31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 3

☞PART 1 & ☞PART 2

💥SPOILERS!

21-HE RAN ALL THE WAY 1951

A lonely girl — a man on the run and 72 hours reckless hours that shock you with the impact of unleashed emotions!

Directed by John Berry (Tension 1949), with the screenplay by two victims of HUAC Dalton Trumbo (The Prowler 1951, The Brother’s Rico 1957, Papillon 1973) and Hugo Butler (The Southerner 1945.) Based on a novel by Sam Ross. All three men’s names Berry Trumbo and Butler were struck from the credits due to the blacklist, but have since been restored.

Garfield stars in his final film, as Nick Robey and Shelley Winters as Peg Dobbs. Wallace Ford plays Fred Dobbs, Selena Royle as Mrs. Dobbs. The incomparable Gladys George is Mrs. Robey. Norman Lloyd as Al Molin. With music by Franz Waxman that is not overwrought, but has a beautiful, restrained melody. The film is shot by prolific cinematographer James Wong Howe ( The Thin Man 1934, They Made Me a Criminal 1939, King’s Row 1942, he shot Garfield in Body and Soul 1947, The Rose Tattoo 1955 Sweet Smell of Success 1957)

While under contract to Warner Bros. John Garfield could have had his pick of any major studio in Hollywood, RKO, 20th Century Fox even MGM wanted him to sign, but being the tough, rebellious everyman, in 1946 he did not renew his contract with Warners, and since none of the other studios would touch He Ran All the Way, Garfield released the film under his own new independent production company with Bob Roberts (Body and Soul 1947, Force of Evil 1948, All Night Long 1962) and Paul Trivers.

In an interview with Look magazine, he said, “I wasn’t carrying a chip on my shoulder at Warners. I appreciated the fact that they made me a star, but they didn’t pick me up from a filling station.”

“When an actor doesn’t face a conflict, he loses confidence in himself. I always want to have a struggle because I believe it will help me accomplish more.” – John Garfield

A kid from the streets of New York, during John Garfield ‘Julie’s career between Body and Soul 1947 and He Ran All the Way 1951, he did not work in Hollywood when HUAC targeted the actor as a communist sympathizer. Garfield suffered at the mercy of the blacklist when he refused to name names. Criminal considering he not only raised money for the war effort during WWII, but he also co-founded the Hollywood Canteen. The stress of the constant persecution he endured led to him suffering a massive heart attack leading to his tragic death at only 39, less than a year after He Ran All the Way.

In 1946, John Garfield a naturalistic actor was box-office gold, ( I think he set the stage for Dean and Brando) having a successful run as a superstar in Hollywood with Humoresque, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Nobody Lives Forever. Garfield was able to transform an unsympathetic guy, into a heavy, might-have-been, and deeply humanize him. And though the fatalistic creed of ‘film noir’ is that no flawed anti-hero can escape their dark destiny, we feel for their consequences.

Film historian Eddie Muller calls Garfield the ‘pied piper’ because he led the way for all the actors from New York’s Group Theater and the Broadway scene. Not only a bold actor on screen, but he was also a terrific stage actor as well having used sense memory a lot.

John Garfield was magic because of his authenticity at playing brooding, defiant, working-class guys, his Nick Robey is a lost soul – living in a claustrophobic nightmare that he can’t outrun, that he cannot escape. Even while he’s asleep. The nightmares chase him into a frightened sweat.

Set in Southern California over a 72-hour time frame, under the sweltering summer heat, the film opens: A fevered dream, running so hard… “my lungs are burnin‘ up.”

Mrs. Robey –“Nick, Nicky you were hollering in your sleep.” Nick- “Alright mom so I was hollering in my sleep what’s wrong with that?” Mrs. Robey –“It’s 11 o clock Mr. Robey you can’t lay there all day.”
Nick –“Beat it, blow.” (She rolls the shades up to let the harsh morning light into the room)
Hey Cut that out!


Gladys George is an intense searing beam of deplorable as Nick’s mother who swills cheap beer like a well-oiled lush and treats him like she resents having given birth to her loser son. Mrs. Robey persistingly harassing Nick. Later she even tells the cops to “Kill him! Kill him!”

Mrs. Robey –“If you were a man you’d be out looking for a job.”
Nick- “If you were a man I’d kick your teeth in.” Mrs. Robey “There’s coffee on the stove, don’t ever talk to me like that Nick.” Nick- “You’ve been talked to worse.”
Mrs. Robey –“Only by you you dirty punk.” Nick -“Oh knock it off mom you just go too big a hangover.” (She slaps him) Mrs. Robey –“I’ll kill ya if you talk like that.” Nick-(Laughs) “You’re losing your punch mom.”

Nick Robey (Garfield) nearly captured at an Amusement Park, ducks into the local swimming pool the Long Island Plunge, til the heat is off. Shelley Winters is Peg Dobbs, (who said it “was one of the most remarkable and important films I was ever to do.”) a sweet, shy girl who works at a neighborhood bakery, at the pool for her swimming lessons. She’s instantly charmed by this somewhat feral, good-looking guy who’s about to give her attention. To her misfortune, she bumps into this small-time thief, a handsome loner, and psychopath with a very short fuse.

Shelley Winters has some weird symbiotic relationship and an uncanny affinity with bodies of water in the film – see: A Place in the Sun 1951, Night of the Hunter 1955, Lolita 1955, and The Poseidon Adventure 1972).

Robey is on the run with the $10,000 he stole, after pulling a botched payroll robbery “Squares waitin’ for their pay…” shooting a security guard while trying to get away.

He hides the money in a locker at the pool and slips into a pair of swim trunks camouflaged by the rest of the regular guys. Both Nick and Peg are two lost souls and circumstances throw them together.

The film has a similar theme, ruthless criminals taking a family hostage, much like Rudolph Maté’s The Dark Past 1948 starring William Holden and William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours 1955 four years after He Ran All the Way. It stars Humphrey Bogart. The Wyler’s film Bogart and the other escaped convicts invade the suburban home of a middle-class family.

In He Ran All the Way, Robey and the Dobbs share the same social class, adding an underlying tone of ambivalence to the dynamic. Always an engaging character actor, Norman Lloyd plays Al Molin, who is Nick’s partner in crime, and the mastermind behind the petty holdup, they take a briefcase from a train yard warehouse guard who will wind up shooting Al down during the robbery.

Robey senses his dream is some sort of prophecy and tries to tell Al that he was endlessly running, urging him to put off the heist “got no luck today.”  But Al’s greedy and brushes it off,  selling sunny Florida, once they grab the cash.

Peg is so smitten with this stranger, she doesn’t realize that he’s using her to hide out from the police. When the pool closes, believing that he’s interested in her romantically, she invites him over for a cup of coffee and lets him walk her home to the neglected tenement building where she lives with her parents Fred (Wallace Ford who also worked with Garfield on The Breaking Point 1950) and Mrs. Dobbs (Selena Royle) and younger brother Tommy (Robert Hyatt). Nick’s paranoia of being hunted mounts with every police car that passes by. Her parents are introduced to Robey before they go out to the movies, and he and Peg spend time together until he starts becoming edgy, complaining that he’s not feeling well.

When the Dobbs return from going to the movies, in Robey’s feverish paranoia, he thinks that Mr. Dobbs has out about him, since he works as a press operator for a local newspaper, and has figured out his identity from the reports about the robbery. “That punk that’s me, Nick Robey.” Mr. Dobbs-“I must have read that story a thousand times, the only one they mentioned was a guy named Molin, Al Molin.” “Yeah? You’re kidding!” “I read that story a thousand times.” Realizing he’s spilled the beans, “I told ya. I shouldn’t have told ya. I’ve been running all day, I gotta catch my breath. I gotta have time to think.” He goes to strike Peg’s father. Robey begins terrorizing the family at gunpoint, while he tries to think of a way to get safely out of town. He’s too mistrustful to believe the Dobbs when they try to convince him that they won’t turn him in to the police, if he just leaves.

But amidst the nightmare situation, Peg starts to have feelings for the unstable ruffian and cold-blooded killer, as Robey returns her attention with a poisonous jealous affection for her. The two become a queasy kind of couple. As much as Robey can trust anyone he relies on Peg to take some of the stolen cash and buy a getaway car so they can both get out of town. Then the morning newspaper features the story, the guard he shot has died. Robey is now wanted for murder. Though they do not mention his name in the story, he gives himself away because of his runaway desperation and paranoia.

He Ran All the Way, is a fatalistic dark psychological film noir that explores, the distorted psyche of a guy, a wounded animal who has no sense of belonging and has been rejected by his layabout mother. The film becomes a twisted episode of the world closing in on Nick as he tries to simultaneously act as their friend and a hostile enemy. He swings back and forth between outbursts of violence and sparks of kindness, particularly moments with Mrs. Robey, who is the flipside of his own mother.

And though Robey criticizes Peg about her appearance and instills fear in her with his volatile temper, she is still drawn to him. Peg-“I wish I knew how you wanted me to be. If only you’d tell me.”

Robey tries to intimidate the Dobbs into adopting him as part of their family, trying to force them to eat a turkey dinner he has paid for. He threatens to shoot one of them unless they share the meal with him. Enraged, he pushes his plate away, “Funny thing. All I ever asked you people was just for a place to hole up for a couple of days. That’s all. Something you’d give to an Alley Cat.”

“Carve the turkey!”

Nick Robey, You’re gonna’ eat *my* dinner. *All* of ya’. Fred Dobbs [Refusing, along with his wife and son] There are some things you can’t make people do, Nick. Nick Robey Tell me about it, pops. Fred Dobbs Everybody gets to the point where they draw a line. When that line is drawn, you can’t force them any farther. Not even with a gun. Not even if you beat ’em to death. People are like that. Nick Robey, You read that in a book somewhere. I think you’re dead wrong.

Robey sends Peg out to buy him a car, so they can take off, Peg explains that the garage will bring the car after they fix the headlight. But he grows edgier when the car doesn’t show.

Sweat drips from Robey’s face, slapping Fred around, threatening Peg, as he tries to wield power over the Dobbs family, not out of cruelty but out of desperation, like a trapped animal who just wants to be taken in or set free.

“Last night coming home all dolled up. Making a big play. You thought it’d work, didn’t you? You thought you had me all tied up… you and your family. You thought you had me all tied up huh like a knot? So no matter what you did I wouldn’t do anything. You got me to trust you didn’t you.”

In the end, he is shoving Peg down the stairs “Nobody loves anyone. You, your old man, your family, the cops, my old lady, Al Molin! Garbage. Garbage!”

Accusing her of betraying him, and setting him up for a fall, Robey drags Peg out of the apartment. Her father Fred, who was allowed to go to work that day is waiting outside the building waiting to shoot him. When Robey realizes that he’s dropped his gun, he tells Peg to get it for him.

