Monday, July 25, 2005

Under the Gun (1950)

Posted by Ken Z

Bert Galvin (Richard Conte) takes what he wants. The opening scene of "Under the Gun" (Universal, 1950) shows us Galvin stretched out in the back of a long, black Cadillac convertible being piloted by his two torpedoes. "Don't tell me we have to go see that dame again tonight?" one of them asks.
That dame is nightclub singer Ruth Williams (a dark-haired Audrey Totter), who treats us to a fine rendition of Billie Holiday's "I Cried For You" (not sure if Totter is really singing).

Galvin has had his eye on Ruth, and convinces her to join him on a roadtrip back to NYC, where Galvin wants to make her a star. Ruth is wary, but Galvin closes the deal by telling her: "I like your looks. I like the way you sing. You don't have to worry about any passes from me - if I make one - it'll be on the level." We begin to learn that Galvin is a smooth talker - and quite manipulative.

Driving through the Deep South, they stop at a resort that Galvin frequents. Problem is, he killed someone there and the younger brother has kept quiet about it. But now he is bent on revenge. Galvin is tipped off though, and coolly guns down the would be assassin.

He's tried for murder, and it all comes down to Ruth's testimony. She cracks on the stand under grilling from the DA: "It was murder - a cold blooded murder!"

Galving is sentenced to 20 years hard labor at a deep-south prison work camp. There's no parole, ever. The tough local sheriff understands just how dangerous Galvin is. Played by John McIntire with intelligence and grace, he tells Galvin: "It's not often we get a notorious New Yorker down here."
Galvin replies: "You won't keep me here for 20 years."

Galvin hatches an escape plan. He stuffs a wad of bills into the pocket of the "shooter," the guard with the high powered rifle who supervises the road crews. Just as Galvin's about to jump off a bridge to a waiting escape boat below, a southern-drawl-talking Sam Jaffe (playing Sam Gower) warns him: "Don't do it - you've just bought yourself a funeral - the shooter gets a pardon for shooting you dead."

And therein lies the irony and terror of "Under the Gun." A convict can volunteer to become the sole armed guard (the shooter), and can win his freedom by killing an escaping fellow convict.

The way for Galvin is now clear. He "befriends" an older convict and confides he's hidden 30 thousand in a hollowed bedpost in a New Orleans hotel. That convict is killed in a misguided escape, and that "shooter" is soon to become a free man. Glavin fills the empty "shooter" slot, and the movie kicks into high gear.

Galvin pays to dig up info on Gower, who just a few months prior, had literally saved his life.
He learns that Gower's family is in a bad way - his wife is sick, and his kids are hungry.
He offers Gower a deal: his wife will receive $25,000, and once this is confirmed to Gower, the clock starts ticking, and Gower has 30 days to try and escape. If Galvin should gun him down, Galvin will be freed. Should Gower somehow outsmart Galvin, HE will be free and Galvin will continue to serve out his term.

This is just a fantastic plot twist, and the director Ted Tazzlaff, plays it to the hilt. I won't divulge the ending, but IMO it became a little too Hollywood-by-the-numbers.

The most Noir element of "Under the Gun" for me is Richard Conte's character. Smart and sophisticated, without a lick of feeling, Conte is wickedly cool. The Galvin character actually is pretty similar to Conte's Don Barzini in "Godfather I"

Audrey Totter doesn't really have a chance to steal this film. She's very good with the limited screen time she has. But this is Conte's film. He's in nearly every scene. It's not the typical ensemble prison drama. Sam Jaffe really shines here too. I'm so used to his "Asphalt Jungle" character, -I kept waiting for him to speak with a soft German accent.

