Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cry Danger (1951)

“I’m 60% legitimate,” brags William Conrad (as the slimy nightclub owner Castro) in Robert Parrish’s stunning debut film, Cry Danger (1951). That line’s implications that this underworld denizen has actually sat down, done the math, and determined how crooked he really is, typifies the wry tone of this overlooked film noir gem.

As a classic noir, Cry Danger is 100% legit. Its mingling of typical noir signifiers with refined sitcom humor is unique to the genre. Many noirs have witty banter galore (Murder My Sweet, Nocturne, The Big Sleep, Ace in the Hole). An acerbic wit is part of the arsenal of the school-of-Chandler gumshoe. Seldom has broad comedy so thoroughly mingled with the darker themes of film noir than in Cry Danger.

In the wake of Murder, My Sweet (1944), Dick Powell re-invented his screen persona as a world-weary, acid-tongued noir deadpan. He was more likely to deliver a devastating put-down than a gun-butt or upper-cut. It was enough to make the post-war movie audience forget his Depression-era ingénue roles, and Powell doggedly stuck to this new POV.

In Cry Danger, Powell pushes this persona to its reasonable limits. As ex-convict Rocky Mulloy, he seems more like a displaced stand-up comedian than an underworld denizen. Rocky quips, sneers and word-slaps his way through the film’s 79 minutes. Whether he’s addressing cops, ukulele-toting landlords, slatternly hotel clerks, passive-aggressive bookies, amiable barkeeps or Neanderthal paperboys, Mulloy has a bad word for everyone.

Sent up for a heist he didn’t commit, and sprung from prison, after five years, on the testimony of a one-legged ex-Marine (played with liberal comedy by Richard Erdman), Mulloy attempts to collect a cash settlement from sweat-soaked racketeer and nightclub-owner, Castro (played with anxious, petty flair by noir stalwart William Conrad).

Tailed 24/7 by LA cops, including Detective Lt. Gus Cobb (a world-weary Regis Toomey), Mulloy is expected to uncover the loot from this crime he didn’t commit. Even Delong, the false witness who freed him from prison, stitches himself to Mulloy’s side, just in case that heist money pops up.

Mulloy is, understandably, ill-tempered. Although never explicitly stated, it’s hinted that he once held a high rank in L.A.’s underworld. What a come-down, then, to shack up in the filthiest Air-Stream trailer on Bunker Hill with the boozy chatterbox Delong.

Mulloy has chosen this miserable locale due to the presence of neighbor Nancy Morgan (Rhonda Fleming). The wife of his best friend, also wrongly sent up for the heist, Nancy is a link to Mulloy’s better days. They obviously carry torches for each other, although they keep one another at arm’s length.

Mulloy is determined to find out who framed him—and why. His first, most logical suspect, is the slimy Castro. Mulloy is hoodwinked by the crafty Castro into accepting some marked money from a payroll robbery. Castro erases all evidence of his treachery. Rocky seems destined to return to prison, one day after his release.

He's cleared by Lt. Cobb, due to a sloppy oversight of Castro’s. Mulloy then does what most noir anti-heroes would, in such a situation—he beats the crap out of Castro. While satisfying, this revenge angle doesn’t clear things up for him.

As a result, Mulloy is now a moving target for Castro’s on-call henchmen (part of that un-discussed 40%!). When Delong is nearly killed by gunmen, who think the lush is Mulloy, the feces hit the fan blades. Rocky uncovers who’s behind this double-cross. It’s enough to make him a permanent cynic, but he walks away exonerated, and alone, to somehow pick up the pieces of his life and make them fit again.

Dick Powell’s Rocky Mulloy is among the biggest sour-pusses in film noir. He’s got a right to be sore. Five years in stir have taught him the fine art of tongue-lashing. He is, perhaps, too good at it. He drops verbal bombs left and right, not caring about their half-life—or their threat to his social standing.

Only Powell—and Robert Mitchum—could make such a jaundiced male Cassandra work in the classic films noir. Powell digs into Rocky Mulloy. He plays him flat as pavement, and twice as hard.

William Bowers’ screenplay (one of at least a dozen in the noir genre) contains more wisecracks than a Marx Brothers picture, and has many farcical characters. Richard Erdman, a familiar face from his many TV roles, gives a strong taste of gallows humor to his role as ex-Marine (and full-time alky) Delong.