At that moment, she has to make a choice between her father and the violent psychopath she has fallen in love with. When Robey lunges at her, she shoots him. Mortally wounded, he staggers into the gutter, noir irony – the getaway car pulls up. Peg told him the truth about the headlight being busted. Howe’s fixed close-ups and deeply realistic camerawork leave us with a lasting sense of desolation as the rain wets the tired streets outside the Dobb’s tenement, the headlights in the dark are the only source of light on his face, as he drags himself toward futility. Fate put him on the trail to nowhere. He ran all the way, running toward his own death.

22-Pick Up on South Street 1953

How the law took a chance on a B-girl…and won!

Directed by Samuel Fuller who reins in his gritty vision, playing off more of the interrelationships between the small-time crooks. Fuller was hired to rewrite Harry Brown’s script based on Dwight Taylor’s original story Blaze of Glory, shaping a gutsy film noir with a message that indistinctly pirouettes around an anti-communist response to the current of fear and paranoia, a post-war thumbnail of social anxiety in the 1950s. Fuller maintained that “My yarn is a noir thriller about marginal people, nothing more, nothing less.”  primarily a story of outlying scroungers just trying to ride out their lives, caught between communists and cops.

At seventeen Sam Fuller was covering underworld crime stories for a tabloid scandal sheet called, the New York Evening Graphic. Surrounded by corruption, and murder it would later be the inspiration for his vision as a filmmaker. He later went on to sell short pulp novels, and the periodic script to Hollywood. Fuller’s potent camerawork, and his gritty, aggressive, courageous, and straightforward style, earned him the reputation of a maverick. Jean-Luc Godard asked Fuller to improvise a definition for a film with the camera. Fuller responded, “Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion.” This adlib is often used to describe Fuller’s aesthetic approach.- (Brian Eggbert)

Fuller drew upon his own experiences as a crime reporter in the 1920s covering murders, suicides, executions, and rubbing shoulders with petty mobsters. His films have a sense of speed and urgency. Pickup on South Street reflects Fuller’s reporter’s eye for a human interest story.– (Dennis Seuling The Digital Bits)

The first film that drew me to Fuller was The Naked Kiss 1964 featuring a powerful opening sequence with Constance Towers, shaved-head, in a fury beating her pimp with her high-heeled shoe, bloodied and down on the carpet. The film has a brave grip on pedophilia and humanizes Kelly (Towers) who is a prostitute looking for redemption.

Fuller’s films found a balance between their undisguised boldness and the reverberation of their not so underlying controversial themes. Often involving players who are sidelined by society, writhing from the stink of society’s social problems, inhumanity, poverty, exploitation, and victimhood. They rebel against authority and live outside the boundaries of morality. His signature intensely hewn characters, and brutal narratives, work on unfiltered instinct and raw emotion. J. Edgar Hoover and the Production Code Administration distrustful of Fuller’s script insisted on revisions because of Skip’s dialogue, and the ambivalence toward his allegiance to America. Hoover wanted the line “Don’t wave that goddamn flag at me” removed.

Though Zanuck and Fuller conceded to remove the profanity, Zanuck defended the purpose of the line, arguing that it had nothing to do with any projected undercurrents of patriotism in the film or lack thereof, rather it had everything to do with the nature of the character, which Hoover could not control even with his authority—he had no jurisdiction over story.- (Brian Eggbert)

Composer Leigh Harline contributes to his expressive score. Art director Lyle Wheeler with 368 pictures to his credit, including Gone With the Wind 1939 and Laura 1944, designed the seedy set pieces with stark realism.

One of the key elements of Pickup On South Street is the naturalistic aesthetic by veteran cinematographer Joseph MacDonald (Panic in the Streets 1950, The Dark Corner 1946, Shock 1946, My Darling Clementine 1946, Moss Rose 1947, The Street with No Name 1948, Viva Zapata! 1952, Niagara 1953 in Technicolor with Jean Peters, The Young Lions 1958, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, and The Sand Pebbles 1966), who worked with Widmark on three pictures.

In Pickup on South Street MacDonald shoots with extreme close-ups and two shots, dark and intense shadows, reflections of the moonlight trembling on the river, and the subway train puncturing the black with only the luminosity from the row of windows. a beautifully framed sequence with Candy walking down the streets of New York and on the catwalk outside Skip’s shack in a white dress set against the dark tonality of the night that doesn’t betray its studio set. All these images are sharply defined.

The camera catches Moe’s solitary resolve, repose in her modest space, her print dress, and flowered hat, and a record playing the tune Mamselle in harmony with the quiet, it shares her loneliness. This lens into Moe’s world conjures up a melancholy sentimentality that isn’t seen by the realist who lives by her wits.

Fuller wanted to make a picture about characters from the underworld, so he pitched the idea to Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox…Zanuck shared Fuller’s love of stories and gave the director a great amount of autonomy. (Dennis Seuling The Digital Bits)

Pickup on South Street stars Richard Widmark (Kiss of Death 1947, The Street With No Name 1948, Roadhouse 1948, Night and the City 1950, Panic in the Streets 1950, No Way Out 1950, Don’t Bother to Knock 1952) as Skip McCoy, Jean Peters as Candy, Thelma Ritter as Moe Williams, Mervyn Vye as Police Captain Dan Tiger, Richard Kiley as Joey, Willis Bouchey as Zara and Milburn Stone as Detective Winoki.

Shelley Winters was the first choice for the role of Candy, but she dropped out. Then the role was offered to Betty Grable. That did not pan out.

In another of Richard Widmark’s incarnations, he plays Skip McCoy, “Richard Widmark, one of the true noir artists, suffuses Fabian with a maniacal intensity that makes his headlong rush to hell uncomfortably exhilarating… his naked desire is so wretched that it repulses the crooks who aspire to respectability.” (Muller) about Jules Dassin’s Night and the City 1950) whose onscreen persona is colored by his arrogant squint and his shifty smirk.

Skip is ‘shifty as smoke’, a petty thief, yet highly skilled pickpocket, and a three-time loser recently released from prison, who inadvertently snatches top-secret microfilm from Jean Peter’s handbag while on the NYC subway. Candy doesn’t know what she’s been holding onto for former lover Joey (Richard Kiley) or that he’s a communist spy. Peter’s terrific performance as Candy is perhaps her best work, as a world-weary punching bag who possesses a mislaid sensuality. She’s a softer femme fatale, who tries to get by using her looks to negotiate her way through a rough life. There’s even a hint that she had been a prostitute.

Thelma Ritter who won the nomination for Best Supporting Actress has a prominent role as the tenacious street vendor and professional snitch Moe Williams who sells information and peddles men’s ties a buck a piece, to the cops. Moe is determined to buy herself a proper gravestone on Long Island, so she won’t have to be buried in Potter’s Field. The shrewd and sympathetic Moe lives from day to day, trading the dirt on criminals for $50, she doesn’t hesitate to turn in her friend Skip, so she can feed her ‘kitty’ the term she uses for the cemetery plot. “I have to go on making a livin’ so I can die.”

Pickup on South Street opens without any dialogue, painting a picture of the daily hustle in a crowded New York City subway car. Two men in suits are shadowing a beautiful woman, Candy (Jean Peters). Skip works his way through the packed car, a folded newspaper under his arm, wearing a fashionable grey suit and snap-brim fedora. Pretending to read the newspaper, McDonald’s camera veers off to waist level, in the middle of Skip and Candy. He artfully takes the folded newspaper to obscure her purse, slips it into the bag, and gets what he needs, while Agent Zara sees the entire deal.

Skip McCoy prince of the cannons, nabs her wallet and inadvertently steals a roll of microfilm containing top secret military and scientific plans that Joey (Richard Kiley) tells Candy (his former lover) is just a patent for a formula. In fact, he is going to pass it along to Commies who are anxious to get their hands on it.

The FBI agent, Zara is frustrated by the crowd and loses sight of Skip. Police Captain Dan Tiger, of the NYPD pickpocket squad and Skip’s major adversary, cooperates with Zara who has been keeping surveillance on Candy. The feds and police bring Candy in for questioning, but she doesn’t know the truth about what she’s been carrying in her purse. As far as she knows, she was just running an errand for her ex-boyfriend, posing as an industrial espionage entrepreneur, who in actuality has been selling government secrets to the communists.

Candy cannot identify her pickpocket, so they go to the one stool pigeon, Moe Williams who can steer them to the right guy. All they have to do is describe his method of light finger work and she figures out that it was Skip McCoy.

Moe Williams – (about Skip) “He’s as shifty as smoke, but I love him.”

Capt. Dan Tiger – “You sold him out for a few bucks.”

Moe Williams – “Oh, look. Some people peddle apples, lamb chops, lumber. I peddle information. Skip ain’t sore, he understands

 

Capt. Dan Tiger: If you lost that kitty, it’s Potter’s Field.

Moe Williams: This I do not think is a very funny joke, Captain Tiger!

Capt. Dan Tiger: I just meant you ought to be careful how you carry your bankroll.

Moe Williams: Look, Tiger, if I was to be buried in Potter’s Field, it would just about kill me.

After Moe sells Captain Dan Tiger information that Skip is holding the film, he and FBI Agent Zara try to appeal to Skip’s sense of patriotism. “Do you know what Communism is?” Skip unbent “Who cares.”

They want to cut a deal with Skip, he knows that one more arrest will send him up the river for a long stretch, but they’ll excuse the theft on the subway if he gives them the microfilm.

“Are you waving the flag at me?”  Tiger can’t hide his contempt for Skip who denies knowing anything about the film or pickpocketing Candy. Tiger – “You’ll always be a two-bit cannon… when they pick you up in the gutter, dead, your hand’ll be in a drunk’s pocket.”  They search his shack but can’t find any incriminating, so they let him go but have him on a short leash. Skip McCoy: Pack up the pitch with the charge or drive me back to my shack. Capt. Dan Tiger: I’ll drive you back in a hearse if you don’t get the kink out of your mouth!

Willis Bouchey as Zara and Milburn Stone as Detective Winoki.

Moe can’t understand why Skip would want to make money selling secrets to the Reds. Moe Williams, What’s the matter with you? Playing footsie with the Commies! Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) You waving the flag, too? Moe Listen, I knew you since you were a little kid. You were always a regular kind of crook. I never figured you for a louse. Skip Stop, you’re breaking my heart. Moe Even in our crummy line of business you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Skip is greedy and understands there’s big money in the microfilm, and he’s hell-bent on hanging onto it. He’s an unsavory misfit who’s always wearing a shit-eating grin, but unlike other of Widmark’s despicable characters, Skip isn’t a psychopath like Tommy Udo or Alec Stiles, a sewer rat like Harry Fabian or a neurotic racist like Ray Biddle. He’s just an unremarkable hustler, who lives in a squalid shack out on the docks on the East River, where he chills his bottles of beer using a crate with a rope that he lowers into the freezing water.

Joey coerces Candy to track Skip down and learns where he lives from Moe. His home is an abandoned bait shack on the Hudson River. With the Brooklyn Bridge in the backdrop (though it was filmed in Hollywood) Candy attempts to seduce him to recover the film.