"Under the Gun" is available from Dark Marc. The quality of the DVD is marginal at best. The images are pretty degraded, and it's hard to pick up the nuances of the lighting and cinematography. Still, it is a powerful and disturbing film, and one that stuck with me long after the lights came back up. A gloriously dark ride.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Fallen Angel (1945)

The Film Noir of the Week is Fallen Angel -- the 1945 film directed by Otto Preminger. The cast includes Dana Andrews (Boomerang! (1947) and Laura (1944), Charles Bickford Brute Force (1947), Linda Darnell Hangover Square (1945), Anne Revere Secret Beyond the Door... (1948) and John Carradine Female Jungle (1954), Bluebeard (1944)

The film begins with a car speeding down the road with the credits zipping by as super-imposed street signs. The camera pulls back and it’s revealed that it’s a bus. Dana Andrews gets pulled off the bus because he doesn’t have enough cash to get to San Francisco. (he’s about 150 miles short). He walks over to Pop’s Eats (now a noir icon with those great “BEER” signs out front) and he runs into a group of men looking for the waitress Stella. Apparently every man in town has a crush on her. So begins a twisted tale of Eric Stanton - a former New York press agent down on his luck so much that now he's a drifter (and he'll soon be a con man). After Stella returns (the sexy Linda Darnell) to the diner (to the relief of Pops and others) Stanton cons his way into an empty hotel room to sleep. Its professor Madley (the great John Carradine) and his assistant’s room and Stanton talks his way into helping them get their show publicized. Madley is a traveling soothsayer grifter. When Stanton hooks up with Madley and his spook act he meets Clara and June Mills (Anne Revere and Alice Faye) two suckers Madley wants to take.

Madley puts on a very entertaining séance by bringing up the finances of the late Abraham Mills - the father of Clara and June. The two leave the séance upset.

Meanwhile, Stanton falls in love with Stella. She’s as bad as Stanton. She likes to take money from Pop’s cash register. After a quick romance Stanton decides he wants her. She refuses to marry him because of his poor financial condition. Desperate for money, Eric marries the wealthy local spinster June Mills, whom he plans to quickly divorce. Clara sees through the scam but is unable to stop the romance. Stanton can’t stay away from Stella even on his wedding night. Instead of sleeping with his wife, he visits Stella.

Just as he's about to dump his new wife, Stella turns up dead.

Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), a hard-bitten ex-cop turned detective, investigates the murder that first leads to one of Stella’s ex-boyfriends and after a police-style beating of the suspect finally leads to Stanton.

Stanton flees to a seedy hotel room in San Francisco, with June at his side. He quickly abandons her after taking her money, but he returns when word reaches him that June has been charged with Stella's murder.

I won’t give away the ending but its fun.

I think Preminger didn’t have chops of other, more talented, noir directors (as far as visual style goes), but this film - with all the fluid camera movements - looks great. Joseph LaShelle (The cinematographer for Laura) does his usual excellent work. The film’s shadowy world is just right. As with all Preminger films, the women look fantastic. Notice Stella’s long legs when she first comes back to Pop’s. From what I’ve read online, most don’t buy the prim and proper Alice Faye or the crazy twists at the end of the film. I, however, enjoy it greatly maybe because of the constant broken desperation Stanton is in. I also enjoy the contrast between the night-time Stella and the sunny day June; and the seedy side of town compared with June’s suburban neighborhood.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Crossfire (1947)

CROSSFIRE (1947, RKO Radio Pictures)
Posted by Don Malcolm
SYNOPSIS (spoilers):

Samuels (Sam Levene), a Jewish man honorably discharged after an injury during WW II, is found murdered in his Washington, DC apartment. Suspicion falls on one of three men who were visiting him, Mitchell (George Cooper), who is clearly suffering from the effects of the war and whose wallet was found at the scene.

Police detective Finlay (Robert Young) listens to the account given by one of the other men in the apartment [flashback #1], Montgomery (Robert Ryan) and enlists the help of Mitchell’s NCO, Sgt. Keeley (Robert Mitchum) in finding Mitchell, who is missing. Keeley has been independently trying to help Mitchell—arranging to have Mitchell’s wife (Jacqueline White) fly to Washington for a long-overdue reunion. Keeley succeeds in keeping Mitchell from falling into police custody until he can hear Mitchell’s account of his movements and whereabouts [flashback #2].

