Film Review: Armored Car Robbery (1950)

Also known as: Code 3, Code 3-A (working titles), Criminal Brigade (Portugal)
Release Date: June 8th, 1950
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Gerald Drayson Adams, Earl Felton, Robert Leeds, Robert Angus
Music by: Roy Webb, Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman

RKO Radio Pictures, 67 Minutes

Review:

“You should see her workin’ clothes. Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride… the naked and the dead.” – Ryan

Richard Fleischer would go on to have a heck of a career. However, he first rose to prominence in the late ’40s and early ’50s when he turned his attention towards directing a string of film-noir pictures.

Armored Car Robbery is just one of four really solid noirs that Fleischer did. The other three being The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman (he was uncredited for this one) and The Narrow Margin. I’ve reviewed all of these except for His Kind of Woman but I plan to revisit it soon.

This film teams up two classic noir heavyweights: Charles McGraw and William Talman. It also features Adele Jergens, who isn’t the most alluring femme fatale in noir history but still has a very strong presence and a certain beauty that seems more authentic and real than just some insanely beautiful dame slithering around her prey.

The plot sees a criminal named Purvis (Talman) recruit Benny to help him rob an armored car at Wrigley Field (the old Los Angeles one, not the famous Chicago one). Benny’s wife has been two-timing him and the man she has been sleeping with is Purvis, although Benny doesn’t know this at the time. The robbery goes sideways due to a passing police patrol. A cop is murdered in the getaway and the criminals escape. The dead cop’s partner, Lt. Jim Cordell (McGraw), makes it his personal mission to bring these criminals to justice. With all the pressure, the criminals become paranoid and things start to fall apart.

Armored Car Robbery is very typical of the RKO visual style in regards to their crime pictures. It feels like a gritty and edgy RKO picture, which for fans of classic film-noir, should be a very strong positive.

One problem with the film is that there was a better armored truck robbery a year earlier called Criss Cross. The stories themselves are different but it is hard to not review this film without citing the earlier one. That one was a Robert Siodmak picture and starred Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea. While that film shouldn’t take anything away from this one, if you’ve seen Criss Cross first, this movie can’t help but feel a bit derivative.

The things that make this film work though are the talented cast, the direction of Fleischer and the crisp, high contrast visual style.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Richard Fleischer’s The Clay Pigeon, His Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Also known as: The Gun (working title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1950
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall

Jack M. Warner Productions, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This is my first time out. How am I doin’?” – Andy Cullen, “All right, kid. Do any better, and I’ll be out of a job.” – Police Lt. Ed Cullen

The Man Who Cheated Himself is a neat little film-noir that stars the always domineering Lee J. Cobb in a rare role where he isn’t shouting a lot.

It also stars Jane Wyatt, who just feels completely out of place as the femme fatale type, as she is most synonymous for playing the mother in Father Knows Best. It also stars John Dall, who I loved in Gun Crazy and Rope, as well as a very young Lisa Howard before she went on to be a controversial news figure that committed suicide at 35 years-old.

Unfortunately, this is a film suffering from multiple personality disorder.

It is pretty dull and comes off as uneventful, even though there are things happening. This film just lacks excitement and energy. I’m not sure if that’s because Lee J. Cobb was told to play this role a bit more chill than he normally does or if he was bored doing it and didn’t give us a boisterous performance. When I watch a film with Cobb, I expect a certain panache and he just didn’t have it here.

Additionally, everything is just sort of dry. This isn’t a new story and really, just borrows heavily from several films within the classic film-noir style. There isn’t much to set this apart and to make it stand out among its peers.

However, the final scene at Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) was an incredibly well shot sequence that built immense suspense and had me at the edge of my seat. But it builds such great tension and then falls flat, as the bad guys get caught in the most anticlimactic way possible. This sequence must have made a fan out of Alfred Hitchock though, as he used the same location in his classic picture Vertigo.

I probably expected more out of this film than it had to give. I like Cobb, I thought his performance in 12 Angry Men was incredible but even great actors have duds from time to time.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other old school film-noirs: RoadblockQuicksand!Pitfall, Please Murder Me!Too Late For TearsShock, etc.

Film Review: Rocketship X-M (1950)

Also known as: Expedition Moon, Rocket to the Moon, None Came Back, Journey Into the Unknown, Rocketship Expedition Moon (working titles)
Release Date: May 26th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Kurt Neumann
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Kurt Neumann, Dalton Trumbo
Music by: Ferde Grofe
Cast: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr., Hugh O’Brian, Morris Ankrum

Lippert Pictures, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place.” – Floyd, “I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.” – Dr. Lisa Van Horn, “Isn’t that enough?” – Floyd

For a picture showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, this one actually isn’t half bad.