Candy shows up at his place looking for the film. He isn’t falling for her seduction, he sends her back to Joey. Even after he learns the sensitive information on the microfilm will fall into the commies’ hands, he just wants the payoff. She is aware that the cops are keeping an eye on Skip, so she knocks him out, grabs the film, and takes it to Joey. What she doesn’t know is that Skip has held back one frame as insurance.

When Skip catches Candy going through his shack in the dark, he punches her in the jaw. Once the lights come on, he sees it’s a woman, but he couldn’t care less, he just pours beer on her face.

Candy tells Skip that Moe sold him to the cops, ”We live in a different kind of world…Ah, Moe’s all right, she’s gotta eat.”

Skip first embraces Candy then angrily pushes her away. Candy asks Skip, “How’d I get to be a pickpocket?” Implying that she’s a prostitute, “How’d you get to be what you are? Things happen that’s all.” Skip –“Don’t ask stupid questions!” 

Fuller’s volatile love scenes are a whole transportation of sex and violence. There are consistent scenes that illustrate the divergent instincts the two have about their feelings. The eroticism of their tête-à-tête is spotlighted by Skip’s willingness to physically hurt Candy by slugging her in the mouth, then veering into tenderness when he caresses her bruise. Same for her, she is poised to knock him unconscious after they’ve made love, just to get what she came for.

The second time Candy goes back to Skip’s shack to try and get the microfilm, he assumes she’s in with the commies, though she is totally in the dark, “So you’re a Red, who cares? Your money’s as good as anybody else’s.” He knocks her out and goes through her purse again. Later, in a tight close-up employing two-shots, she lets him know though she’s been with other guys: “but it’s really different with you Skip – I really like you”. Skip: “Everybody likes everybody when they’re kissing.”

Eventually, Candy refuses to help Joey after she finds out that he’s a communist spy and shares a poignant scene with Moe. Moe: You got any Happy Money? Candy: Happy Money? Moe: Yeah, money that’s gonna make me happy. Moe: I’ve got almost enough to buy both the stone and the plot.

When Moe is not willing to divulge Skip’s address to Joey, noble refuses to sell out her principles to a Red. So he coldly murders her in her small room. It’s the most powerful and moving sequence in the Pickup on South Street. Thoroughly run through she is resolved to let herself be killed. The phonograph takes her by the hand and leads her out. Moe a dignified and fading woman leans back anticipating the end, she emerges centered and beautiful. “You’d be doin’ me a big favor if you’d blow my head off,” And so he does.

Moe Williams: Listen, Mister. When I come in here tonight, you seen an old clock runnin’ down. I’m tired. I’m through. Happens to everybody sometime. It’ll happen to you too, someday. With me it’s a little bit of everything. Backaches and headaches. I can’t sleep nights. It’s so hard to get up in the morning, and get dressed and walk the streets. Climb the stairs. I go right on doin’ it! Well, what am I gonna do, knock it? I have to go on makin’ a livin’… so I can die. But even a fancy funeral ain’t worth waitin’ fer if I gotta do bus’ness with crumbs like you.

Joey brutally lashes out at Candy,  once he realizes that she’s betrayed him, the film is missing a frame, but she won’t tell him where Skip is hiding out. Joey knocks her around the room, slamming her into furniture, then shoots her when she tries to get away. He finds Skip’s address written on an envelope inside her purse. The scene is shot in one take with Peters and Kiley doing their own rigorous stunts. With the police heading up to Candy’s apartment, Joey hides in the dumbwaiter til he manages to get away.

Skip- “Joey beat your face in?” Candy- “yes” Skip- “Why?”
Candy- “Because I wouldn’t tell where you lived.”

We finally glimpse Skip’s humanity when he finds out that Moe was murdered, and he goes to the ferry that is transporting her coffin to Potter’s Field, and he embraces Candy in the hospital after she survives her savage beating.

Joey tries to get the piece of the missing film that Skip held back, but he hides and then hightails it to the subway where he follows Joey onto the train. Skip uses his talent for sneaking into people’s pockets, and lifts Joey’s gun. Seeking revenge for Moe’s death, no longer interested in the money, he hunts Joey down and beats him mercilessly in in the middle of the crowded subway station. The microfilm is recovered. The commies are caught. Skip’s charges are dropped and he and Candy leave the police station. Captain Tiger is skeptical that Skip won’t be right back where he started, “I give you 30 days before I find your hands in somebody elses pocket”, but Candy tells him, “You wanna bet!”

Quote of the Day! Pickup on South Street (1953) Shifty as smoke!

23-Man in the Dark 1953

TERROR STRIKES IN 3 DIMENSIONS – NEW…IMPROVED! – …AS THE KILLER TAKES OVER THE CARNIVAL!

Directed by Lew Landers with a screenplay by George Bricker and Jack Leonard. Man in the Dark was edited by Viola Lawrence (Lady from Shangai 1947, Knock on Any Door 1949, In a Lonely Place 1950)The Film stars Edmond O’Brien as Steve Rawley, Audrey Totter as Peg Benedict, Ted de Corsia as Lefty, Horace McMahon as Arnie and Nick Dennis as Cookie. Filmed in 3D this remake of The Man Who Lived Twice 1936.

Like Garfield or Bogart, noir wouldn’t be the same without the presence of Edmond O’Brien who plays imprisoned mobster Steve Rawley who undergoes experimental surgery to remove his criminal instincts. Rawley, nervous about his upcoming surgery says, “I was born on a Monday, I might as well go out on a Monday. Like dirty laundry.”

The operation is successful but it cause’s him to suffer from amnesia. Rawley’s former gang members Lefty (de Corsia), Cookie (Dennis), and Arnie (McMahon) kidnap him from the hospital hoping he’ll lead them to the 30 grand he hid after their armored car heist.

At first, they suspect that he’s holding out and try beating the info out of him. When he doesn’t talk even after they threaten to kill him they bring taking him to familiar haunts to help him remember.

Peg Benedict (the always welcome noir Fatale, Totter) is the loyal moll who’s starting to fall in love with Rawley all over again, with this time with this different version of the ruthless gangster he was.

24-The Big Combo 1955

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942, My Name is Julia Ross 1945, So Dark the Night 1946, Gun Crazy 1950), with a screenplay by Philip Yordan (Panic in the Streets 1950, No Way Out 1950.) presented a bitter, repressed world of menace and doom

The Big Combo 1955 stars Cornel Wilde as Police Lt. Leonard Diamond, Jean Wallace (Jigsaw 1949, The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1950, Storm Fear 1955) as Susan Lowell, Brian Donlevy (The Glass Key 1942, Impact 1949, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, A Cry in the Night 1956) as Joe McClure, Richard Conte (The Blue Gardenia 1943, Cry of the City 1948, Thieves’ Highway 1949, Whirlpool 1949, Oceans 11 (1960), Tony Rome 1967, Lady in Cement 1968) as Mr. Brown, Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo the film’s queer ciphers. Robert Middleton as Police Captain Peterson, Helen Walker as Alicia, Jay Adler as Sam Hill, John Hoyt as Dreyer, Ted De Corsia as Bettini, Helene Stanton as Rita.

The film’s score is emphasized by the signature melodic expressionistic style of David Raksin (Laura 1944, Fallen Angel 1945, Force of Evil 1948) Raksin’s music either strides through with melodramatic enhancement or drops to a quiet murmur at one point his earnest music hangs still, going silent, bound together we join McClure unable to hear anything, on our side of the silence – his death is told through the flash from the gunshot.

The moodiness of the monochromatic black & white and minimalist shots are painted with exaggerated inky black shadows and reflective surfaces by cinematographer John Alton.

Alton preferred to plan his shots so that they would convey a film’s shifting moods. (Gary Gach: Master of the Film Noir Mood) The frame below strikes me as a monochrome Edward Hopper painting.

Lewis abandoned westerns and began a “frenzied round of freelancing that took him from Poverty Row to the majors, with such films as the disquieting horror Universal film The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) and the astonishing Secrets of a Coed aka The Silent Witness 1942 for PRC.” – FIlm Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia by Wheeler Winston Dixon

“Alton’s dazzling black and white photography starkly counterpoints the film’s perverse sexuality which constantly strains against the limitations of the Hollywood code. Whether exploring the sado-masochistic violence of the hoodlums, two of whom, Fante and Mingo are clearly homosexual or the psycho-sexual domination wielded by gang boss, Brown over the young woman from the right side of the tracks, the scripts and the director’s needs are continually and effectively fulfilled by Alton’s camera.” – From Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowthers

The Big Combo is considered a ‘syndicate’ film noir, where a mob organization is running the urban landscape, in which the ‘organization’ is ‘all’ but with a difference.

According to writer/historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, director Lewis was an “eccentric and he depicts a universe that is as out of kilter as his often imbalanced camera set-ups; the camera sweeps in on the protagonists in their most intimate moments, frames them as silhouettes in wide shots that effectively use fog and a few shadows to disguise the fact that seem to entrap his characters in even tighter compositions.”

“One of the eroding factors in the fifties thrillers surfaced in such films as the Big Combo and The Phenix City Story where crime no longer springs from the aberrant individual but is instead a corporate enterprise, run like a business. (Or like Murder Inc.) This view of crime is widespread, almost communal undertaking, counters the traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate.” Hirsch also points out that it represents another level of decadence. – From FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN BY FOSTER HIRSCH

“This gray area between old-school hoodlum and the new “organization man” was fertile turf for noir fables…)… in The Big Combo the gangster picture is distilled into a sexual battle between the saturnine, sensual Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and dogged but frustrated flatfoot Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) Both men covet the appetizing Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond has been stalking for months as part of his investigation of Brown’s illegal Combination.” – From The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller

Chiaroscuro is director Lewis’ domain, he also liked to use icy blondes the way Alfred Hitchcock did. In Gun Crazy (1950) Lewis had Peggy Cummins, and in The Big Combo it is Jean Wallace, yet Lewis’ women are more overtly ‘sex-kittenish than high-class blonde.’- (From Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward)

Cornel Wilde does a blunt job playing a righteous cop, Lt. Leonard Diamond who will do anything to take down Mr. Brown who represents everything he detests in the world. Diamond is obsessed with Brown (Conte) the psychotic head of a local mob called ‘the organization’, and top mob financier.

“I know his name. The name of a man who will pick up a phone and call Chicago and New Orleans and say “Hey Bill, Joe is coming down for the weekend. Advance him fifty thousand,” and he hangs up the phone and the money’s advanced, protection money. A new all-night bar opens, with gambling outside city limits. A bunch of high school kids come in for a good time. They get loaded, they get irresponsible, and they lose their shirts. Then they get a gun, cause they’re worried, they want to make up their losses. And a filling station attendant is dead with a bullet in his liver. I have to see four kids on trial for first-degree murder. Look at it. First-degree murder, because a certain Mr. Brown picked up a phone.”