Mitchell’s account indicates that despite his troubled state, he is not the murderer of Samuels. It becomes clear that the killer is, in fact, Montgomery, who is now attempting to shore up the testimony of the third man in the apartment, Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie). When it becomes clear to Montgomery that Bowers will not make a credible witness, he kills him and attempts to make it look like a suicide.

Finlay becomes aware of Keeley’s delaying tactics and forces him to reveal where Mitchell has been hidden (an all-night movie theatre). He agrees to let Mitchell’s wife see him before he is taken into custody, and this leads them to the apartment of “hostess” Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame), who had earlier taken pity on Mitchell after meeting him at the bar where she worked and given him the key to her place so that he could sleep. Ginny is alternately belligerent and tender in her account of what happened, but Finlay concludes that her account of the evening—and the testimony of her curious companion (Paul Kelly)—will not suffice as a credible alibi for Mitchell.

As night turns into early morning, news reaches Finlay that Bowers is dead, and he realizes that Montgomery is the killer, recognizing at last that the crime is based on hatred and prejudice. Finlay has Keeley bring in another member of Montgomery’s unit, Leroy (William Phipps), a Southerner who, like Bowers, had been subjected to Montgomery’s bullying. Finlay convinces Leroy to assist in creating a ruse that will trap Montgomery into indirectly revealing that he is the murderer of Bowers (and hence the murderer of Samuels as well).

The ruse works: Montgomery returns to the scene of Bowers’ murder despite the fact that the address written down (purportedly by Leroy, but in actuality written down by Finlay) is not correct. Montgomery attempts to escape, but as he is fleeing down the street, Finlay shoots him.


“We’re too used to fighting. But we just don’t know what to fight. You can feel the tension in the air. A whole lot of fight and hate that doesn’t know where to go.”

--Samuels (Sam Levene) to Mitchell (George Cooper)

“Ignorant men always laugh at things that are different—things that they don’t understand. They’re afraid of things they don’t understand—they end up hating them.”

--Finlay (Robert Young) to Leroy (William Phipps)


Crossfire initiated two important trends in film noir: first, it ushered in a short-lived “social message” sub-genre of noir that produced some of the cycle’s best films, and second, it launched the career of noir giant Robert Ryan, whose range and ability in portraying flawed characters may be unsurpassed in the history of film.

Ryan’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but the brief ascent of noir into the mainstream world during 1947 probably worked against his chances of winning. (Two other noir films snagged Best Supporting Actor nominations in 1947: Kiss of Death with Richard Widmark, and Ride The Pink Horse with Thomas Gomez.) The resulting split vote threw the award to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street.

Crossfire also launched the noir career of Gloria Grahame, who makes the most of her brief screen time as Ginny Tremaine, giving us a glimpse of the depth she would later display in The Big Heat and In A Lonely Place.

The “tension in the air” referred to by the murder victim Samuels was masterfully evoked by director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer J. Roy Hunt. Noir scholar James Naremore, discussing the film in More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts,gives us a more specific description of the production elements:

The picture was shot completely in the studio in a mere twenty-four days, and out of necessity it mixed the conventions of realistic photography (sharp resolution, elaborate depth of field, and plausibly motivated sources of light) with minimalist or black-art devices that eliminated the need for extras or costly sets. The result is a visibly artful and oneiric film, charged with sexual implication or “repressed” meaning, which invites the audience to explore the relationships between movies and dreams.

The source material for Crossfire was a novel, The Brick Foxhole, by Richard Brooks, in which the murder victim is not Jewish, but is instead a homosexual. In the novel, there is more emphasis on the primal struggle between Keeley and Montgomery (whose name in the novel is Monty Crawford). John Paxton’s adaptation eliminates this confrontation, and substitutes the low-key tenacity of philosophical cop Finlay. The resulting cat-and-mouse game between Finlay (extremely well-played by Robert Young) and Montgomery becomes the film’s essential fulcrum.

As noted by Naremore and others, the scene where murder suspect Mitchell first encounters murder victim Samuels (another fine performance from noir veteran Sam Levene) has a certain sexual ambiguity to it. The camaraderie among men that is displayed throughout Crossfire has a consistently pointed tone, and it is never portrayed as exactly “normal.” Having won a war against dark forces, the men returning to their homeland encountered a changed landscape: Crossfire depicts the deep-seated nature of that disorientation and its potential for damage (Mitchell’s emotional distress) and violence (Montgomery’s unprovoked attacks).