Jay Adler also mines comedic gold from his role as the oblivious trailer park manager, Williams. He’s like a character from an early ‘30s W. C. Fields comedy.

Jean Porter’s turn, as kleptomaniac sex kitten Darlene LaVonne, brings the film’s comedy into more modern context. Her character is almost as big as Erdman’s. Their scenes together threaten to turn the film into a screwball comedy with gunplay.

This odd mix shouldn’t work. Cry Danger is a rare example of a film in which every element is balanced just right. A pinch more comedy, a touch less drama, and the whole shooting match would collapse.

Director Parrish was blessed with writer Bowers, cinematographer Joseph Biroc, and dialogue director Rod Amateau. The latter’s lively touch accentuates Cry Danger’s verbal fireworks. He obviously helped the film’s performances achieve a sprightly sitcom polish that should be (but isn’t) perilously at odds with its more serious themes of betrayal and corruption.

Amateau moved over to TV, where he directed scores of sitcoms. Another sitcom habitué, Hy Averback, makes a strong, brief turn here as a grousing, self-pitying bookie who operates from the curtained back room of a dismal corner grocery.

Joseph Biroc’s cinematography, with its stunning verite shots of Bunker Hill and other Los Angeles environs, helps balance the felicities of Amateau and Bowers’ noir-com. As with Joseph Losey’s fascinating re-make of Fritz Lang’s M (also shot in Bunker Hill in 1950, and also with Luther Adler in a strong supporting role), Cry Danger offers modern viewers a tantalizing glimpse of Lost Los Angeles.

Although there are many obvious process shots in the film, it contains some beautiful moody views of LA. The opening sequence, in Union Station, gives us a haunting tour of its shadowy tunnels. Striking shots occur in day and night locales. (In one daylit exterior, the camera operator, and his camera, can be fleetingly seen in the reflection of a taxicab window!)

Cry Danger is cut from familiar noir fabric—LA’s criminal underworld, world-weary cops, allegiances that can be bought and sold for a shot of rye, complex female characters, betrayal, deception, gunplay, murder and fisticuffs. When the going gets tough, the film never shies away from it. This potentially jarring juggle of dark and light is thrilling and riveting.

Again, Bowers’ acid dialogue speaks for itself. Consider this terse exchange between Powell’s Mulloy and noir stalwart William Conrad’s crooked Castro:

Castro: (cowering at gunpoint) W-would you kill me, Rocky?
Rocky Mulloy: (without a hint of emotion) Wouldn't you?

This dialogue double-clouts the viewer. It’s as tough as film noir dialogue gets—yet it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.

At its best, Bowers’ screenwriting has a novelistic quality. His dialogue and characterizations offer more complexity and texture than most of his peers. Daniel Mainwaring and Jonathan Latimer could blend comedy and hard-boiled drama (Latimer’s script for 1946’s Nocturne is a superb example of his wit and skill). No one did it better than Bowers.

SPOILER DEPT.: Cry Danger’s one major flaw is its decision to make Rhonda Fleming’s character, Nancy Morgan, the heavy, in the film’s denouement. It’s a clever idea on paper, but we consider her a “good” character, and she is played as such by Fleming until the script demands she change horses. It is an awkward moment.

In a weaker film, this misstep would send the whole house of cards crashing down. At the tail end of this richly embellished, well-written, sharply acted noir, it’s forgivable. This narrative decision is a disservice to Fleming. She is required to make a self-conscious shift from doting gal-pal to craven, desperate vixen. Barbara Stanwyck could have handled it; Fleming takes it in the shins.

Cry Danger is a fascinating and successful example of how the film noir format sought to grow beyond its generic constraints as the 1940s became the ‘50s. Via Joseph Biroc’s visuals, this film also bridges the expressionistic shadows of ‘40s noir and the flat docudrama of the 1950s.

Cry Danger has recently been restored, and was shown in a recent Noir City fest. With its verbal skyrockets, eye-popping LA locations, and strong cast (which also includes a striking one-scene performance by Joan Banks), this film is a prime candidate for DVD reissue.

Written by Frank M. Young

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Brothers Rico (1957)

Divided Loyalties in The Brothers Rico

“It was a set-up. They put a leash around my neck. They used me like a bloodhound to track down my brother.”