Robert Middleton, an underrated character actor plays Diamond’s boss, Police Lt.Peterson, who’s trying to convince Diamond not to pursue Brown through his girlfriend Susan Lowell and realizes that after tailing her for months, Diamond might have developed feelings for her. “You’re a cop, Leonard. There are 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown for three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.”

Richard Conte’s Mr. Brown is particularly more brutal than in some of his other roles embodying the crime aesthetic, and possessing the essential flair of the well-heeled mobster. He plays the part of a successful business executive supported by a leading pawn, the stylishly dressed McClure (Donlevy), who wears a clunky hearing device, a former heavyweight in the ‘organization’ who has been reduced to a ‘yes man.’ Brown has snatched up the criminal empire right out from underneath the deaf McClure who now has a simmering hatred of the egomaniacal Brown who constantly berates him. Brown has a flair for devaluing the people around him. McClure endures the humiliation because he is a well-paid whipping boy. Brown has no use for the obsolete McClure. “I’m trying to run an impersonal business… “Killing is very personal.”

It is Brown being propelled by his personal conflict with Diamond, and not the impersonal business of the law that will force him into a confrontation with his destiny and his anticipated noir downfall.

It is also Susan’s jealousy of Brown’s wife that sets in motion the events that ultimately destroy Brown. When she overdoses on pills, in her delirium, she utters the name “Alicia.” Diamond will use this lead to take apart Brown’s power. Adding to Brown’s worries, his ex-wife Alicia (Helen Walker) who’s either literally been driven insane or is just hiding in the sanitarium in order to keep herself safe, “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane… and dead.” Ultimately he is betrayed by his ex-wife Alicia when she comes back into the picture.

THE BIG COMBO, Helen Walker front, Cornel Wilde, 1955 Courtesy Everett Collection PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xCourtesyxEverettxCollectionx MBDBICO EC030

The Big Combo is one of the bleakest and most perverse of all the mid-1950s film noirs, the pacing leaves us hanging in a world of perpetual threat and vexation. A narrative is driven by the agency of hate, hate is what motivates Brown, Diamond, McClure, and even Susan’s misery is rooted in her self-loathing.

The feud between Diamond and Brown isn’t merely centered around justice against corruption, the law versus crime, but the two men’s contest of strength over Susan. Diamond is on a mission to break the spell that she is under, whose bondage is based on Brown’s charisma. And he makes Diamond well aware of this, “You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality.”  

Brown-“Diamond, the only trouble with you is, you’d like to be me. You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can’t, it’s impossible. You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.”

He’s a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women, and even the cop who is right on his heels.

Richard Conte infuses the role of Mr. Brown with an unusual intensity even for the enduring tough-guy Conte as he plays the ruthless mob boss thoroughly captivated by society girl Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace-Wilde’s wife in real life) holding her hostage by her odd attraction for him. The Big Combo is filled with odd, aberrant violence and the essence of cruelty and eroticism, in a dark insular world of implicit repression.

His mistress Susan has left a budding career as a pianist to be a trophy in Brown’s collections, seduced by his control, and the money he lavishes on her, yet ambivalent about her self-loathing and her attraction to his perverse power over her body. Despite her sense of guilt, Susan resigns herself to feeling powerless, because of her own palpable sexual weakness for Brown.

Brown takes Susan to a secret room in her apartment filled with a hidden stash of money guns and ammunition. Brown to Susan- “This is my bank… we don’t take checks, we deal strictly in cash. There isn’t anybody I’d trust with so much temptation–except myself. Or maybe you.”

Indulged in a comfortable lifestyle, living in her plush apartment, he tries to control everything she does, even by choosing her clothes, “A woman dresses for a man.”

Brown- “Where’d you get that outfit?”  Susan “What’s wrong with it?”  Brown-“I like you better in white. You’ve got a dozen white dresses. Why don’t you wear them? “ Susan -“White doesn’t please me anymore.” Brown –“A woman dresses for a man. You dress for me. Go put on something white!”

Brown’s captured butterfly, an anemic angel who has lost all hope (David J. Hogan) is watched over every minute of the day by his two thugs Fante and Mingo. When Susan finally has a breakdown and overdoses on sleeping pills as a way out, she asks Diamond for help.

In a highly suggestive scene that illustrates their sadomasochistic relationship, Brown brings her to a height of sexual excitement, almost religiously worshipping her, and uttering crude lyrics about her body. He lavishes her with slow kisses while making love to her, and she becomes orgasmic, but it happens out of frame. He dominates her, his seduction is degrading and she likes it that way, as he brings her to climax off-screen. The sexual foreplay all happens below our gaze and Lewis took it as far as it could go with the Code in 1955.

Susan moves through the film in a somnambulistic trance, seemingly tortured by the sins of lusting after Brown. Susan – “I hate and despise you.” Brown- “What are you trying to do Susan drive me bats.” Even when he is sadistic, she gets sexually aroused by his forcefulness. Wilde who cast Wallace in the lesser-known noir Storm Fear 1955 which he directed, was not happy about the sexual innuendo of the scene between Wallace and Conte. It was filmed deliberately while he was away from the set.

“Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy” (Carl Macek)

Brown employs his two exploitable goons Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to stay close to Susan and watch her every move, acting as unwanted bodyguards.

He is under attack by the overzealous Diamond determined to crush him, shut down his crime ‘organization’, and take Susan away from him. Diamond goes on a crusade harassing and persecuting Brown arresting him and his flunkies on false charges until Brown retaliates.

While Diamond pines for Susan, it’s burlesque/nightclub singer Rita (Stanton) he turns to when he needs some comfort, his affair with the stripper is merely an unemotional sideshow for him. Diamond – “If brown doesn’t kill to get what he wants he buys it.” Rita – “Then you better sell out or start running.”

Rita loves him though she understands there’s no hope in making Diamond fall in love with her, he willingly confesses that he treats her, “like a pair of gloves.”  Even Rita has laid things out for Diamond about the reasons Susan would stay with a creep like Brown- “Women don’t care how a man makes his living, only how he makes love.”

Mingo and Fante go to Diamond’s room intending to kill him and wind up murdering Rita who went there to surprise him with a date. She is shot down in the dark when they blast her with a machine gun meant for Diamond. After he finds Rita’s body gunned down in his apartment- “She came to see me in her best shoes!” I treated her like a pair of gloves. I was cold… I called her up.”

Brown’s credo is “First is first and second is nobody” Brown puts a contract out on Diamond, who is then kidnapped by his two vicious flunkies in a surreptitious relationship. Mingo shows his sexual attraction and love for Fante in a rather covert yet palpable way.

There is conflict already within the gang as Brown is demeaning to McClure and verbally bates him constantly with put-downs, to try and get a rise out of him. McClure wants to get rid of Brown altogether and take over as head of the mob, but in the end, he is too impotent, to smack down Brown’s power. McClure expected to take over the organization from mob boss Gratsi (who is now below the Atlantic Ocean with an anchor tied to his ankle), must rely on a clunky portable radio-sized hearing aid in order to keep up with the gang’s activities. He blunders first when he can’t use his gun on Brown while he has the chance and then when he enlists the help of triggermen Mingo and Fante. McClure believes that Brown has gotten too distracted by his personal vendetta against Diamond and has too many shady double dealings. He attempts to get Mingo and Fante to overthrow him but they turn their guns on him instead.

All of Mr. Brown’s associates are figures marginalized by society in some way, all defined by their ‘differences.’ Brown gets his kicks pointing out what everyone else around him lacks while he pats himself on the back, a conceited sadist.

The Big Combo also gives a nod to boxing noir. Brown cuts his fighter-Benny loose, telling him he just doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. Brown is a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women, and even the cop who is right on his heels.

McClure – “Instead of running around for Brown and wet nursing broads, I’m gonna show you two how to be men.”

Brown’s brawny side-kicks Fante and Mingo (Van Cleef and Holliman the most compelling characters in the film) are noticeably lovers, who thrive on and hone their violence as an enhancement to their unspoken sexual ritual like foreplay. The two hit men are differently identifiable roommates, performing habits with a whiff of domesticity, sleeping in twin beds like other married couples in romantic comedies and dramas of the 1940s – 1950s. Mingo and Fante, live together, eat together and ultimately die together. Their relationship is unmistakably coded, performing heterosexuality through their tough guy exterior. It is suggested through the veiled intimate communication.“Don’t leave me, Fante.”

With more than a hint they are romantically involved and behaving like a loving couple, Mingo calls his partner “Fannie.” Their sexuality can be pinpointed at the center of the film’s murders and vicious torture.

In The Big Combo (1955) Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo are ‘obsessive’ coded gay lovers (READ HERE: FEATURED CODED GAY CINEMA SERIES). If you listen closely, in the scene where Mingo cuts his hand, Mingo calls Fante, honey an affectionate way to address his buddy. A little inside humor while they’re hiding out, Mingo : [Upon being offered a sandwich by Fante]I couldn’t swallow any more salami.” Mingo -“When we get out let’s never come back.”
Fante – “The cops will be looking for us in every closet.”

“The Homoerotic violence in the Mingo-Fante relationship, unencumbered by misguided sociological sentiments, is still stereotyped psycho-sexuality —offensive enough on another score—but it is raw and consistent with the noir world. The privilege of noir cinema, as distinguished from other genres, lies in the latitude these films were permitted in exploring sexual power and its ambiguity, and the reason is apparent; as the cautionary cinema of the great negation of a “healthy’ puritanical American vision, the film noir almost mandates a depiction, however perverse, of those repressed impulses reigning hand-in hand with the anarchy that drives its protagonists to violence and paranoia. Unrepressed sexuality alongside these characteristics is far too messy to contain, so it must be vanquished. When it is particularly threatening, one may be sure that there is a woman involved.”

 “where it becomes almost pornographic to see Susan Lowell hopelessly submit to what is surely suggested to be an act of oral sex performed by her crime-lord boyfriend, Mr. Brown. But Lewis is no pornographer, he is a sensualist in the most serious way. No other works in American film until the 1960s broached the acknowledgment of these carnal hungers as a life-enhancing dimension of dangerous living—indeed, in living a short, intense life unto quick death.” From Street With No Name by Andrew Dickos

The film opens with Susan fleeing a boxing match, pursued by Mr. Brown’s two hired muscle heads, through dark alleys until she is finally caught by Brown, which only symbolizes his sexual dominance over her. Brown tells Susan about his wife Alicia – “It was for her I began to work my way up. All I had were guts. I traded them for money and influence I got respect from everybody but her…

Brown is so fixated on displays of aggression, dominance, and strength that he fires his boxer Benny after he loses his bout. First, he uses the opportunity to belittle his deputy McClure in front of the young boxer then he smacks Benny across his swollen bloody face waiting for his retaliation, but when it’s obvious the boy won’t hit him back.