The most interesting manifestation of this “confused state of affairs” is embodied in Paul Kelly’s character. When he interrupts Mitchell’s sleep at Ginny’s apartment, he first identifies himself as Ginny’s husband, but he tells several different versions of the story, and finally disowns all of what he says. He is still there when Finlay and Mitchell’s wife arrive to talk with Ginny and try to establish an alibi for Mitchell, and his entrance into that scene is structured similarly with his earlier appearance. Appearing out of nowhere, his confounding presence is the embodiment of the social miasma that is affecting the world as a whole, the slippery slope leading to an abyss of uncertainty, where people hate what they don’t understand, and lash out at it, rather than conquering their fears.

Crossfire is available as part of the just-released Classic Noir Volume 2 box set, along with Born To Kill, The Narrow Margin, Dillinger, and Clash By Night. Its message may seem pat and self-evident given what has happened in the world in the nearly sixty years since its release; one makes such an assumption at one’s own risk, however.


Director: Edward Dmytryk
NOIR PEDIGREE: Murder, My Sweet (1944); Cornered (1945); Obsession (1949-UK); Give Us This Day (1949-UK); The Sniper (1952)

Screenplay: John Paxton (adapted from novel The Brick Foxhole)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Murder, My Sweet (1944); Cornered (1945); Crack-Up (1946); Fourteen Hours (1951); The Cobweb (1955); Pickup Alley (1957)

Cinematographer: J. Roy Hunt
NOIR PEDIGREE: I Walked With A Zombie (1943); A Game of Death (1945); The Brighton Strangler (1945); The Devil Thumbs A Ride (1947); Race Street (1948); Kill Or Be Killed (1950); The Lawless (1950)


Robert Mitchum (Sgt. Peter Keeley)
NOIR PEDIGREE: When Strangers Marry (1944); Undercurrent (1946); The Locket (1946); Pursued (1947); Out Of The Past (1947); Blood On The Moon (1948); The Big Steal (1949); Where Danger Lives (1950); My Foridden Past (1951); The Racket (1951); His Kind of Woman (1951); Macao (1952); Angel Face (1952); River Of No Return (1954); The Night of the Hunter (1955); Cape Fear (1962); Farewell, My Lovely (1975); The Big Sleep (1978)

Robert Ryan (Montgomery)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Woman on the Beach (1947); Berlin Express (1948); Act of Violence (1948); Caught (1949); The Set-Up (1949); The Woman On Pier 13 (1949); The Secret Fury (1950); Born To Be Bad (1950); The Racket (1951); On Dangerous Ground (1952); Clash By Night (1952); Beware, My Lovely (1952); The Naked Spur (1953); Bad Day at Black Rock (1955); House of Bamboo (1955); Back From Eternity (1956); Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Robert Young (Captain Finlay)
NOIR PEDIGREE: They Won’t Believe Me (1947); The Second Woman (1951)


Gloria Grahame (Ginny Tremaine)
NOIR PEDIGREE: A Woman’s Secret (1949); Roughshod (1949); In A Lonely Place (1950); Macao (1952); The Big Heat (1953); Man On A Tightrope (1953); The Glass Wall (1953); Human Desire (1954); Naked Alibi (1954); The Good Die Young (1954); The Cobweb (1955); Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Paul Kelly (Mr. Tremaine)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Glass Alibi (1946); Deadline For Murder (1946); Strange Journey (1946); Fear in the Night (1947); Thelma Jordon (1950); The Secret Fury (1950); Side Street (1950); Guilty of Treason (1950); Split Second (1953)

Steve Brodie (Floyd Bowers)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Desperate (1947); Out of the Past (1947); Station West (1948); Bodyguard (1948); Armored Car Robbery (1950); Winchester ’73 (1950); Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950); M (1951); Two Dollar Bettor (1951); The Crooked Circle (1957), Arson For Hire (1959)

