Film Review: Roadblock (1951)

Also known as: Walk a Crooked Mile (working title)
Release Date: September 17th, 1951
Directed by: Harold Daniels
Written by: George Bricker, Steve Fisher, Richard H. Landau, Daniel Mainwaring
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Joan Dixon

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“You’re a nice guy, Honest Joe, but you’re not in the right league. I’m aiming for the World Series.” – Diane

Roadblock stars Charles McGraw and was put out by RKO but it doesn’t seem to be a well known film-noir picture. I discovered it by seeing it featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. Even though I’ve become a fan of McGraw’s work, it’s nice to see something I wasn’t familiar with.

The film also stars Joan Dixon and she is quite the femme fatale. I really liked her in this and I wish she would’ve been in more of these films and grown into a more prolific actress. I don’t know, she was pretty effective at luring me in, as well as McGraw, who is usually a heroic character but falls into the dark depths because of the sultry and seedy touch of Dixon.

The plot involves an insurance scam so it’s impossible to see this picture and not immediately think about Double Indemnity, which did insurance scams first and much better. However, that film really is a classic and it is hard to compete with it. At least this doesn’t try to copy it and tells its own fairly unique tale.

Here, McGraw’s Joe Peters is an insurance investigator that wants to win over Dixon’s Diane. They crossed paths while traveling and Peters discovered that she was into the finer things in life. Not being able to afford the type of lifestyle Diane is attracted to, Peters uses his knowledge about a $1.25 million dollar cash shipment to do some dirt in an effort to give Diane the life she desires.

What’s strange about this film-noir for its time, is that the femme fatale starts to come around when she realizes that she loves Peters more than money. By that point, it is too late. But when all is said and done, Diane walks away from the chaos unscathed. Sure, Peters gets his just desserts but Diane can go on living her life, albeit with a broken heart. Back in the days of classic film-noir, a character like Diane couldn’t go unpunished. But here, she does – defying the Hollywood censors and codes of the era.

Apart from that, there isn’t much here that is all that special or noteworthy. It’s a good movie but far from a great one and there are probably fifty classic noirs I’d put before this one but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Some other lesser known noir movies: The Man Who Cheated Himself, Jealousy, The Underworld Story, The Accused, I Wake Up Screaming and The Threat.

Film Review: Cry Danger (1951)

Release Date: February 21st, 1951 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Parrish
Written by: William Bowers, Jerome Cady
Music by: Paul Dunlap, Emil Newman
Cast: Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman, William Conrad, Regis Toomey, Jean Porter

RKO Radio Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Occasionally I always drink too much.” – Delong

Dick Powell has a really rugged edge to him. He’s a good looking guy and charismatic but he has this grit. So when he is in a film-noir, I definitely want to see him perform, balls to the wall, ready to go.

Powell plays Rocky Mulloy, a man fresh out of prison who was sent there for a robbery and murder that he didn’t commit. A man named Delong got Rocky released by giving a fake alibi. Delong really wants a share of the $100,000 that Rocky wasn’t involved in stealing. Rocky sets out to find who framed him and to clear his name and the name of his still imprisoned friend Danny. Rocky and Delong move into a trailer park where Danny’s wife (and former lover of Rocky’s) has been living. Rocky is also told that he will be watched 24 hours a day by police, who are waiting for him to slip up. Soon he is caught up in a plot with a criminal bookie while being pulled into a new game of deception.

The film is very straightforward with some good twists and layers to the plot that aren’t too predictable and unlike other film-noir pictures that try to throw a lot of curveballs, this one doesn’t feel convoluted or overly complicated. It just goes by like a breeze and is effective.

Powell is great at playing a no nonsense hard ass and also able to convey his emotions in regards to being heartbroken and deceived. He just has this ability to give a simple stoic look that says more than words can.

The rest of the acting is pretty good but Powell really is a step out in front of everyone else. He takes over the scene, not because he is trying to steal the spotlight but because he just has that “it” thing that the rest of the cast doesn’t have.