The Brothers Rico, a film from director Phil Karlson, explores the issue of divided loyalties through the actions of three Italian-American brothers who are connected to the Mafia. Three years after leaving his life as a mob bookie, Eddie Rico (Richard Conte) now owns a legitimate, successful laundry business in Florida. Eddie’s two younger brothers still work for the Organization, and Eddie believes that the Ricos have a position of privilege with mafia boss Sid Kubik. Years previously their mother caught a bullet intended for Kubik, and ever since then Kubik claims that he feels a special connection to the fatherless Rico boys. With infrequent contact with his family, Eddie thinks he’s left his Brooklyn roots far behind. His success is evidenced by his material possessions: a large beautiful home, a new convertible car, and a glamorous wife Alice (Dianne Foster) who probably has no conception of operating a vacuum.

The film opens with a depiction of marital bliss and middle-class affluence as the day begins at the Rico home. These scenes set the tone for Eddie’s life, but little does he know that all hell is about to break loose. The trouble starts with a phone call from Phil (Paul Dubov), a gangster who works for Kubik. Phil orders Eddie to find a job for someone he’s sending to Florida, and although Eddie voices a few weak protests, it’s clear from the conversation that Eddie should do as he’s told. The second thing to go wrong in Eddie’s day is a troubling letter from Mama Rico (Argentina Brunetti) who still operates her candy shop in Brooklyn. In the letter, Mama Rico confesses that she’s worried about her two other boys, Gino and Johnny. She hasn’t heard from either of them, and the last thing Gino said was that he was “going far away for a long time.” Alice begins to connect the call from Phil with the disappearances of Gino and Johnny, but Eddie makes light of the letter, and dismisses Alice’s fears with the comment that she sounds like a “peasant from the old country.”

When Eddie gets to work, Joe (William Phipps), the gangster he’s supposed to hide for the mob, has arrived, and he’s busy making himself at home in Eddie’s office. Joe’s sneering lack of respect for Eddie is barely held in check, and even though Eddie orders Joe off to work in the boiler room, Joe’s attitude is unsettling. Then Eddie leaves to go to the Flamingo Club but is waylaid by the sudden appearance of a very nervous Gino (Paul Picerni). Gino, who looks like he hasn’t slept in a week, tells Eddie that he “graduated into the money” by becoming a killer for the mob. While Eddie groans at the news, Gino drops a bomb by confessing that he “was the gun on the job” for the recent hit on crime world figure Carmine. With baby brother Johnny driving the get-away car, this makes the high profile Carmine killing a Rico family affair.

Gino tells Eddie that everything was quiet for several months after the murder, and then there were rumours of a possible witness to the Carmine killing who might be persuaded to give evidence in exchange for a sweet deal. Suddenly “there was a big rumble all over town” that a Grand Jury was being called to investigate Carmine’s murder. In the meantime, Johnny disappeared. Gino, whose jitteriness increases with each revelation, tells Eddie that suddenly everyone started asking him about Johnny. Gino admits that he started to get nervous when he was ordered to leave Brooklyn and go to St Louis, and instead of obeying orders, he went on the run. Gino spills his deepest fear: “I’ve got the creepy feeling they’ve got the big eye on me,” and that he no longer trusts Kubik. Gino wants help from Eddie to get out of the country, and he also asks Eddie to find Johnny before he’s murdered by the mob.

Up to this point, three people in Eddie’s life, his wife, his mother and his brother are trying to deliver warnings, but Eddie doesn’t want to hear them. Eddie chalks up Gino’s fears to the reactions of “an old woman.” Just as Eddie reassures his wife, he reassures Gino that no one would hurt a Rico--least of all Kubik. Eddie tells Gino to return to St Louis and to stop thinking about living a life on the lam.

Eddie returns to his office to yet another phone call from Phil. This time Eddie is summoned to Miami to talk to Kubik (Larry Gates). The meeting begins with “Uncle” Kubik, who looks sinister in spite of his yachting outfit, asking Eddie a few pleasantries about the laundry business. After softening Eddie up, Kubik asks for news of Eddie’s brothers, and given the recent conversation with Gino, this sounds alarm bells. Kubik, however, seems to know a lot more about the missing Rico brothers than Eddie does, and this is reflected on Eddie’s face when he’s told that Johnny has a new wife. Kubik then tells Eddie that through a “pipeline into the DA’s office” he has information that someone wants to sing about the Carmine killing in exchange for immunity. Kubik tells Eddie that although the Organization trusts Johnny, it’s suspected that he’s under the influence of his new wife to go straight. According to Kubik, “that wife of his must be off her rocker to talk him into crazy ideas like that.”