Plus, it also has a well-known actor in it: Lloyd Bridges.

But all things considered, this still isn’t a very good movie. It probably played much better in 1950 but it was fairly dry and uneventful. It was written by the Dalton Trumbo (and a few others too) and it was more serious than some of the other over the top sci-fi pictures of the time.

This did feature Martians and a nonsensical plot that sees our astronaut heroes miss the moon, only to land on Mars. But at least this wasn’t overly hokey. At least, I didn’t think so. Granted, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more with big rubber suited monsters but I feel like this was a real attempt at making a sci-fi picture that was supposed to be seen as a more serious film than a movie played up for scares and to appeal to the pulp readers of the day.

In the end, Rocketship X-M is one of the better films to get riffed by Joel and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other MST3K fodder that featured rocketships: Women of the Prehistoric PlanetProject Moonbase, The Phantom PlanetFirst Spaceship on Venus, etc.

Film Review: Caged (1950)

Also known as: Femmes en cage (France), Locked In (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1950 (New York premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Virginia Kellogg
Based on:  Women Without Men by Kellogg and Schoenfeld
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Hope Emerson

Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Come on you tramps – line up for Christmas.” – Evelyn Harper

I discovered this film when it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. While I guess it fits the loose rules of what a noir can be, it is more of a “women in prison” movie but twenty years before those sort of pictures were made primarily for sexploitation.

I didn’t know what to expect but this was very dramatic and a better film than what I was anticipating.

The main character, Marie Allen, is sent to prison for a crime she was a part of because she was in love with a shady guy. That guy was killed and Marie was punished for the crime, being institutionalized while being pregnant. The film sees the timid and shy Marie have to adjust to a hard prison life. She plays things by the book and hopes to be paroled early. However, she is denied parole, her mother also rejects the responsibility of having to raise Marie’s baby until she gets out and everything in Marie’s life falls apart because she is trapped behind bars, completely and utterly powerless.

It is the way that the story unfolds, though, that makes everything work so well. You really feel for Marie and your heart breaks in certain scenes but like Marie, you develop a harder demeanor and are right along with her when you want to see her push back against a corrupt system that is failing at its job of rehabilitating those it locks away.

Caged is a fine film with a lot of layers. It’s superbly written and Eleanor Parker really put this film on her back and carried it.

It has nothing special in the realm of cinematography but it is clean and the camerawork is still very good. It doesn’t employ a strong chiaroscuro vibe like other film-noirs.

I was pleasantly surprised by Caged and I was certainly glad to discover it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A male prison noir Brute Force, as well as other noir films The Narrow Margin and Side Street.

Film Review: Mystery Street (1950)

Also known as: Murder at Harvard (working title)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1950 (Denver & Detroit premieres)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Sydney Boehm, Richard Brooks, Leonard Spigelgass
Music by: Rudolph G. Kopp
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett, Elsa Lanchester

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Know her? Sure, I knew her. I was never close enough to smell her perfume, but I knew her!” – Jim Black, tattooist

If you’re a classic Star Trek fan, it’s hard not to have a love for Ricardo Montalban. So since I also have a love of old school film-noir, I’d definitely want to check one out that starred the man who would later become the most famous Trek villain of all-time, Khan Noonien Singh.

Also, this film features one of my favorite ladies of her day, Elsa Lanchester. She will always be most known for playing the Bride in The Bride of Frankenstein. Here she plays a sort of kooky but fun character.

While this picture is considered film-noir and very much is, it is more of a police procedural in a time when the genre was really in its infancy. Procedurals were born out of film-noir and this isn’t the first but it helped to popularize the style.

Like other early procedurals, this was filmed in a semi-documentary style. It had some good location shooting throughout Boston that added a strong sense of realism to a film that was made when Hollywood still preferred shooting in their studios and on lots.

The film boasts striking cinematography that adds to the sense of realism and enhances the picture’s organic grittiness. John Alton handled the cinematography work, which was fitting as he also worked on T-Men, a similar film in style, as well as other noirs Raw DealBorder Incident and The Crooked Way.

Mystery Street is a motion picture that showcases real cinematic craftsmanship in the way that it was directed, shot and in how well the performers handled the material. While not Montalban’s greatest role, it did show that he was a star in the making, on the verge of greater heights. It’s also nice to travel back this far in time and see him as a more capable actor than a stereotypical Latin heartthrob or as a blockbuster villain.

This is a solid picture, through and through. It’s far from the best noir I’ve ever seen but it is much better than average and helped pave the way for a new form of storytelling on the big and small screens.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir police procedurals: The Naked CityT-Men and He Walked by Night.

