Saturday, May 28, 2016

TIMETABLE (1956)


This may be the best of Mark Stevens’ productions. Stevens is solid, believable and with only a few details going amuck, is a highly rated B-movie. One of those details is the film opening to the relaxing sounds of an acoustic guitar more befitting a western or foreign film. Yet there is a speeding night train come right at you. There seems to be the sound of a sliding metal kitchen table across a floor with an abrupt music chord. Then back to guitar with the title splashed on the screen. Then back to orchestra. That is an editing worth looking into. The train sequences are the strongest part of the film, however. It lays out the slick detailed con for the audience.



Wesley Addy, playing a doctor without a license to practice for life, was busy in television and a few movies— “Kiss Me Deadly” perhaps his most famous project—is only in two scenes but his smooth, calming and authoritarian delivery belies his devious persona. When requested by a steward to check on a sick passenger, his diagnosis is that of polio and the train must stop short of the scheduled destination. Due to the severity of the illness he must have access to his medical bag in the baggage car. His medical bag comes equipped with a gun for house calls. At gunpoint he subdues the baggage personnel with a hypo, opens the safe and keeps the loot. An ambulance is arranged for the doctor, the patient and his wife. Everyone deboarding are all part of an elaborate heist orchestrated by Stevens.


Stevens’ character, as an insurance investigator, is specifically requested to investigate the crime for the company, throwing a wrench into his timetable. Joining him in the investigation is railroad investigator, King Calder. Practically unknown to moviegoers yet busy during the early years of television, he is excellent and so genuine one would think he really is an investigator. He has no awareness of studio cameras right in front of him. He simply inhabits the part. He and Stevens have a long working relationship. Calder is convinced there is no such thing as a perfect crime and he slowly unravels the crime one blackboard, one eraser and one person at a time. 



True to Calder’s belief, the mastermind’s perfect timetable is again disrupted when he meets up with his reason for the money, Felicia Farr. She is Addy’s on-screen wife who also played the fake patient’s wife. She tells him the money ended up in Addy’s possession, not in Mexico, after said fake patient died from accidentally shooting himself. It happens, I guess. Farr and Addy make their pre-planned Mexican escape. She squeaks by with the money and her life. He escapes with neither. 

Closing another loose end, Stevens murders a lead witness and conspirator, Alan Reed (voice of Fred Flintstone). From Calder’s perspective, the case appears frozen shut. A dead end.  He suggests Stevens and his wife finally take that Mexican vacation they have talked so much about. Stevens is thinking, “Wife? Whose wife?!” 

There is a nice twist that involves Stevens’ briefcase with his cut of the money.  As a surprise joke, his own wife has a key made for the case, substituting fishing gear and travel magazines for his “work papers.” This was a surprise to her as well. Doing the right thing, she sends the loot to his insurance company to boot. Their relationship instantly turns south of the border. While Stevens hyperventilates, he leaves for good. Calder pays the wife a visit and she reluctantly reveals Stevens’ lack of clock management skills. 

Stevens’ directing is not faultless. One detail that is not even questioned is that Stevens makes it look like Reed’s murder was a suicide. Except he is shot in the side. The slow suicide option. Secondly, in the opening heist, the script uses aliases for the thieves. With no lines or screen appearance, the fake patient’s name is not mentioned until later as the investigation is unravels. When his name is mentioned one might wonder who they are talking about. Thirdly, Stevens could have shaved some minutes by cutting the set of “hot news” interview clips of the four hypo'd train employees. The repeated, single chord music cues gives each more credence than it deserves and serves no purpose to the viewer or the investigating team. Though standard fare of the era, the ending chase is drawn out a bit, especially knowing Stevens is doomed. Too many flights of stairs or alleys to go down. Lastly, and this is hardly uncommon, the train uses the proper sounding horn for the modern diesel locomotive but in one incident the sound department uses a steam locomotive whistle. Maybe the whistle blowers union had a hand in it.

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