At this point, Eddie swallows the line that Kubik just wants to “help” Johnny, and he agrees to find his youngest brother and get him out of the country….

The Brothers Rico is based on one of Simenon’s romans durs (hard novels), and the tale is a great deal darker and more complex than the simplified version offered in this 1957 film. Watching the film a few times will yield clues as to where the screenplay tampered with the novel. In one scene for example, Eddie leaves for the Flamingo Club, but never gets there. Why would the owner of a laundry business go to the Flamingo Club in the middle of the day? Then take a close look at Rico’s laundry business. It takes a lot of dirty clothes to supply the kind of dough Eddie has. What’s all this about Eddie getting out of the mob and being clean, yet he’s still dirty enough for Phil to have the expectation that Eddie will hide a hot killer from Kansas City, no questions asked. Does a wiseguy ever leave the mob? These jarring inconsistencies leave some unanswered questions about Eddie’s true source of wealth, and unfortunately the film plays it straight. Avoiding the moral complexities of the novel, Eddie is presented as a hard-working stiff who suffers from naiveté and the belief that mob-boss Kubik is the father the Rico boys never had.

Still the film does have some excellent points. The Brothers Rico consistently presents the male-dominated world of the Mafia Brotherhood. The Rico women are kept in the dark as much as possible--not only for their own good, but also because it’s easier for the men to operate with the illusion of family values intact. The implication is that Kubik, Eddie, Gino, and Johnny move in a world that the women in their lives cannot understand. While this implication is absent in the book, it’s an interpretation that consistently appears in the film, and consequently the three main female players Alice, Norah, and Mama Rico are presented as hopelessly undermined or overwhelmed by the Mafia Brotherhood and a morality they cannot understand.

The women in the film also occupy the role of trouble-makers by attempting to intervene in Mafia business. Kubik insinuates that it’s Johnny’s wife Norah who’s responsible for his disloyalty and disappearance, and when Eddie tries to talk to Johnny (James Darren) about his disaffection from the mob, Norah (Kathryn Grant) intervenes until Eddie put her in her place. Similarly, Eddie’s wife Alice is a woman who harps on, somewhat incongruously, about adopting a baby and impressing the nuns while she’s dressed in a form-clinging dress that appears to be glued onto her hour glass figure. Eddie is dealing with the disappearance of his two brothers, a professional hit, and rumours of a Grand Jury. He’s the only Rico anyone can find, and yet in addition to juggling these concerns, Eddie also must placate his wife’s expectations to show up at the orphanage to make a good impression on the nuns. The third major female role in the film is Mama Rico. In the novel, she’s a tough old broad who survives in her crime-riddled neighbourhood for years by knowing when to keep her mouth shut. In the film, Mama Rico overdoes the Italian role in between clinging to a statue of the Madonna.

Eddie, Gino and Johnny have all sworn allegiance to the mob and taken the Code of Silence: Omerta. They may be brothers and have a familial bond, but their bond to the Mafia supercedes all blood ties. In one scene, Kubik waxes on about the importance of the family, and yet which family does he really mean--the family with blood ties or the Mafia Brotherhood? Of course, paying lip service to notions of brotherly responsibility also conveniently shields Kubik’s true intentions. He demands that Eddie sacrifice his appointment at the orphanage to go on the hunt for Johnny, and when the chips are down, Eddie does what he is told.

From the moment the film begins, it’s clear that Eddie is trapped. The only choice he has is whether or not to agree with the demands Kubik places upon him or whether to support his brothers in their attempts to hide. Kubik argues that they all want the same thing. Eddie tries to take the middle road by pretending that Gino and Johnny’s fears are unsubstantiated, and that good old Uncle Kubik is willing to turn an indulgent eye to the brothers who are running away from the Mob. From the moment Eddie Rico’s phone rings, he’s caught in a cage that extends from Florida, to New York, and eventually California. Every step of the way he’s followed, and in essence a false world is created for him. He may think he’s a free man making free choices, but he’s not, and while he becomes increasingly suspicious of various people in his world, he cannot break free of the cage that’s been so carefully constructed around him.

