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.