Sam Levene (Joseph Samuels)
NOIR PEDIGREE: The Killers (1946); Boomerang! (1947); Brute Force (1947); Guilty Bystander (1950); Dial 1119 (1950); Sweet Smell of Success (1957); Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957)

George Cooper (Cpl. Arthur Mitchell)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Blood On The Moon (1948); Roughshod (1949); Mystery Street (1950)

William Phipps (Leroy)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Station West (1948); Scene of the Crime (1949); They Live By Night (1949); The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1950); Five (1951); No Questions Asked (1951); Loan Shark (1952); The Blue Gardenia (1953); Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954); The Boss (1956); The Brothers Rico (1957)

Jacqueline White (Mary Mitchell)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Mystery In Mexico (1948); The Capture (1950); The Narrow Margin (1952)

Marlo Dwyer (Miss Lewis)
NOIR PEDIGREE: Follow Me Quietly (1949); The Woman On Pier 13 (1949); Caged (1950); Walk Softly, Stranger (1950); Missing Women (1951); The Sniper (1952)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

The Noir Film is often celebrated as being simply a canon of stylised, doom-laden, existential parables. Fall Guys and Femme Fatales trapped helplessly in deadly infatuations, hurtling to self-destruction in an unremittingly dark and random universe.

That's one perspective. Another is that corruption and redemption walk hand-in-hand down the mean streets,and,like the staccato glow of the inevitable 'Hotel' sign winking through venetian blinds,the Noir milieu is equally composed of Light and Dark, and Free Will and Predestination. Like a neophyte in a crazy atavistic rebirth of an ancient mystery religion the true Noir protagonist waltzes into the dark labrynthe seeking the truth about himself and the world he inhabits. As John Hodiak, stumbling through the sublime 'Somewhere in the Night' mantramistically repeated 'Who Am I?'

Another subtle and compelling odyssey of self-discovery through brutal experience is Jean Negulesco's masterly 1946 Noir classic 'Nobody Lives Forever'.

Scam artist Nick Blake (the iconic John Garfield), honourably discharged from wartime service,returns home to NYC to find that girlfriend Toni (Faye 'Lady Gangster' Emerson's typically trashy platinum-blonde chanteuse) has swindled him out of the $50,000 he left her to hold. Nick seeks redress by working over Toni's new business partner (the suavely villainous Robert Shayne) and after getting back the cash with interest takes off for LA accompanied by lumbering sidekick Al Doyle (George Tobias). Out on the coast Nick's disillusionment is compounded when he encounters former mentor Pop Gruber (the great Walter Brennan) now scratching a living working a 10 cent telescope scam -"See the wonders of Nature..the Rings of Saturn..the Mountains of the Moon..."-and while the suckers gaze in awe through the lens into the lofty vault of heaven, Pop relieves them of their wallets.

Word spreads that Nick is in town and through Pop he is approached by the twitchy, posturing and possibly psychotic Doc Ganson (a crackerjack performance from George Coulouris) to front a con to relieve a young widow (..'a 2 millon dollar sucker') of her inheritance. Despite long-time emnity between the two (Nick is described as the Doc's 'pet hate') the swindle cannot proceed without Nick's bankroll or his superior sting skills and after pressure from both Al and Pop he reluctantly checks into the swanky Marwood Arms and the con is on. The mark is the lonely and innocent Gladys Halvorsen, played in a career best performance (IMHO), by a radiant Geraldine Fitzgerald. Possibly best remembered as George Sander's neurotic,emotionally incestuous sister in 'The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry' and wasted alongside Alan Ladd in 'OSS', Fitzgerald is simply wonderful in this picture.

Inevitably, the two begin to date and the scam falls perfectly into place as Nick finds favor with straight-down-the-line business adviser Manning (Charles Gaines). Equally inevitably the practised seduction mutates into an affair of genuine passion and in one of the movie's finest moments, during a visit to the exquisite sixteenth century Mission Church of San Juan Capisto, Garfield's conflicted protagonist feels compelled to admit his genuine love for Gladys.