Talking to Benny after the bout- “So you lost. Next time you’ll win. I’ll show you how. Take a look at Joe McClure here. He used to be my boss, now I’m his. What’s the difference between me and him? We breathe the same air and sleep in the same hotel. He used to own it!” [yelling into McClure’s sound magnifier that is in his ear] “We eat the same steak, drink the same bourbon. Look–same manicure, cuff-links. But we don’t get the same girls. Why? Because women know the difference. They got instincts. First is first and second is nobody…  Now, Benny, who runs the world? Do you have any idea?” Bennie Smith “Not me, Mr. Brown.” Mr. Brown “That’s right, not you, but a funny thing, they’re not so much different from you, but they’ve got something. They’ve got it, and they use it. I’ve got it; [pointing to McClure] he hasn’t. What is it, Benny? What makes the difference…? Hate! Hate is the word, Benny! Hate the man that tries to beat you. Kill ’em, Benny! Kill ’em! Hate him till you see red, and you’ll come out winning the big money, and the girls will come tumblin’ after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.”

Brown lectures Benny then cuts him loose- “You should have hit me back. You haven’t got the hate. Tear up Benny’s contract. He’s no good to me anymore.” 

At the police station, Brown is booked on a phony charge. Joe McClure-“Mr. Brown is a very reasonable man. You don’t know him.” Lt. Diamond “Oh, is he? Well, I’m not. I intend to make life very difficult for you Mr. Brown.”

Brown – “I’m gonna break him so fast he won’t have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him, he’ll be in the lobby of the hotel, crying like a baby and asking for a ten-dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.

Diamond –“You must have done something pretty fine to get as high as you are, Mr. Brown. I’m looking into that. I’m gonna open you up, and I’m gonna operate. I hate to think of what I’ll find.

Joe McClure-“You shouldn’t talk like that, Lieutenant. You’re overstepping your authority.” Brown-“Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotel make better money than that. Don’t you see, Joe? He’s a righteous man.”

In a shocking scene Fante and Mingo torture Diamond, it is particularly vicious as they use McClure’s hearing aid turned up to full volume amplifying sound to the point of normal tolerance, nearly blowing his ear drums out. The pain on Diamond’s face is tangible. Then they begin pouring alcohol down his throat poisoning him, leaving him to appear as if he’s been off on a bender, thank god his boss Peterson (Robert Middleton) is there to help Diamond recover.

Mr. Brown-“I think Mr. Diamond needs a drink. Got any liquor?” Fante-” How about some paint thinner?” Mr. Brown-“No, that’ll kill him. Anything else?” Fante- “Hair tonic, 40% alcohol.” Mr.Brown-“Fine.”

Diamond is even more determined to bring Brown down. He starts to put the pieces together and find clues that point to Brown’s involvement in the murder of a racket boss who disappeared a while ago.

He discovers some of Brown’s old associates, Dreyer (John Hoyt) an Austrian who runs an antique and import business, and Bettini (Ted De Corsia) a nice Italian man who owned a pizza parlor in the city and is now hiding out, fearing for his life.

Brown tries to school Diamond in the ways of the world, “You’d like to be me… You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You think it’s the money. It’s not–it’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl, you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody… You’re a little man with a soft job and good pay. Stop thinking about what might have been and who knows–you may live to die in bed.”

Brown starts to get paranoid and eliminates McClure, and Mingo along with his pal Fante before they discover his treacheries. McClure who is a weak link in the organization, and the trigger men know too much about his double dealings and can be linked to McClure’s murder.

Later Brown wants to dispose of Fante and Mingo so there is no evidence of the murder. They are hiding out in an old building in the basement that used to be a speakeasy. Brown comes by and brings them a box that is supposedly filled with their share of the money they heisted from the bank, but it’s filled with dynamite.  The two are blown up, leaving Mingo alive for a brief moment, just enough time to give a deathbed confession to exact revenge for his lover’s death and point the finger at Brown.

When Mingo and Fante meet their fate, the sequence is surprisingly sympathetic as the two struggle against their final moments locked in a death trap. Looking at Fante’s dead body, Mingo becomes eager to give Diamond what he needs to finally bring Brown down, “not because he hates Brown but because he loves Fannie.” (David J. Hogan)

In the end, there is a showdown at an isolated airfield, with Brown finally trapped by Diamond, who emerges from the fog and is guided by Susan who captures Brown, following his movements with a car’s spotlight, her hate finally erupting in her own sadistic joy. Brown wants to take him alive, while Brown insists he executes him, rather than go to prison. Brown -“You’ll have to shoot Go ahead and kill me… copper kill me.”  Diamond-“Let’s go hoodlum.”

Lewis and Alton compose one of the most striking sequences, in The Big Combo, It’s a fundamental noir composition of pure grays & blacks and inwardly violent agitation. It takes place after McClure tries to double-cross Brown by using his own thugs against him. Mingo and Fante pretend to go along with McClure and wind up turning their machine guns on him instead, while Brown sardonically watches grinning like the sadist he is. With a flair of evil embellishment, Brown walks over to McClure who has two machine guns trained on him and takes out his hearing aid. Brown-“I‘m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.” It is a stunning scene, we are watching from McClure’s perspective the flashing lights and smoky tendrils from the gunfire happen at us, but it is all done in eerie quiet and darkness. We are experiencing the frightening moment when he is shot to death. We become McClure at that moment. In The Big Combo, the deaf Donlevy as he’s being murdered sees the gunfire.

Richard Conte is icily ruthless as the film’s antagonist, Brown who is not known by any other name, signifying an enigmatic symbolism for abject violence and immorality. As Dickos states “his imaginative brutality, Lewis bridges violence to the audience’s darker, vicarious desire to see pain inflicted on the screen”

There is a sense of noir fatalism and an underlying current of deviant and provocative sexual appetite within The Big Combo. Much of the violence is influenced by a strong element of sadism. The relationship between Susan and Brown is structured by fatalism, as she is sullen and submissive to his neurotic controlling fixation, while she wants to escape she shows no strength or determination other than to give in to it. Brown is obsessed with Susan as an object, preoccupied with her body. One of the scenes most written about in the film is the scene mentioned when he devours her with studied kisses, he worships her, and objectifies her with salacious flattery in a way that perversely brings her to ecstasy. It might be this odd sexual attraction to Brown that keeps her passive to his controlling behavior toward her.

From Film Noir Encyclopedia: Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
“The Homosexuality of Mingo and Fante is smothered in an atmosphere of murder and sadistic torture , as they refine the conventions of violence into a sexual ritual. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy, there is an affinity between sex and violence.; and the exploration of futility presents an ambience strangely reminiscent of an earlier period of noir films, such as Scarlet Street and Woman in the Window. These attitude combine with John Alton’s photography to create a wholly defined film noir, as striking contrasts between the black and white photography and Lewis’s sexual overtones isolate The Big Combo’s characters in a dark, insular universe of unspoken repression and graphic violence.” – (Carl Macek)

Both Lewis’ film noir masterpieces Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are sexually defined by the discursive violence of the external world—so much a corollary for the violence of passion that Lewis and screenwriter Philip Jordan can barely mask the story of The Big Combo as merely another sensational example of the extent to which organized crime corrupted postwar American Life.

Brown “Joe tell the man I’m gonna break him so fast, he won’t have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him, he’ll be in the lobby of the hotel, crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.”

Diamond “You must have done something pretty fine to get as high as you are, Mr. Brown. I’m looking into that. I’m gonna open you up, and I’m gonna operate. I hate to think of what I’ll find.”

25-Shack Out on 101 (1956)

Four Men and a Girl… On the Shady Side of the Highway!

Directed by Edward Dein (Curse of the Undead) and shot by Floyd Crosby (High Noon). From a story by Edward and Mildred Dein.

The film stars Terry Moore as Kotty, Frank Lovejoy as Professor Sam Bastion, Keenan Wynn as George, and Lee Marvin as Slob/Mr. Gregory, Whit Bissell as Eddie, and Jess Barker as Artie.

Music by Paul Dunlop (Cry Danger 1951, Breakdown 1952, Cry Vengeance 1954, Big House U.S.A 1955, Three Bad Sisters 1956, Crime of Passion 1956, I Was a Teenage Werewolf 1957, Blood of Dracula 1957, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake 1959, The Angry Red Planet 1959, Shock Corridor 1963) and cinematography by Floyd Crosby (High Noon 1952, The Pit and the Pendulum 1961) other Roger Corman films: X the Man with X-Ray Eyes 1963, The Comedy of Terrors 1963, The Haunted Palace 1963).

Shack Out on 101 is quite a weird little cold war noir, which is in part why I find it so entertaining. the film gives the appearance of a stageplay, with its closed-in sets, and all of the activity takes place at the diner owned by war veteran George (Keenan Wynn).

A greasy spoon diner is the headquarters of a communist spy ring and an assorted collection of quirky characters. The seaside diner coincidentally is not far from an atomic facility out on the Pacific Coast Highway. The shack is situated close to an experimental lab that holds national defense secrets. And an underground spy ring is after those secrets. Terry Moore (who was loaned out to RKO for one of her most famous films-Might Joe Young 1949) is Kotty who waitresses at the seaside spot.

Kotty who is studying to be a civil servant inadvertently gets dragged into espionage when she discovers the diner is run by commies who are recruiting American nuclear physicists. It all falls on the waitress and undercover FBI agents to thwart their scheme, amidst the smell of frying hamburger grease.

Early on in the film, we’re privy to Lee Marvin’s Slob, the short-order cook being part of the communist plot, but it’s not yet revealed who else he’s collaborating with.

Frank Lovejoy is Prof. Sam Bastian at a nearby college who may or may not be a spy. Sam is also romantically involved with Kotty, but Slob keeps pursuing her. Eddie (Whit Bissell) a traveling salesman, is one of the diner’s regular customers, who also served in the war with George.

Prof Sam Bastion Kotty, now what’s wrong.

Kotty (Terry Moore) Nothing. I just don’t want to stand between you and your shells. You don’t need a woman, you should go steady with a clam. I don’t get it… a grown up man, and you still play with sea shells.

Lee Marvin is faithful to this odd little film playing Slob, the short-order cook. Sam remarks- “Slob’s got an eight-cylinder body and a two-cylinder mind.”

Prof Sam Bastion Kotty, now what’s wrong.

Kotty (Terry Moore) Nothing. I just don’t want to stand between you and your shells. You don’t need a woman, you should go steady with a clam. I don’t get it… a grown up man, and you still play with sea shells.

When Bissell orders a hamburger, the sly Slob hints. “A lot of things I could put on that hamburger.”