Film Review: The Breaking Point (1950)

Release Date: September 30th, 1950
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall
Based on: To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Howard Jackson, Max Steiner
Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter, Juano Hernandez

Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I ain’t got no choice. All I got left to peddle is guts. I’m not sure I got any. I have to find out.” – Harry Morgan

I haven’t seen John Garfield in a lot but I’m working my way through his noir-esque stuff. While this isn’t as good as The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is pretty close and an enjoyable experience, all its own. Plus, he looks pretty damn good in a captain’s hat.

This film was adapted from a Hemingway story, which made for a special kind of film-noir. This one had a nautical twist and much of the film took place on a boat bouncing around the coastline of California and Mexico.

The story sees a family man and boat captain get caught up in some criminal activity, as he’s trying to support his family and prevent losing his business due to the debt he has racked up on his boat. He has a black first mate and a femme fatale that tags along throughout the movie, although the femme fatale isn’t really all that dangerous and although Patricia Neal gives her some sass and a rough edge, she is mostly sweet. Really, she’s just there to create some sexual tension and to challenge Garfield’s wife, played by Phyllis Thaxter.

The contrast between Neal and Thaxter is really good and actually makes both characters look stronger, as both care about Garfield and the mess he’s dealing with.

The big finale, which sees Garfield take on some mobsters on his own boat is pretty exciting and while you don’t see any way that things will conclude smoothly, this is noir and to be true to the style, the shit has to hit the fan in a somewhat tragic way.

Garfield’s partner gets murdered by the mobsters and the final shot of the film is of a young black boy, standing on the dock, looking for his missing father. It’s a gloomy and sad ending, especially since Garfield’s partner was a nice guy just trying to help his friend and paid a price for Garfield’s secrets and criminal activity. All the white people run off with the injured Garfield, leaving behind this young black boy, as the camera fades out. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

One thing I like about the film is that a lot of it takes place in tropical bars with lots of bamboo and a Tiki aesthetic. It really transports you to the era and the location of where this was made and where it was set.

The Breaking Point isn’t noir at its best and it isn’t a strict noir. It does show how the style evolved in a different way and that a noir movie didn’t have to be set in the city or on a country road with a mad man.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The Postman Always Rings Twice and Key Largo.

Film Review: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Release Date: July 8th, 1950
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Charles Bennett, Leo Rosen
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains, Maureen O’Sullivan

RKO Radio Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I wish you’d stop calling her my daughter. She happens to be my wife!” – Frederick Lannington

Where Danger Lives is a fairly underrated and forgotten film-noir. But it stars Robert Mitchum, so it automatically has a certain level of coolness and solid gravitas. Add in the intense and always engaging Claude Rains and you’ve got something really worthwhile. Plus, Faith Domergue was exceptional as this film’s femme fatale.

I actually didn’t know about this film until Eddie Muller featured it on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is a program you should check out on TCM every Sunday at 10 a.m. EST, if you are a true fan of film-noir. That was not a shameless plug, I just love watching Noir Alley.

This picture is interesting for a lot of reasons. It pairs up two old school badasses, Mitchum and Rains, has a good plot twist when Mitchum’s character suffers a concussion in the middle of the twisty topsy turvy noir-esque proceedings and then starts pitching more narrative curveballs at you.

From a stylisitic standpoint, the film is a pretty standard noir. It’s not visually breathtaking but it is still a beautiful looking picture that is well crafted. It is also directed by John Farrow, whose hand was also in the noir movies, His Kind of Woman, also with Mitchum, and The Big Clock. I’d say this is the best of the three and it is stripped of the flamboyancy that came with the other two. It’s an “on the run” film and the sets are mostly car interiors and road stop locations. It feels grounded in realism more than the others, which had a sort of fantastical grandiose Hollywood feel.

Due to the concussion element of the story, Mitchum’s Dr. Jeff Cameron is in a state of paranoia and confusion. It adds a really interesting dynamic to the film and kind of makes it seem like it could be a big scary hallucination. Mitchum sells it well and him being a doctor going through this condition allows for some good medical explanation of his situation and an understanding of what his fate could be. It makes the film play like a race against time, at least for his character.

The fact that Domergue’s Margo Lannington is nuts and becomes more and more unhinged, also brings another level of instability to the main characters’ dilemma. You know that she isn’t trust worthy and she’s a femme fatale with a bad case of psychosis. This doesn’t bode well for Jeff and his concussed brain. Really, this film is an examination of multiple mental conditions operating in a noir landscape.

The story doesn’t end well for the two main characters, although we get a rare moment where a femme fatale shows some humanity after all the problems she was instrumental in creating. Maybe she actually did care for Jeff and wasn’t just using him like so many other similar characters in the noir narrative style. That, along with the unique type of paranoia on display here, makes this an interesting and worthwhile experience that saved this from becoming a carbon copy of dozens of films before it.