The film tacks on a large amount of material that is entirely absent from the novel, and these creative additions effectively turn Eddie into a late blooming heroic figure. Eddie’s cinematic moral outrage and the accompanying dramatic touches don’t quite ring true as they spring from a character who is fully immersed in mob life and mob expectations. Ultimately, Eddie’s naïve protestations have a hollow ring, but the film’s difficulties are largely overcome by the casting of seasoned actor, Richard Conte as Eddie. Conte manages to pull off Eddie’s nebulous moral decisions smoothly, and in the process Eddie is convincingly portrayed as a pawn who acts only when he’s stripped of the naïve belief in his protected and privileged relationship with the mob.

Written by Guy Savage

Monday, June 14, 2010

Illegal Entry (1949)

Illegal Entry is a straight forward crime programmer with a couple strong doses of irony, but more on those later. Put out by Universal in the summer of 1949 and staring Howard Duff as Bert Powers, a down on his luck former WWII pilot who’s now trying to earn a buck with his own one plane air freight company.

While short on panache, what the film lacks in style is more than made up in the impressive who’s who of actors filling both key and minor roles. In addition to the steely Duff, Anna, the female who’s playing both sides is handled deftly by Märta Torén with George Brent playing Dan Collins, Chief Agent of the Immigration Bureau.

While we’re got three suitable leads it’s really the supporting players, as is very usually the case, who are really the most watchable. Start with Tom Tully as Nick Gruber who runs a seemly kosher air fright company out of L.A. His short list of his pilots include; Paul Stewart, Clifton Young, Ken Tobey, and David Opatoshu.

The brains behind the whole set-up is Dutch Lempo played by Richard Rober who has among his henchmen Teague, played with his usual menacing ways by the swarthy Anthony Caruso. If this isn’t enough you also get the screen debut of everyone’s favorite Italian, better make that third favorite after Tito Vuolo and Jay Novello, Vito Scotti in an unbilled role as a “Mexican youth.”

The whole package is under the direction of Fred De Cordova, who while having a decent run as a director (among his credits are Bedtime of Bonzo and Bonzo Goes to College) is best remembered as the long time producer of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

While the subject of illegal entry into the United States is currently a hot topic, the problem is far from new and in 1949 two noirs were released that addressed the issue. The other film was the far superior Border Incident which came out four months later and dealt specifically with Mexicans crossing the border illegally. Our film takes a broader view, for it also looks at the illegal entry into the states of persons from war-torn European counties as well as Mexico and its here that the story begins.

We open with a couple high rating officials of the Immigration Department reading lines as to the seriousness of the offences and how diligently their department is working to combat the issue and bring a quick solution to it. Next up is the anticipated voice over and fade to a horseback mounted immigration agent making his normal rounds in the mountains of Southern California. Only what he spots is far from normal we’re told as he comes upon a dead body with “DACHUA 57437” tattooed upon the back. There’s not a tire mark or footprint to be found. So did this body just fall from the sky? Turns out, yes it did!

Quickly figuring out there’s more than one way to import bodies into the states, Chief Agent Dan Collins congers up a plan to trap those responsible. After getting a tip there’s something shady going on at the Blue Danube Café in L.A. being run by Anna Duvak O’Neil he makes a beeline to Amarillo to convince Bert Powers, who flew with Anna’s departed husband during the war, to go undercover and help get at the bunch who are “vicious and rotten and trading on people’s miseries.”

With no interest in helping but financially “flat as Texas,” Bert of course agrees to join up and once in L.A. is swore in as a duly authorized member of the Immigration Department.

At this point it bears noting the seemingly unending number of coincidences that occur in this, and just about every noir; a man falls from the sky, he’s got a concentration camp tattoo, some one sees a photo of the tattoo in the paper, they tip the law to the café, the café is run by the widow of a flyer, his former co-pilot has a business that’s failing, failing flyer agrees to assist the law and gets hired by the very company that’s flying people across the border. Amassing, but I guess that’s why we all bank heavily upon the suspension of disbelief ever time we plop ourselves down to watch these films we love.

As noted above, Bert ends up getting hired by Nick Gruber of California Air Lines soon after making contact at the Blue Danube and letting Anna know he’s desperate for work. Of course Anna’s been duped into her role in the whole scheme as we learn she herself had her brother brought into the country illegally when dating one of the pilots. She’s now romantically involved with the big boss Dutch Lempo and commutes via the airline to visit Dutch in Mexico, as he’s previously been deported for some unmentioned criminal offence. Actually the whole “romantic” involvement bit is more in Dutch’s mind than a reality as Anna complies solely to maintain the safety of her brother and thus keep him from the authorities and the certainty of being sent back to the old country.

