Monday, March 21, 2011

Howling at the moon. Crime Wave 1954

This rapid dog of a B Noir movie directed by one eyed Andre De Toth  and released by Warner Brothers in 1954 follows a familiar story line common to Nor B flicks. A trio of newly escaped cons pull small heists jobs in southern cal just to get by, a hamburger joint here, a gas station there, but  meanwhile they’re working on a plan to pull off a  big bank heist. The film opens with a beautifully shot sequence with the camera in the back of the thieves car as it roams the dark L.A. streets of 1954 and pulls into a gas station run by that runny cheese of a character actor Dub Taylor who is all cheerful and up because the radio is playing a request of his, sung by the magnificent Doris Day. Already I know I’m in for something special because of this on location shot, and the actual voice of Ms.Day on the soundtrack singing. S Wonderful. The three hoods are played by Ted De Corsia, Charles Buchinsky ( who down the road will change his name to Bronson and become a super duper super star) but for now he is Buchinsky, with that sexy ugly chiseled face of his and  Nedrick Young all proper and dandy in a a suit and tie. Young who was also a screenwriter won the Oscar for best screenplay for The Defiant Ones under the pseudonymous Nathan E. Douglas after being blacklisted for invoking his Fifth Amendment rights while testifying before the 1953 House Committee on Un-American Activities. We are soon introduced to an ex con on probation unexpectedly played by the very good dancer Gene Nelson who was one year away from making his mark in the film version of Oklahoma. But for now he is an ex-con trying to go straight pulling his very pretty wife played by the lovely Phyllis Kirk, who supports her man no matter what along with him. Gene his dancer’s body taunt, tense and wiry spent time in the big house with the three cons and they want him to take part in their big heist, and of course he wants no part of it.  There is a strong hard turn by the terrific Sterling Hayden as a ramrod of a detective who does the whole film with a toothpick stuck between his lips, you see Hayden is trying to give up smoking and since Nicorette was not yet invented his oral fix of choice is a toothpick. A nice eccentric touch, and Hayden does more with a toothpick than anyone I’ve ever seen. The film is thrilling and exciting in its narrative flow, and also in its beautiful visuals with real exterior and interior locations shot with mostly available light and hand held cameras, (the cinematographer was the great Bert Glennon).
De Toth uses lots of extreme close ups and one memorable and beautiful shot is of two hands reaching for a late night ringing phone .that is as breathtaking as any shot I’ve ever seen in a film. There is also a small but pivotal and moving performance by the great Jay Novello as a once proud alcoholic doctor who also spent time in the cooler with the boys and because of this can no longer practice medicine and instead turns to the healing of animals and criminals on the run, and a scary small bit by the always compelling and freaky Timothy Carey as a minor accomplice on the heist. One of the ten best films of 1954.


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