26-The Harder They Fall 1956

THE HARDER THEY FALL, Nehemiah Persoff, Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, 1956

The Only Thing That’s On The Square …Is The Ring Itself…

Directed by Mark Robson (Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim 1943, The Ghost Ship 1943, Isle of the Dead 1945, Bedlam 1946) With a screenplay by Philip Yordan and based on the novel by Budd Schulberg. Music by Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by Burnett Guffey. The Harder They Fall stars Humphrey Bogart as Eddie Willis, Rod Steiger as Nick Benko, Jan Sterling as Beth Willis, Mike Lane as Toro, Max Baer as Buddy Brannen, Jersey Joe Walcott as George, Edward Andrews as Jim Weyerhause, Harold J. Stone as Art Leavitt, Nehemiah Persoff as Leo and Jack Albertson as Pop.

The novel’s screen rights were purchased by RKO for a proposed film directed by Edward Dmytryk starring Robert Mitchum and with a screenplay by Budd Schulberg. Based on the true life of boxer Primo Carnera, an Italian who became the heavyweight boxing champ. Max Baer Sr recreated his prize fight in 1934 which ended in the defeat of Carnera for the film.

Bogart is Eddie Willis well known, a washed-out sportswriter who takes a job as a PR man, because of his contacts in the sports world, he takes a journey from cynic to moral redemption by the end of the film.

He’s hired by crooked fight promoter Nick Benco (Steiger) the head of the boxing syndicate. Benco has a new boxer, a simpleton from Argentinian acquired by the mob, who promises to be a draw partly due to his massive frame. Once Benco realizes his kindly giant behemoth Toro Moreno (Lane) can’t fight because he’s a  ‘powder puff punch and a glass jaw” betrays his imposing size he sends the “Wild Man of the Andes” on a promotional tour and fixes the fights against his prizefighter. Benco arranges these rigged matches to give Moreno a shot at the championship.

He plans on setting up a bout with the heavyweight champion Buddy Brannon (Baer). After which Benco will bet against Moreno who sadly believes his unbeatable. Bogart sees the whole picture unraveling and has a crisis of conscience, and his wife Beth (Jan Sterling) winds up leaving him having lost respect for his moral transgression.

When ex-champ, Gus Dundee dies during a fight with Moreno, he is struck by a wave of anguish and wants to give up the ring. Bogart knows the poor fool had nothing to do with his death and suffered the lethal blow that caused a brain hemorrhage from the bout with Brannon. Brannan plans on working over Moreno, but he insists on taking the punishment so he can get the prize money and go back to his family in Argentina.

Willis finally must be brutally honest with the kid and tell him, “You don’t punch hard enough to bust an egg.” He is sent to California for a big attraction, where Bannon is hostile about Moreno getting credit for killing the other boxer. “When I butcher a guy I want the whole world to know it.”

No surprise, Moreno is severely beaten in the ring. When Willis goes to collect Moreno’s winnings from Benco he is told the kid merely earned a disgraceful $49 out of the millions earned. His disgusts finally bubbles to the surface and he tells Benco where to stick it, gives a $26,000 share of his profits to Moreno, and puts him on a plane to back home.

Willis takes a risk setting himself as a target for the syndicate but he sits down and begins to write a series of articles about organized crime’s corrupt influence in professional boxing.  “if it takes an act of Congress to do it.”

Like another boxing noir, The Harder they Fall, is an unrelenting, rancorous expose of the boxing industry, and happens to be Humphrey Bogart’s final role in his bout with cancer in 1957. It’s one of his striking performances as a weary writer who is faced with a moral dilemma, and Steiger as well turns in a striking interpretation of Yordan’s screenplay, as the ruthless promoter who cares nothing for human suffering. Another standout actor is character actor Edward Andrews who is always interesting to watch, spinning out sharp dialogue that seems to roll off his tongue with ease. He plays a crooked manager Jim Weyerhause who also doesn’t value boxers as human. 

 

[Willis tells Toro to throw his fight with Buddy Brannen to avoid getting hurt]

Toro Moreno (Mike Lane) I don’t know, I don’t know. What would people think of me?

Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart) What do you care what a bunch of bloodthirsty, screaming people think of you? Did you ever get a look at their faces? They pay a few lousy bucks hoping to see a man get killed. To hell with them! Think of yourself. Get your money and get out of this rotten business.

 

Nick Benko (Rod Steiger) The people, Eddie, the people! Don’t tell me about the people, Eddie. The people sit in front of their little TVs with their bellies full of beer and fall asleep. What do the people know, Eddie? Don’t tell me about the people, Eddie!

27-The Burglar 1957

They set up a luscious blonde as bait…for the robbery of the century! -An army of police and the underworld hot on the scent of the beautiful burglar mixed up in the robbery of the decade!

Directed and edited by Paul Wendkos ( Angel Baby 1961, The Mephisto Waltz 1971, who was very prolific in episodic television dramas, and made for television movies in the 1960s & 1970s – Fear No Evil 1969, The Brotherhood of the Bell 1970, A Tattered Web 1971, A Little Game 1971, A Death of Innocence 1971, Haunts of the Very Rich 1972, The Strangers in 7a 1972, Terror on the Beach 1973, The Legend of Lizzie Borden 1975, Death Among Friends 1975, The Death of Richie 1977, Good Against Evil 1977)

“Television has an affinity for the minutiae of emotions as opposed to the broad sweep, the spectacle, the action of a motion picture. The difference is in the complexity of the mounting.” (1968 interview with Wenkos)

“Tise Vahimagi and the late Christopher Wicking, in their book The American Vein, contemplate this authorial question with mixed success, but I think their take on Wendkos is sound:

In his best work, there is a clinical detachment from his characters, which prevents any easy transference from the viewer.  His analytic view intensifies the feeling that we are watching insects under a microscope.  Some of the insects run bewildered from the various physical and psychological hounds on their trail, whilst others do the pursuing — implacable and imperious.  Wendkos’s framing of a cold world is usually meticulously correct, frustratingly proper.  It conveys a Langian sense of fate, against which individuals are powerless.” (The Classic TV History Blog – Stephan Bowie)

Wendkos who has a very commanding style made some very protean tv movies & films in the 1970s. A Philly native he captured the realism in The Burglar of those streets with the impact of familiarity. Below: Duryea at Swann Memorial Fountain.

The director studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City, never a product of Hollywood, working outside the Hollywood system, his work echoing a darkly artistic style of filmmaking on the margins that overindulge a psychological blow. The Burglar is Wenkos’ first strike at directing a motion picture. It is a quietly flawless film noir. He was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television, for his tv movie, The Brotherhood of the Bell 1970 starring Glenn Ford.

The Burglar features a screenplay by David Goodis (Dark Passage 1947 Nightfall 1956). The story is a particularly cynical and forbidding view of the world and human nature. Cinematographer Don Malkames (Cry Murder 1950) shot this late-period noir with a stylized postmodern spirit. Goodis composes set pieces with graphic close-ups, skewed frames, and battered backdrops of the hideouts and the Atlantic City Pier, including the obsolete amusement park attractions that highlight the film’s climax. Other inventive shots include Gladden’s assault. Wendkos steady cuts swing between Gladden struggling with Dohmer’s imposing body, trading off with the noise from a passing train.

The Burglar was abandoned for several years, with no takers for distribution until Jayne Mansfield’s career took off and breathed life into the film.

Dan Duryea plays Nat Harbin, a brooding accomplished thief, who is just plain burnt out, inevitably fated to be condemned to failure. The film also co-stars Jayne Mansfield as Gladden, and Martha Vickers as Della, (Vickers remembered as Carmen Sternwood, Lauren Bacall’s psychotic sister in The Big Sleep 1946). Peter Capell plays Baylock, and Mickey Shaughnessy is cast as Dohmer the brawny thug. Mansfield is a sympathetic character who is delicately restrained in her role and gives a stirring performance as a young woman who longs to spread her wings. Usually cast in roles that exploit her mythological blonde bombshell allure in The Burglar, she breaks the stereotype.

The story involves a disparate foursome of burglars, headed up by the world-weary professional thief, Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea), his charge Gladden (Jayne Mansfield) whom he thinks of as a kid sister, jewel expert Baylock (Peter Capell), and Dohmer (Mickey Shaughnessy). They heist a necklace Baylock appraises at $150,000 belonging to a wealthy spiritualist, philanthropist, and celebrity, Sister Sara (Phoebe Mackay). The gang couldn’t be more dissimilar, but they come together managing to pull off a well-synchronized heist of Sister Sara’s ornate jeweled necklace.

The film opens with a newsreel of the eccentric Sister Sara greeted by her followers and soon centers around an action-based robbery as Gladden first shows up at the phony medium’s door, under the pretense of donating two quarters to get herself invited inside the house. Sister Sara entices Gladden in after she appears in need of a meal. “You’re having lunch with me – and dinner too.” Once there she cases the joint, locating where the old lady keeps her dazzling sapphire necklace. Gladden returns and tells the gang that there’s one hitch, they’ll only have 15 minutes to pull off the heist and grab the necklace from the bedroom safe, while Sister Sara watches her news program.

Malkames shot the robbery sequence with the perspective from inside the safe, we are looking through a round aperture into the room. Sister Sara paces back and forth, walking past the safe totally unaware until her face is framed in close-up from inside the safe when she realizes her necklace has been stolen.

The burglary comes off smoothly, though there are a few tense moments and an unexpected complication in the plan. While Harbin is drilling into the safe two patrolmen, one being a crooked cop on the take, Charlie (Stewart Bradley) pulls up behind the getaway car parked a little way down from Sara’s house. Signaling a warning by Baylock, Harbin climbs out the window, thinking quickly on his feet, he bluffs the cops into believing his car has broken down. This leaves him a very small window left to climb back up and finish the job before anchorman John Facenda signs off his newscast.

After they pull off the heist and grab the necklace, tensions arise when the pressure of how to handle the jewels provokes the polarity in the gang. While Harbin, Baylock, and Gladden understand that they will have to settle for a fragment of the score, the brutish Dohmer wants to hold out for the full take. Baylock looks through his eyepiece and confirms the necklace is worth at least $150,000 but fencing it will likely bring in only $80 grand.

Harbin believes it’s too risky to make a move, they need to stay out of sight in their cramped apartment, waiting til things ‘cool down’, and it’s safe to fence the jewels. He tries to convince them that they should wait til there’s a ‘drop in temperature.’ Baylock argues with him, but Harbin explains, “The law, Baylock. The local authorities. The blue boys. What do you think they’re doing right now, sleeping?” Growing increasingly restless, the impatient Baylock, now on parole is on fire to get rid of it right away so he can head to South America to start a new life.

Gladden, has been in love with Harbin for a long time, but he is bound to this. All along he’s only ever had a fierce protective tenderness toward her. He’s constantly defending her to the other two, while Baylock has always felt that Gladden doesn’t belong with the gang. Knowing that Harbin isn’t interested in her romantically, he doesn’t get why he keeps her around.

In flashback, we get the backstory. Harbin feels like an older brother to Gladden, having raised her since her father Gerald (Sam Elber), a good-hearted thief died. Her father’s last request was for Harbin to always take care of his vulnerable daughter. Gerald was a mentor to Harbin, a kinder Fagin who taught him to steal from the time he was found as an orphan roaming the streets. Harbin feels a strong sense of loyalty to Gerald who became a surrogate father to him and now must keep his promise to always look out for Gladden.