Now not to throw cold water on the whole affair, but I’m betting you’d figure that Bert ends up the hero and also gets the girl in the end. So let me jump to that bit about double irony I mentioned; as noted Anna’s only motivation for being involved with the whole lot of thugs is out of concern for her brother. The brother is of course distraught over the pickle he’s got Anna in so in order is get Anna free of the mess she’s in, he ends up bumping himself off!

Second, Dutch who’s been deported and makes a nice living getting people into the place from which he was thrown out of, gets his just desserts when he flies into L.A. on one of his own planes and is apprehended by the authorities. Well no one said crooks are the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Lastly, while many noirs of the time make use of L.A. landmarks, think City Hall and Union Station, this is the only one I can recall that actually films on historic Olvera Street, the birthplace of the City of Los Angeles. It also bears noting the airports used for depositing the human cargo were, at the time, quaint and small outpost of Southern California; “Colton, Santa Ana and Ontario.” When hearing this I couldn’t help but think had Jack Benny rather that Dutch been running the gang and they made use of trains rather than planes the stations would have been, “Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.”

Written by Raven

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Money Movers (1978)

A classic noir from down under

There’s a lot of justified hype about the period of Australian film from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties known as “Ozploitation”, when the creation of film funding bodies and the introduction of government tax breaks to encourage investment in the industry saw an explosion of local production.

But there was one genre of movie the Ozploitation period did not do well or often - crime.

One of the few exceptions is Bruce Beresford’s heist movie, Money Movers. Adapted from the novel of the same name by an ex-security officer, like a lot of films from the Ozploitation period, Money Movers completely flopped when it was released in 1979.

Unlike like a lot of the Ozploitation movies that have since gone on to enjoy critical and cult acclaim, Money Movers remains little known or appreciated, despite a DVD version being released in 2004. This is a pity because Money Movers is proof Australia could knock out a noir as gritty and multi-layered as the best of them.

Its hardboiled feel is established in the opening scenes, muster time in the counting house of Darcy’s Security Services. The armoured car drivers exchange jokes and take a last drag on their cigarettes before going on the weekly bank run. Two of them, Brian Jackson (iconic Australian actor Bryan Brown) and his brother, Eric (Terence Donovan), head of security at Darcy’s, pause to observe money being unloaded from a truck with particular interest.

This is juxtaposed with shots of management, or the “armchair drivers” as those on the shop floor derisively refer to them, and images of the (then) modern paraphernalia of security in operation: mesh grills being electronically lowered, lights flashing, doors being buzzed open.

On the road, one of the trucks parks for the drivers to a take a lunch break. On their return, they are jumped by men wearing clown masks and brandishing sawn off shotguns. The only man to resist is Dick Martin (Ed Devereaux). He gives a good account of himself before being clubbed. His resistance marks him out someone who won’t be intimidated even when he’s dealing with a bandit who has just gunned down an innocent bystander in broad daylight.

The robbers are next seen pulling into an old garage. No sooner have they cracked open their first celebratory beers than they are finished off by a henchman working for the mastermind behind the operation, Henderson (another veteran Australian actor, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell), who has no intention of sharing the take.

Meanwhile across town, a secretary hands the CEO of Darcy’s a note (made up of cut and pasted newspaper letters, no less), informing them the counting house will soon be robbed. The note forces management to fast track new security measures - if they can get them past the opposition of the local trade union.

They are not the only ones worried. The Jackson brothers along with the emphysemic head of the local union are planning to rob the counting house and are not happy with the prospect of competition.

Eric Jackson has been working on the job for five years, taking his time, making sure everything is right, much to the chagrin of his hot-headed brother. “By the time you’re ready, well be rushing into the counting house in wheel chairs,” Brian tells his cautious older brother. Now their hand has been forced and they have to move quickly.

As they talk, the three men leaf through the personnel files of new recruits to the company for some clue about who might be trying to muscle in on their job. Their main suspect is Leo Bassett (Tony Bonnor), a young urbane man patently out of place patrolling industrial back lots in the middle of the night.