Meanwhile, back at the Doc's seedy HQ at the Hotel Eldorado the boys (Doc's two hoods named 'Windy' and 'Shake' play like characters out of a Dick Tracey movie) hear, via Toni (in town and scenting a payday), that Nick is 'forgetting business' and events begin to spiral out of control. Desperate to protect his last chance of a big money score Doc kidnaps Gladys who by now is fully aware'and fully accepting of Nick's true identity.

(Nick:"People like me don't change"-Gladys:"What does it matter what you were ..we love each other") and the scene is set for a bullet ridden denouement at the desolate fogbound wharf where Gladys is being held.
Before Doc Ganson dies in a hail of lead he fatally wounds Pop Gruber who,crumpled on the wharf's rotting boards,rolls his eyes heavenward and again in tones his 10 cent telescope spiel.. "See the moon..see the stars..all for one dime" and as he dies so, symbolically, does the cul-de-sac that is Nick's future career as a grifter.
As the police sirens wail in the distance Nick clutches Gladys with one hand and a smoking .45 with the other and looks down at the body of his fallen friend, saying... "He would have wanted it this way.... Nobody Lives Forever".

Written by Nick Beal

Saturday, July 02, 2005

"Shock" (1946) and "Behind Lock Doors" (1948)

Posted by Dan in the Middle West

For those who know me from the Blackboard, it should be clear that I am partial to "B" films, the noir the better. Nothing is more satisfying than finding a title that can be enjoyed an hour. In making my selections, I decided to schedule a matinee double feature. It is a holiday weekend after all and a perfect time to celebrate the Fourth of July with two interesting trifles that are actually related as will be explained below.

One subcategory of noir genre films that seems to have escaped serious discussion since I began whiling away my hours at the Blackboard and the Danger and Despair Knitting Circle is the asylum/psychology/sanitarium based film. Numerous examples exist such as "The Dark Mirror," "Strange Illusion," and others might include Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" or Sam Fuller's "Shock Corridor." I am not speaking of films in which the villain is clearly a psychopath, but rather of films that actually take place inside of a sanitarium or psychiatric hospital.

"Shock"was originally intended as a "B" unit programmer by 20th Century Fox Studios, but the initial audience response to the film was so positive that the studio chose to reissue the movie as an "A" despite the fact that the running time is approximately seventy minutes or so. Vincent Price had appeared in a series of important yet clearly supporting roles while under contract at Fox (He had managed to grab a lead or two while at Universal, most notably in "The Invisible Man Returns," earlier in his career). The success of this picture recommended Price to producers as a star of sufficient power to carry a film as a leading player in his own right.


Anabel Shaw (better known for her supporting role in "Gun Crazy") only rates fourth billing, but she is central to the plot as Janet Stewart, a woman awaiting the return of her husband, Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore), at the Belmont Arms Hotel in San Francisco. Janet is excitable and on edge. Her husband had been reported dead two years earlier, but he had survived and was held as a prisoner of war. When her reservation was misplaced and her husband fails to appear on time, Janet breaks down in tears. The helpful Belmont Arms manager (Pierre Watkin) suggests that she and her tardy husband may make use of a vacant suite in the overbooked hotel until the next afternoon when another guest is due to arrive. Exhausted, Janet nods off in the hotel suite and has a nightmare. In one of the film's best sequences, she dreams that her husband is calling for her help, but she cannot open the door which separates them. When Janet awakes, she rushes to the door and into the empty corridor searching for him.

Returning to the room, Janet overhears a quarrel in a suite opposite her balcony. Mrs. Margaret Cross has discovered her philandering husband entertaining his mistress in their apartment. When he asks her for a divorce, she agrees provided that she can expose him to as much public humiliation and scorn as possible ("no fault" divorces were not yet the norm). In the argument that follows, the husband strikes a fatal blow when he hits his wife in the skull. Janet is stunned and speechless as she witnesses the exchange in silence.

