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: Crime Wave (1953)

Also known as: The City Is Dark, Don’t Cry, Baby (both working titles)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1953 (Rome)
Directed by: André De Toth
Written by: Bernard Gordon, Richard Wormser
Based on: Criminal’s Mark by John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Charles Bronson

Warner Bros., 73 Minutes

Review:

“People. They accept the love of a dog, and when it gets old and sick they say put it to sleep. ” – Dr. Otto Hessler

I feel like André De Toth doesn’t get as much love as he should. I mean, the guy directed this, House of WaxPitfall, the really cool bayou noir Dark Waters and he wrote The Gunfighter. Plus, he had a cool eyepatch like Major Bludd from G.I. Joe.

Crime Wave is a solid picture that feels much more organic and real than the typical film-noir. It was made by a major studio but it had a very gritty and almost semidocumentary directing style unlike most major studio movies of the time. The cinematography was decent, nothing exceptional, but the camera work gave the film its energy and life. It employed a more intimate style in how it captured the characters, using closeups and fluid movements instead of feeling like it is just sitting on a tripod twenty feet away.

The way that De Toth shot Sterling Hayden was especially unique and outside of the box for the time. He was usually put in more confined sets with low ceilings and shot from low angles to enhance his already tall stature. Hayden’s performance also helped to make him seem like a giant among smaller men. He had a brooding presence and almost predatory mannerisms.

The plot is very simple. There is an ex-criminal who has been living a normal crime free life. His old gang comes calling and he refuses to play ball. The gang kidnaps the man and his wife. However, the story doesn’t just feature a criminal gang, it also features crooked cops and has a lot of moving parts that allows the film to throw some solid narrative curveballs.

Crime Wave is a pretty good outing for De Toth and it was neat seeing him reteam with Charles Bronson, who he worked with a year earlier in House of Wax, where he played Vincent Price’s evil henchman. I love seeing Bronson back in the ’50s when he was a young, muscular tough guy and usually played crooked heavies.

Anyway, this is a really good film-noir that takes a simple plot and makes it work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: DecoyMurder by ContractPitfallAct of ViolenceCriss Cross and Nightfall.

Film Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Grave Robbers From Outer Space, The Vampire’s Tomb (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1959
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: stock recordings compiled by Gordon Zahler
Cast: Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, John “Bunny” Breckinridge, Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood (cameo)

Reynolds Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” – Lieutenant John Harper

I’ve reviewed several films by Ed Wood but I put off his most famous picture for quite awhile. I wanted to wait for a rainy day to revisit it. But then a friend and I got drunk and decided to watch the Rifftrax Live version of the film.

For those that don’t know, Ed Wood is widely considered to be the worst director of all-time. Frankly, that’s bullshit, as there are many directors who are much worse than Wood. He just got famous for being bad. And yes, his films aren’t good but Wood was able to get his enthusiasm and love across, even if his movies were cheap, terribly acted, terribly directed and had scenarios that were hardly believable even for 1950s science fiction.

There is a charm to Wood’s pictures and Plan 9 From Outer Space wears that charm on its sleeve. It’s a jumbled mess of a lot of ideas, crashing together and competing with one another but Wood’s ambition here is hard to deny.

I always felt like Wood was someone that just needed a good creative partner to help steer his projects and refine them. Ed Wood was the ultimate fanboy and everything he made was a sort of mashup of all the things he was a hardcore fan of. It all just lacks refinement and a budget… and sometimes common sense and continuity.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is Wood’s magnum opus and it has the best cast that he was ever able to assemble. Okay, maybe they weren’t talented from an acting standpoint but he got known icons in the movie like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Bela Lugosi, who died before this was actually made but shot footage with Wood for a future project.

As bad of a film as Plan 9 is, it isn’t unwatchable. Okay, it may be unwatchable for a modern audience that doesn’t understand the context of what this is, how it came to be and the legend of the man behind it. But with that being said, you don’t try to push Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on an audience that happily paid to see Transformers 5. For those that understand and appreciate things like this, it’s a worthwhile motion picture to experience.

There are aliens, vampires, ghouls, UFOs and an airplane cockpit that looks like it’s from the set of an elementary school play. There are a lot of things to love about this picture, if you’re into cheesy ’50s sci-fi and horror.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is something special. It has stood the test of time because of its flaws and how its director has become a legend of sorts. But maybe its still talked about because it has a bit of magic in it too.

I would suggest watching the biopic Ed Wood to understand the context of the film and its backstory. Plus, Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies of all-time and is still Tim Burton’s best.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ed Wood films from the era: Bride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls and Glen or Glenda? Also, the biopic Ed Wood, which was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wood.

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: The Wild One (1953)

Also known as: Hot Blood, The Cyclists’ Raid (both working titles)
Release Date: December 25th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: László Benedek
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Maddow
Based on: The Cyclists’ Raid by Frank Rooney
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“I love you, Johnny. I’ve been looking in every ditch from Fresno to here hoping you was dead.” – Chino

I have never seen The Wild One, which is probably a crime, but I am a fan of biker movies, especially those of the ’60s and ’70s and this was sort of a template that many of them built off of. Granted, this isn’t as hard or edgy as the pictures that would try to emulate it but it also didn’t need to be. This was sort of a sweet story, if you look beyond the rough exterior and get right down to the human emotion.

Marlon Brando was exceptional in this, even if he wasn’t quite up to the levels of talent he would reach. His scenes with Mary Murphy were what carried the picture. However, I also enjoyed him playing off of Lee Marvin, who made a good villain, even if Brando was very far from being any sort of hero in this.

There is nothing exceptional about this motion picture, though. It is certainly heralded for all the right reasons and deserves to be held in high regard for being a trendsetter in its genre but biker movies after this would definitely find ways to push the envelope more. And this is damn good but it doesn’t present you with stellar acting or cinematography and the direction is pretty standard. It’s just really a cool movie with a cool leading man and examines a part of society that Hollywood shied away from until this made bikers a bit more mainstream. But the Hollywood of this era still had to be wholesome due to the morality code imposed on its filmmakers.

This is really just a drama film that happens to have a mean biker as its main character. In a lot of ways, this is a real character study, as it examines Brando’s Johnny much deeper than what is on his surface. The film humanizes him but it also doesn’t try to turn him into an easily reformed goody two-shoes. The hard nosed cop cuts him a break and is a bit taken back by Johnny’s apparent lack of gratitude but at his core, Johnny doesn’t know how to express his thanks. It really isn’t something he’s ever really experienced before this moment, as he is a guy that has been beaten down by life and has adopted a tough persona to shield him from real world emotions and genuine human connection.

This film wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I thought it would be an examination of counterculture but in that light ’50s Hollywood way before artists behind the camera could actually let loose and challenge their audience. Instead, this is a film that has biker culture in it but it moves most of its focus towards Johnny and the apple of his eye, the lovely Kathie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The LovelessRebel Without A CauseEasy Rider and The Wild Angels.