Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) “He was a gangster and a hoodlum and he hated every cop that ever breathed.”

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JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON 1949

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William Castle had success with When Strangers Marry ’44, with (Kim Hunter and Robert Mitchum) and was well regarded for the work he did for RKO with his brilliantly offbeat The Whistler series.

Duff and Duryea Johnny Stool Pigeon

With Johnny Stool Pigeon, Castle directs this uncluttered and obscure little film noir, pairing Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea who made Larceny a year earlier and would then do another picture together, Winchester ’73 in 1950.

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Dan Duryea and Shelley Winters in Winchester 73 photo courtesy of all things Duryea @ http://danduryeacentral.blogspot.com/
Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea Johnny Stool Pigeon
Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon 1949 promo courtesy of Dan Duryea Central blog spot

It’s an entertaining programmer lensed with a semi-documentary style utilizing the usual noir voice over to aide in the story telling as Howard Duff’s character narrates the action as he goes undercover as Mike Doyle.

Scripted by Robert L. Richards  (Act of Violence 1948)based on a story by Henry Jordan. Using stock music by an uncredited Miklós Rózsa.

With cinematography by Maury Gertsman (Blond Alibi ’46, The Brute Man ’46, Ma and Pa Kettle ’49, The Glass Web ’53, The Creature Walks Among Us ’56). The moody visuals are courtesy of filming on location in San Francisco and Tucson. The old style pier scenes with the opening shoot out in the warehouse to the customs check with rows of cars at the Mexican border in Tucson give the picture the comfortable feel of added realism of 1949.

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beautiful exterior shots of the Tucson sky

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A young sailor gets off a ship carrying a sack. He’s meeting up with a hood named Carter. They’re trafficking heroine from the Orient.
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Federal Agents Morton and Harrison are in pursuit.

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“get your hands up and stay where you are”

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The young man is shot by his accomplice. Agent Morton looks at his wallet to id him.
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Morton (Howard Duff) goes on to narrate from here-“Someone in Shanghai told him a way to make an easy buck and he believed him. All he needed was luck. And so one night on a Shanghai dock they slipped something into his hand that looked like an ordinary can of tobacco. Only it wasn’t and John Whalen wasn’t lucky.”
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it certainly wasn’t an ordinary can of tobacco

With a fantastic cast as follows- Shelley Winters, Howard Duff, Dan Duryea who made 3 other noir classics that year in 1949 (Manhandled, Criss Cross, & Too Late for Tears) and co-stars Tony Curtis, John McIntire, Barry Kelley and Leif Erickson.

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photo courtesy of Dan Duryea Central Blog Spot

Duryea is marvelous as always, playing the quintessential sneering oily voiced cynic who’s a sympathetic slick and snickering ‘bad guy’ that you just have to like.

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Dan Duryea as Johnny Evans photo courtesy of Dan Duryea Central Blog Spot
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photo courtesy of Dan Duryea Central Blog Spot

Howard Duff  plays it straight as George Morton a federal narcotics agent who goes undercover to infiltrate a syndicate of criminal heroine smugglers. He enlists the help of childhood pal now convict, Johnny Evans (Dan Duryea) a hoodlum he’s sent to Alcatraz for life. Now getting him sprung so Johnny can help him sneak inside the big drug operation and bust it wide open. Naturally Johnny hates cops but his wife has just died from an overdose which Morton uses to convince Johnny to help him catch these dangerous drug runners.

Of course there’s conflict between these two men, as Morton’s on a mission and Johnny’s vowed revenge. Johnny Evans helps Morton get a new identity as they infiltrate the powerful gang of drug dealers.

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photo courtesy of Dan Duryea Central Blog Spot

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Morton now using the name of Mike Doyle, Johnny go to Vancouver where McCandles the drug lord uses his floozie blonde Terry to keep an eye on the pair. Like any good gritty and sexy charged thriller Johnny Evans falls for Terry who only only seems to have eyes for Morton. Ah the eternal triangle lives on as they travel to Tuscon where the dangerous drug deal is about to go down at the Mexican border crossing.

Gangly but wily rancher Nick Avery (John McIntire) doesn’t trust these two from the get go. The team must be loyal to each other if they want to remain above suspicion. It’s great grist for the noir narrative mill as we must wait and see whether Johnny will sell Morton out to this gang of thugs.

Johnny Stool Pigeon also features a first time role for a young Tony Curtis who plays a mute pretty boy hired killer who can’t seem to place Morton/Mike Doyle’s face but it’s lurking in his memory from the time they chased Carter and Joey spots them in the hallway. He’d just killed Carter, having been sent there to kill their San Francisco connection so he wouldn’t squeal.

Uncredited bit player Tony Curtis’ only spent a few seconds on screen doing the rumba with Yvonne DeCarlo’s  in Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross ’49, That little spark of sexy flare made Universal realize that they had a star on their hands.

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doing the rumba with Yvonne DeCarlo’s in Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross ’49

Gang moll blonde Terry is played by Universal’s new voluptuous Shelley Winters. Who begins her long career starting out as a whiny, trashy yet outre charismatic sex pot.

I’ve got a special feature waiting at the last drive in’s snack bar all about Shelley Winters and her impressive contribution to film.

Duryea’s character keeps us guessing as to whether he’s going to betray Morton and turn into a ‘stool pigeon’. It’s a great little match up of the likable Duff and Duryea as they play the eternal unwilling partners in conflict as they journey from San Francisco to Vancouver and then to a luxury ranch in Tucson run by the slimy Nick Avery, as amiable as a snake in the grass.

Continue reading “Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) “He was a gangster and a hoodlum and he hated every cop that ever breathed.””

It’s almost here: The William Castle Blogathon so go ahead and be a stool pigeon and tell everyone!

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A week from today kicks off the celebration with The William Castle Blogathon hosted by little ole me and Goregirl’s Dungeon!

Hope to see you there for all the thrills and chills and creepy haunted houses up on a hill…There’s willing spirits, crank calling teenage girls, axe murderesses with crazed eyebrows, whistlers and crime doctors, old dark houses, frightened girls, a slew of restless ghosts, homicidal gender benders, spine tingling lobster-esque fiends, mysterious intruders, macabre and sardonic night walkers, stool pigeons and gunslingers, small guys with big hearts, devilish babies, fire breathing beetles, slaves of babylon… and so much more!

In Johnny Stool Pigeon- Dan Duryea plays a sneering tough guy with a gun and Howard Duff looking all dismayed… and Shelley Winters looking all pouty and cheap. Something you can always count on with these three to do- and what a hoot to watch thanks to William Castle!

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Dan Duryea courtesy of http://danduryeacentral.blogspot.com/
Howard Duff
Howard Duff
Studio publicity Shelley Winters
 Shelley Winters

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I’ll be covering Johnny Stool Pigeon on July 31st!!! And there are so many incredible bloggers lined up to fill your week with all the William Castle chills and thrills you could ever imagine!

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Dan Duryea, Howard Duff and Shelley Winters in William Castle’s noir crime thriller Johnny Stool Pigeon

See ya soon folks!!!- MonsterGirl