Meanwhile, the beastly Dohmer, continues to lustfully torment her, “You’re always lookin’ at me!” until Harbin sends her away to Atlantic City in order to protect her.

When Gladden finally exposes her feeling – (Jayne Mansfield) You don’t know? You really don’t know? Well, look at me. I’m a woman! I’m flesh and blood and I got feelings. But, you never knew it. You never wanted to know. I was starving for you – night after night I tore pills apart with my teeth, so hungry for you. I wanted you so much.

The Philadelphia detectives are trying to track down any leads, one of which is a composite drawing of Harbin’s description given by the two cops who stopped him the night of the robbery.

Internal conflicts develop while the gang lays low. Dohmer the brute, torments Gladden with his sexual advances until he finally sexually assaults her. Harbin sends her away to Atlantic City to keep her safe, while Baylock is in a rush to sell the necklace, get his share, and leave for the good life in Central America.

Baylock (Peter Capell) There’s a 30 year rap staring me in the face. Can’t you see my only move? I gotta take a stroll, Nat. I gotta stroll and clear outta this country! And the quicker I get started, the better chance I’ll have. I’ve always wanted that chance. Hoped for it. Dreamed about it. The one juicy haul that puts the money in my pocket – the money that takes me on a long, long trip. Central America. I’ll stay there. I’ll have what it needs to stay there. 20,000 George Washingtons. 20,000. Enough to buy some ground. Grow something. Bananas. Anything.

Charlie (Stewart Bradley), one of the cops who questioned Harbin the night of the robbery has already connected him to the robbery and plans on stealing the necklace from him. Harbin who is holding onto the jewels, eventually realizes that Gladden is in danger from someone who thinks she now has the necklace having been sent away to Atlantic City.

Charlie sets Harbin up by luring him with his shapely seductress, femme fatale Martha Vickers as Della. Her goal is to romance Harbin while Charlie seduces Gladden in order to kidnap and ransom her life in exchange for the goods. Having a drink at a bar, Harbin finds himself sitting next to a very attractive blonde siren. The two begin to trade in little sharply critical remarks. Della, What’s your name? Nat Harbin  Nathaniel… Say, what is this? What do you want? Della Basically – basically, I’m out to find myself a man. Wait for me outside. Nat Harbin, Are you kidding? Della No. No, Nathaniel, I’m not kidding. Nat Harbin Well, that’s tough on you. Sorry, no sale. Della [slaps Nat] Just to let you know, I’m – not selling anything.

Della goes to work, Nathaniel. Nathaniel. Nat. You know, I like the feel of that name. Nat. Soft, but it has a snap to it. A soft snap. It’s a patent leather name.

Della’s sad story I was 17. I went to Chicago. Great city, Chicago. The city of opportunity. The first three I turned down. And along comes Sir Galahad to the rescue. Turns out he runs a model agency. At least, that’s what he called it. The first thing I know there’s a – bunch a creeps with cameras. Somehow, I landed in show business. I was a dancer. What’s known as a: high-kicker. One night, I kicked a booking agent right in the mouth. Broke his jaw.

Della draws Harbin closer with a tale about her abusive father, alcoholic mother, and four brothers, “we were a close family. We had to be close. We lived in two rooms.” 

Baylock and Dohmer hide out and Harbin finds out he’s been fooled and heads to Atlantic City to rescue Gladden. Charlie kills Dohmer in cold blood. When Harbin gets to Gladden’s hotel room he sees her talking with Charlie, she has not yet figured out his plot. Harbin decides to hide the necklace under Gladden’s pillow, and urges her to get out of town, but she refuses. He plans on stealing a yacht to get out Atlanic City. Baylock mocks him, “What do you know about boats? Harbin “They float.”

Charlie then finds Baylock hiding out and kills him, and comes face to face with Harbin. He pressures him to turn over the necklace. The corrupt cop leaves Della in charge of watching over Harbin at gunpoint, while he goes to get the necklace from Gladden’s hotel. But he escapes and meets up with Gladden on the boardwalk. She’s slipped past Charlie and is now actually in possession of the necklace. In the tense climax Harbin and Gladden are chased on the Steel Pier, and through a fun house, darkly lit with a macabre ambiance, intruded upon by fiendish laughter echoing the lines, “we the dead… welcome you.”

Harbin finally hands over the necklace in exchange for Gladden’s safety. Then Charlie shoots and kills him. The police arrive at the scene, and corner Charlie who swears that he threw the necklace in the ocean and that he was forced to kill Harbin in self-defense. But Della turns on Charlie and he is arrested for murder. Gladden holds the lifeless Harbin in her arms.

28-The Long Haul 1957

SILK, FLESH AND DYNAMITE! Top Gear Drama of Long Distance Drivers and Their Mates!

Directed by Ken Hughes who also wrote the screenplay. Based on the novel by Mervyn Mills. Cinematography by Basil Emmott captures the moodiness of the smokey roadside diner, fifties Liverpool and Glasgow docks. Ken Hughes also directed noir films B crime movies Joe Macbeth 1955 and Wicked as They Come 1956 starring Arlene Dahl.

Part of the same threads as Hell Driver 1957, They Drive By Night 1940, and Thieves Highway 1949, The Long Haul, a murky and dismal film is connected by a narrative of dark British noir road movies.

The Long Haul stars Victor Mature as Harry Miller and an outstanding performance by Diana Dors as Lynn. Patrick Allen plays Joe Easy and Gene Anderson is Connie Miller. Peter Reynolds is Frank and Liam Redmond is Casey.

Harry Miller (Victor Mature) a discharged US Army veteran is an American GI married to a British woman Connie (Gene Anderson) trapped in a shaky marriage. Harry wants them to move back to the states with their son Butch after his run in the service is over. But Connie wants to return to Liverpool and stay with her mother.

Instead, Connie wants him to take a job as a truck driver with her uncle Casey’s haulage firm. While on his first run to Glasgow, he is double-crossed with Casey (Liam Redmond), while they’ve stopped at a truck stop, he catches two men lifting crates from Casey’s truck. After he gets into a brawl with them, he finds out that Casey is paid to look the other way.

Harry is forced out by a corrupt nasty piece of work racketeer boss Joe Easy (Patrick Allen) who makes it impossible for any independent truckers to make any money without making illegal hauls, smuggling operations for him, and faking hijackings of his trucks. Anyone who refuses feels the wrath of Joe’s violent retaliation.

He winds up encountering Joe’s gorgeous mistress Lynn (Dors) whom he’s mentally and physically abusive. Dors, although reflexively sensual, remains beautifully fragile as a knock-around angel longing to get out of a dreadful situation. In a volatile scene, Joe tears off Lynn’s evening dress at the truck stop in front of all the men, which brings out the intrepid decency in Harry. Humiliated Lynn runs off and gets into Harry’s truck and the two of them wind up spending the night together in an out-of-the-way hotel.

Harry makes the mistake of believing that he’s been set up by Lynn when his truck is stolen from the hotel and lashes out at her but realizes he was wrong and winds up falling in love with her. As he moves closer to Lynn, his resentment toward Connie for holding him back grows deeper. When she figures out that he’s been involved with another woman, he promises to end it for the sake of his son.

In a twist to the plot, while confronting Harry about the affair, it comes out that Butch is actually not his son. He is actually the son of his old army buddy.

Furious about this revelation, Harry reluctantly takes Joe Easy up on his offer to smuggle a consignment of furs across treacherous terrain in Scotland. Harry, Joey, and Lynn head out in the truck and head out with their haul for the ship docked in a secluded bay.

Joe’s dirty tricks put Harry in a harrowing life-and-death situation, though Joe pays the price for his noir evil deeds. In the end, Harry decides that he can’t leave his family and Lynn winds up in a taxi heading back to the sleazy nightclub where she used to work.

 

Lynn (Diana Dors) You know something else I like about you – you haven’t tried to make one pass at me. Usually when a fellow takes a girl out and buys her a meal, he thinks that she’s the dessert.

 

Harry Miller One thing you did to me, no woman should ever do to a man. You stood in my way. You knew I didn’t want to stay here and the minute I gave into you, what happened? Everything went wrong! Everything!

Lynn You’re married, aren’t you?

Harry Miller Does it show?

Lynn I can always tell. Married men are more – ‘simpatico’. That’s Italian, it means, sort of…

Harry Miller Sympathetic.

 

Lynn: My old man used to get drunk and knock me around – and I hated him. But, one day the police came and took him away – and I cried. It’s funny, when you don’t have much, you don’t like losing it.

 

Lynn I’m hungry and I want to go eat somewhere.

Joe Easy (Patrick Allen) If you want to eat something, then eat something.

Lynn In this pig eat house?

Joey Easy Listen, you were serving in a pig house like this when I picked you up, baby. Watch out I don’t drop you right back among the pigs.

 

Casey (Liam Redmond) I’ve a little job on hand. I need someone to drive a truck. Someone reliable. Like yourself, for instance. There’s, eh – there’s 200 pounds in it for you.

Harry Miller (Victor Mature) Sounds pretty crooked.

Casey Crooked? How about a little bent, maybe?

29-Plunder Road 1957

Only a thin white line stood between him and ten million in gold!

Turkish-born directed Hubert Cornfield worked with merely 11 very low-budget movies, including among these – B noirs. What he does have to his credit are some very potent renderings that are colored with subversive notions of human nature. Like his film noir Sudden Danger 1955 starring Beverly Garland. In 1961 he is uncredited, working with Paul Wendkos on a psychological study Angel Baby starring Salome Jens who plays a young traveling evangelist. In 1962 he directed the searing Pressure Point starring Sidney Poitier who plays a prison psychiatrist overseeing a paranoid Nazi. And the brutal and peculiar crime drama The Night of the Following Day 1969 starring Pamela Franklin, Marlon Brando, and Richard Boone, a rabid psychopath involved in a kidnapping that devolves into a violent shambles.

The screenplay by Steven Ritch is based on a story by Jack Charney. The script progresses at a rapid pace toward its conclusion with a story that ultimately showcases how the determinism of noir, a few foolish moves, and several converging moments cause their plan to fall apart.

With music by Irving Gertz and cinematography by Ernest Haller (Gone With the Wind 1939, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Mildred Pierce 1945, A Stolen Life 1946, Rebel Without a Cause 1955, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962, Pressure Point 1962, Lillies of the Field 1963, Dead Ringer 1964). Haller’s visual style summons an unfiltered realism that flourishes within the disposition of B-movies.

Cornfield’s film is stylistically gritty, hinting at the French existentialist sensibility of no-hopers grasping at a dream that will ultimately declare their expectations to forever fail.

His use of the limited budget and low-end atmosphere make Plunder Road an uncluttered gem. The narrative is anatomized in three intervals that follow the five washed-out protagonists whose odyssey takes them through a series of moody locations photographed by Haller.