To bank roll their plan, Eric Jackson knocks over a cosmetics factory patrolled by Darcy’s, in the process killing one of his own security guards. Next he prowls Bassett’s pad for evidence linking him to the note, unaware it is also under surveillance by Henderson’s goons. They capture Jackson, find the replica of the Darcys’ armoured car he and his brother are working on, and realise what they are up to.

With the help of some bolt cutters, Henderson persuades the Jackson brothers to cut him in as a partner. Henderson’s terms are simple: he seconds some of his men to help out with the job and takes 60 per cent of anything stolen in exchange for helping get the brothers out of the country when it is over. It’s not a great deal, especially given that we’ve already seen how Henderson deals with partners.

Using a union meeting as cover, the brothers attempt the robbery. It almost comes off until Dick Martin fresh from the beating he endured during his earlier attempt to protect the company’s money, notices something amiss. Needless to say, like most heist films it all ends very badly.

The feel of the Money Movers is straight down the line noir. The city of Sydney is anonymous as a location. The story takes place in truck lots, factory floors, container yards and neon lit streets, there’s not an opera house or expanse of blue water in sight. On the few occasions the movie takes us into larger, more brightly lit locations, the characters seem tense and uneasy.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Money Movers is the way Beresford executes the classic noir theme of the paper-thin line between good and bad. Corruption is so pervasive, so matter a fact, it’s hardly commented on. Management complain about the girls in the counting room slipping notes into their underwear. Before he’ll lift a finger, Ross the policeman investigating the note threatening to rob the counting house casually shakes down Darcy’s human relations manager for a bribe. “Might be a bit costly,” Ross says about chasing down leads. “Not real orthodox stuff.” Even Dick Martin is tainted, framed by his former colleagues and pushed out of the police force after 24 years because he wouldn’t take bigger bribes.

The blurring of morality extends to modern business methods. Darcy’s management are more worried about the impact of the latest armoured car robbery on their insurance premiums than the safety of their employees. The CEO ponders aloud whether they should try and get some younger guards, “ex-Vietnam boys”, only to be informed they’re considered too trigger happy. Besides getting a better class of guard would break unofficial company policy only to employ applicants who fail the test: they are the only ones who won’t get bored with the job.

Flush with money made from selling drugs, liquor and sex to visiting American GIs during the Vietnam War, the seventies were a time of massive corruption across much of the eastern seaboard of Australia. The nexus between criminals, commerce, sections of the labour movement and police was tight. Illegal businesses flourished often under the direct patronage of corrupt police.

Against these forces, amateurs like Eric and Brian Jackson don’t stand a chance, no matter how quick on their feet or good with their fists they are. Beresford doesn’t waste much time explaining why these men want to rob their employer. For the older brother, an ex-racing car driver now trapped in an unhappy marriage, it’s about recapturing some sense of being on the edge. His younger brother just wants the good life. All we know about the aging union hack is an old black and white photograph of an Asian woman and his promise to come back to her.

The film combines classic elements of noir with some uniquely Australian characteristics. The class divide is starkly drawn, reinforced through out the film by images of wealth and money. The Australian economy was on the verge of recession in the late seventies, unions represented over half the working population (now it is about 20 per cent), and the view that management and workers were not on the same side wasn’t as anachronistic as it sounds now. The desire of the Jackson brothers to rip management off, to get what they have, is just a given. Even the crime boss Henderson is a victim of the economic times, masterminding armed robberies for funds to refurbish his textile factory that went belly up when government lifted import restrictions.

Given the milieu it depicts, the Money Movers has a male feel and aggression and violence are always close to the surface. The men are in charge, the women relegated to harassed secretaries, angry wives, and bits on the side. Leo Bassett, the man the Jackson brothers suspect of being behind the note, is not only an outsider, he’s branded a ‘poofter’ by Brian Jackson because it states in his personnel file that he likes music and poetry - the kiss of death in seventies Australian working class male culture.

Those who do try to do their job and refuse to compromise, like ex-cop Dick Martin, get little in return. At the film’s end, as Martin is being wheeled out of the counting house on an ambulance gurney after nearly being killed foiling the Jackson brother’s robbery, the corrupt cop Ross tells him: “Get over this and they’ll stick a medal on you and put you back on award wages”.

A little piece of metal and a minimum wage job - the best deal a hero is likely to get in Money Movers.

Comment above or join the discussion at the Back Alley Noir review section. All comments at Noir of the Week are shared at Back Alley