no surprise to the viewer, there was a witness in that opening scene.
What is a surprise is that the screenplay cleverly makes the witness
unable to hear or speak, demanding he write down what he saw. He
visits the police department and O’Brien is the first to read the
small note. Bummer. Later, he pays the old gentleman a visit to
confirm the note's assertions. In a clichéd move, O’Brien, angrily
out of control, shoves him a bit too hard and in a despicable act of
cruelty, covers up his accidental killing. What will be a bigger
surprise to O'Brien, is that the man left a master copy of his police
note in his notebook. Agar finds it and plans to arrest his partner.
O’Brien overpowers him and nearly pulls the trigger on Agar's head.
It is at this point the viewer has confirmation that O’Brien needs
serious psychological counseling. After knocking out Agar, O’Brien
maniacally attempts to retrieve the cash from his dirt vault after
the usual high speed night chase. He turns around with his bag of
loot to face a row of headlights trained on him. Losing all
reasoning, O’Brien opens fire hoping to hit one of the bumpers.
What he receives in return is over the top, but undeniably effective.
Note: As Hollywood's
typical lonely woman at a bar counter, Carolyn Jones has a couple of
scenes with O’Brien though he is not good company. She could care
less. He is company. After they kiss,
he notices an obvious large bruise on her upper right arm. He asks
her where she got it. “From somebody, I guess,” she says
unconcerned. “Besides, it doesn't hurt.”