Plunder Road stars Gene Raymond as Eddie Harris, the college-educated architect of the heist. Raymond was best known for his roles as a romantic leading man in the 1930s.

Jeanne Cooper plays Harris’ girl Fran Werner, and Wayne Morris is ‘Commando’ Munson. Morris got his chance at recognition when he co-starred with Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis in Michael Curtiz’s Kid Galahad in 1937. He played Lt. Roget in Paths of Glory in 1957 but ultimately was cast in episodic television shows and B-movies.

Among the ensemble of crooks, is Elisha Cook Jr. as Skeet Jonas who is the most notable actor in the film. The wide-eyed character actor Cook Jr. with his diminutive and perpetually apprehensive expressions, is proficient in an edginess that planted him directly in the middle of playing, misfits, hoods, and offbeat little guys, in some of the best classic horror and films noirs, like Phantom Lady 1944, Born To Kill 1947, The Killing 1956 and The Glass Cage 1964.

He’s also the fun size paragon of high-strung energy or at times forlorn and weathered, with a career that veered nicely into cult films such as The House on Haunted Hill 1959, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Blacula 1972, and Electra Glide in Blue (1973), and then moved onto various television roles and made for tv movies until the late 1980s. Elisha Cook Jr. as well as Stafford Repp are not strangers to being cast as archetypal misfits during the 1940s and 1950s noir.

In Plunder Road, Skeet Jonas is an edgy little impish magpie who shares the cab with the ruminating Munson. Stafford Repp (appearing uncredited in film noirs, Down Three Dark Streets 1954, Shield for Murder 1954, Big House U.S.A 1955, The Killer is Loose 1956, and is best known for his portrayal as Chief O’Hara in the 60s Batman series) plays Roly Adams. Steven Ritch who also wrote the screenplay is Frankie Chardo, and Nora Hayden plays Hazel the diner waitress.

Jeanne Cooper (who plays Katherine Chancellor from the long-time popular daytime soap opera The Young and The Restless) is Eddie Harris’ loyal girlfriend who waits for him to arrive in LA. with the gold.

The film has no dialogue for the first 13 minutes, solely focusing on the methodical procedures of the daring heist. The principal fatalistic trope of classic noir irony drops the pack of coordinated thieves into an end culminating in being thwarted by their own built-in precautions and strategies.

The nihilism of Plunder Road is set in motion all happening beneath a blanket of charcoal rain, by its bleak darkness. Moving along a highway, the white lines whip by in each frame as with many lonely nighttime routes in good noir road movies (Jules Dassin’s existential Thieves’ Highway 1949, Raoul Walsh’s early noir They Drive By Night 1938). The camera paces itself with a blurry velocity in close-up. One broken dividing line eats up the next. The camera shoots the journeying highway parallel to the railway tracks as both passages converge, leading up to the raid on the train.

A gang of menacingly faceless men wearing stocking masks conspires to hold up a government train carrying gold, bound for the Chicago mint. Five losers, Eddie Harris (Raymond) the mastermind of the crew, ‘Commando’ Munson (Morris) a Hollywood stuntman whose time is up working in the business, Skeet (Cook Jr.) who lost his wife two months before, and now wants to use his take of the robbery to settle down in Rio with his son. And finally Roly Adams (Repp) an anxious truck-driving thug who’s never without a wad of gum in his mouth and Frankie Chardo (Ritch) a racecar driver banned from the sport after violating the rules, round out the criminal quintet.

Their scheme is to heist the gold at a deserted stretch of track outside Salt Lake City, then load up three separate trucks and head to Los Angeles, where Eddie’s capable girlfriend Fran (Cooper) waits for them to melt the gold down, divide up their take, then escape the country via San Pedro harbor.

Skeet stays in the back of the first truck, keeping a watchful eye on a canister of nitroglycerin hooked up to a wire and metal rigging. The precarious cargo is reminiscent of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear 1953 starring Yves Montand who takes on the dangerous job of transporting the highly volatile explosives over treacherous terrain.

They swiftly pull off the robbery, the guards knocked out, it comes off without a snag, and they get away with the millions in gold. All five head out with their stolen plunder, hidden within fake cargo in three different vehicles, a moving van, a freight truck, and even an oil tanker all supposedly hauling chemicals, coffee, and furniture. They meet up at a warehouse a few miles away to split up the bullion into their designated trucks.

 “everything about the robbery is such hard work, and such a psychic strain, we almost feel the men deserve their hard-earned loot.” (Glenn Erickson)

Munson and Frankie laugh after pulling off the heist when Harris cuts them off: “Before we start congratulating ourselves, let’s remember, we’ve still got 900 miles to go. Nine hundred miles through every cop between here and the coast, and you laugh like a couple of clowns.”

The robbery lets loose an army of police who begin a large-scale manhunt tracing the men’s course, setting in place road block after road block, tracking the laborous movements of the trucks, lying in wait while the five sweat out their journey. Hearing the news on the radios in the truck, Harris anticipates the onslaught from the law, and gives the men very strict rules to follow, “use the police frequency only when you’re in the absolute clear… Stay on the main highway, no matter what,” he advises. “Our best cover is to move right along with the rest of the traffic.”

Frankie Chardo suggests they head for the Mexico border, but Harris corrects him right away, “An idea couldn’t get past the border right now.”

The first to hit the road is Munson and Skeet in the freight truck. During the long drive, the two men get to talking. Skeet tells him about his wife dying only two months prior, and his plans to take his son to Rio, after spending his life in and out of prison it’s his dream to settle there. The solitary Munson, now too old to work as a stuntman, tells Skeet that he has an eleven-year-old son he never sees. Skeet comments on Harris being the brains behind the operation, and Munson answers, “That’s a college education for you.”

Next to clear out is Roly in the furniture van. He stupidly forgets to turn off the police radio in the van. While stopped at a police roadblock, he steps out of the vehicle, the ground is strewn with his gum wrappers. He nervously tells them, “They say chewing gum stops you from smoking.” The cops are already suspicious, when Roly starts up the engine they hear the radio set to the police frequency. He panics and is gunned down when he tries to make a run for it.

Munson and Skeet hear about Roly’s death over the radio ( a mechanism that loops together the men who have been cut off from each other.) Skeet (in Cook’s classic transfixed way) comments, “I wonder how they knew about him,” Munson answers, “No wonder you got sent down so often, you think cops are dumb.”

Almost heroic desperados to the working class, Munson and Skeet stop at an isolated gas station in Nevada owned by the grizzled Ernie (Harry Tyler) who voices his affinity for the criminals, “the cops can’t help but catch ’em, fellas, like that… they have radios and science… a few years ago, maybe… but everything’s got a system now, and it’s pretty hard to beat… don’t let an old-codger like me get you down!” 

After being stopped at a checkpoint where Roly was shot, Harris asks the police what happened, recognizing Roly’s truck. He pulls over and sees them loading Roly’s dead body into the coroner’s wagon.

Munson seems to feel kind-hearted toward the old codger and they trade notions about life’s struggles. Ernie tells him that a man must figure out what he wants to do and keep at it instead of getting sidetracked ” that was my mistake, there’s too much opportunity… I would have hitched onto one single thing and stuck to it.” Munson- “You know that’s what I’m planning to do, I figured if a guy’s gonna make it he’s gotta specialize, he’s gotta find one thing and stick to it no matter what.” 

But added to the fatal slip-ups the men undergo, Munson opens the hood of the truck, and his gun falls out. Ernie reasons from the amount of gas that indicates they came a long way, Munson and Skeet are part of the gang on the run and the poor man winds up dead. Heading toward their downfall, at a weighbridge the two must drive their truck with a load that is 4,500lbs too heavy to be coffee, which leads to their arrest.

The last to leave the warehouse are Harris and Frankie Chardo the youngest and most rebellious of the gang. Chardo (Steven Ritch) You know Eddie… maybe we shouldn’t head for LA. Maybe we should head straight for the border.

Eddie Harris, You want to be scared Frankie go ahead. But don’t be stupid… An idea couldn’t get past the border right now…” Chardo grows weary of how things are going when they hear about Roly’s fate from a radio bulletin, “with a face like that, you might as well tell them the whole story.”

Harris and Chardo arrive at a small town diner, they hear about Ernie’s murder over the radio, and a waitress Hazel (Nora Hayden) is listening to the news bulletin. Like the old man, she also confesses her support for the pack of thieves, unaware that she’s talking to two members of the gang. She tells Harris  “You know, I’d like to see them get away with it.”

Hazel seems to go for Harris, but when she hears that they killed the poor old man she changes her tune, “Why’d they have to go and do a thing like that for?”

Harris and Chardo pay the bill and Hazel asks, “Heading back this way soon?” but he just shakes his head. They make it to Los Angeles and Harris phones Fran once he reaches California. Fran pretends to be sick so she can leave her job early and meet the guys at the foundry where they will melt down the gold ingots. Almost another unintentional slip-up, a cop shows up coincidentally but he’s only from air pollution control and winds up handing out a ticket for contributing to L.A.’s miasma-filled sky.

The near run-in with the cop makes Fran wary about the plan and tries to talk Harris out of going through with it. Harris tells her, “After what we’ve been through?” the only thing that matters to Fran is being with him,  “But I’ve got all that I want.” She sticks with Harris to the end no matter what.

The three cast the molten gold, concealing it within the illusion of fenders and trim for Harris’ Cadillac sedan, painting it to look like standard chrome fittings. The three begin driving toward San Pedro Harbor, Harris starts to relax believing that they’re now home free and Chardo starts to ease up a bit too, “worrying doesn’t get you a thing.” 

As they drive they’re hung up by an accident that backs up traffic on the main freeway into L.A. Now they are stuck in the jam. Harris has to calm Chardo down who thinks it’s another roadblock, telling him it’s just one of the typical L.A. rush hour tie-ups. “some people work for a living, Frankie.” 

Ironically what would ordinarily be incidental, a ‘society woman’ (Helene Heigh) locks bumpers with their Cadillac while ogling the wreck. When a cop tries to help disengage the cars, the fender is scratched revealing the gold underneath the fake chrome. Cop – “Hey George, look at that bumper, it’s gold!”

When Chardo pulls out his gun, he is shot by the police. Harris urges Fran to run and he takes off toward the freeway overpass and jumps from the bridge, trying to land on top of a truck below, but rolls off dying beneath the wheels of the oncoming cars.

This misstep reminds me of The Killing, with its precision eye for detail their operation all throughout only to blow the whole deal in one ludicrous moment when Hayden purchases the cheapest suitcase imaginable. We’re left to wonder what would have happened if Harris had just left the ingots as they were, and not melted them down into Liberace’s Cadillac.

Haller raises the camera and the final shot reveals the freeway choked by movement, leaving the plunder-doomed miscreants in existential obscurity.

Coming right up the last two flavors: The Killing 1956 and The Line-up 1958!

 

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