The following morning, Paul arrives more than twelve hours late as his flight had been delayed on account of inclement weather. He finds his wife in a catatonic state. When the hotel physician, Dr. Blair (Selmer Jackson), is unable to rouse her, he places a call to a noted specialist who has an apartment in the same hotel. When Dr. Richard Cross arrives, he discovers that the Stewart suite is opposite his own and he deduces that Janet witnessed his quarrel and the otherwise undetected murder of his wife. He recommends that Janet be placed under his personal care and transported from San Francisco to his private sanitarium. Conveniently, the nurse (Lynn Bari) assigned to the case is his mistress.

"Shock" was directed by Alfred Werker who is best known for "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and the police procedural noir "He Walked By Night" for which he received directorial credit despite the fact that an unbilled Anthony Mann made significant contributions to the finished film. The supporting cast is first rate: Lynn Bari, a fine actress from an era in which real women had curves in contrast to the blend of anorexia and heroin chic that passes for feminine beauty today, is well cast as Cross's scheming mistress; Frank Latimore seems surprisingly handsome and fit despite his recent internment as a prisoner of war; Reed Hadley is a police detective trying to close the file on the accidental death of Margaret Cross whose body was found in a canyon ravine near her mountain lodge and Charles Trowbridge is a consulting psychiatrist who cannot understand why Janet Stewart isn't responding to treatments at the sanitarium of her former pupil and protege, Dr. Cross.

Two years later, screenwriter Eugene Ling collaborated on another sanitarium based film noir that was even better than his script for "Shock." Oscar "Budd" Boetticher, who would achieve a reputation for his mature series of Westerns with Randolph Scott, delivered a superb "B" film that is a model of economical filmmaking and pacing in "Behind Locked Doors."A crooked politician and judge has become a fugitive from justice and a newspaper women (Lucille Bremer) believes that he is concealing himself from the law in a private sanitarium. She recruits an underemployed private detective (Richard Carlson) to pose as her clinically depressed husband in order to secure admission to the same rest home to investigate if the criminal is residing there. Once inside, Carlson is subjected to the abusive treatment at the hands of a sadistic warder, Larson (Douglas Fowley). When Doctor Porter (Thomas Browne) discovers that his newest patient is a detective, he alerts the judge and soon Carlson finds himself sharing a locked cell in the violent ward with the Champ, a demented, punch drunk boxer who comes out swinging every time he hears the sound of a bell.

The cinematography in the film is excellent and the film looks far better than its low budget would suggest. Watch for Dickie Moore as a mute resident of the sanitarium (having played a mute to such good effect in "Out of the Past") and Tor Johnson as the insane boxer. . . proving once and for all that Johnson cashed paychecks in Hollywood before joining forces with the shlockmeister Ed Wood. Ralf Harolde (Dr. Sonderburg in "Murder, My Sweet") plays Hopps, a decent warder in an otherwise corrupt institution.

"Behind Locked Doors" is Lucille Bremer's final screen credit. She was another beauty who did not achieve Hollywood stardom despite appearing opposite Fred Astaire in two musicals and an important role in "Ruthless." She married and retired after this film. Richard Carlson is fine as the wisecracking and amorous detective in his first role since starring opposite Turhan Bey and Lynn Bari in the John Alton photographed cult favorite "The Amazing Mr. X."

Of the two films, I would rate "Behind Locked Doors" better on account of its gripping and more original plot. The film is much more tightly paced without a wasted minute. "Shock" tends to exploit a few cliches and slows down ever so often, including a violent dark and stormy night that still works somehow. An interest effect is that Mrs. Cross is never seen directly on camera. She is heard in the opening and her voice is heard in two flashback sequences when her adulterous and murdering husband is suffering pangs of remorse. One gets the idea that Cross married for money and having graduated from medical school and achieved financial success he has tired of his dowager wife and wants a trophy wife instead. Dr. Richard Cross is an interesting villain in that he possess a little more complexity than one might associate with a quickie film.

Eugene Ling and producer Aubrey Schenk would go on to collaborate on several other noirs after "Behind Locked Doors," including "The Port of New York" another film patterned after "He Walked By Night" and "T-Men."

These are two fine shadow filled films for a dark and stormy night. Don't forget your strait jacket.


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