The cinematography is simple and clean. There’s not a lot of visual razzle dazzle but there doesn’t need to be. Everything looks good and there are no flaws sticking out like sore thumbs.

Cry Danger isn’t the best film-noir or even the best one starring Powell. However, it is still a nice, engaging picture with a short running time that gets going fast and doesn’t stop until the final frame.

It’s not a fine cocktail but it’s a smooth yet strong shot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other noirs featuring Powell: Murder, My SweetCornered and The Tall Target (which is less noir and more action thriller).

Film Review: No Questions Asked (1951)

Release Date: June 15th, 1951
Directed by: Harold F. Kress
Written by: Sidney Sheldon, Berne Giler
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Arlene Dahl, George Murphy, Jean Hagen

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 80 Minutes

Review:

I caught this film on an episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. While I’m an avid fan of film-noir, this isn’t a film that I knew about until Eddie Muller featured it on his show.

The film follows Steve, a young lawyer for an insurance company. Steve asks his boss for a raise but isn’t able to persuade him. As he’s leaving his boss’ office, he hears that the boss is willing to pay a hefty sum for the return of some stolen property, “no questions asked” on how it’s done, because the large sum is still less than it would cost to pay the claim.

Steve convinces his boss to give him the task but he attracts the attention of gangsters, who think that they can use Steve for similar situations. Being that this is noir, things take a turn for the worse. What we end up getting is a film that examines insurance scams and fraud, told through a noir tale featuring doublecrosses and twists.

Unlike other film-noir pictures, that had a grit to them, No Questions Asked feels like it is more visually refined, which is probably due to it being produced by MGM. However, the more glossy and refined appearance of the film makes it feel less like a noir than it should. Granted, MGM did produce proper looking noir, several in fact.

Barry Sullivan was decent as Steve but it’s hard to care for him, as he pines over Arlene Dahl – a high maintenance gal that doesn’t really care about him, and doesn’t jump all over the chance to be with Jean Hagen, who is smitten with him. Plus, he’s looking to make an easy buck in a dishonest way; not because he needs the money to live but because he wants to wow the woman that rejected him and general greed takes over.

The film is decently acted but not well acted. It seemed as if some people were really into their roles while others dialed it in. Maybe the director was just dialing it in too, as he accepted the unbalanced performances.

This is mostly a forgettable noir. We’ve seen films about insurance fraud before and some that were done much better. Sure, this is a different type of scam than say the one in Double Indemnity but one can’t watch this and not make some comparisons to the narrative of both films. Double Indeminity is also a bonafide classic, though.

No Questions Asked is a decent time killer but if you need to get your noir fix, there are dozens of films superior to this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Loophole, also with Barry Sullivan.

Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: Any other lowest common denominator schlock that was from this era and featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Lost Continent (1951)

Release Date: August 17th, 1951
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Richard H. Landau, Carroll Young
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Cesar Romero, Hillary Brooke, Chick Chandler, Sid Melton, Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt

Lippert Pictures Inc., 83 Minutes

Review:

“Look at the size of that footprint! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” – Nolan, “I have. Once… in a museum.” – Phillips

Lost Continent has the benefit of being watchable, thanks to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It also has Cesar Romero in it but even the future Joker couldn’t pull this schlock out of the prehistoric muck.

It features a boring tale that finds some dudes in a world ruled by dinosaurs. It’s not all that original and has actually been a tale told dozens of times, even by 1951. It’s like King Kong without King Kong and less talent behind the production.

The dinosaurs look awful and sound more like elephants than ferocious giant reptiles. The effects, in general, are pretty terrible even for 1951 standards.

This is the type of film that could have had a decent story and kept you engaged with some solid hokiness but it fails to do that. I feel bad that Cesar Romero was subjected to this cookie cutter shit festival but he did some pretty bad movies in his day. But for a guy so suave and debonair, he probably deserved a better movie than this. Although, I guess actors need to work, even if that work is acting alongside some kid’s plastic bath toys.

I don’t hate Lost Continent and it is okay enough to get through with MST3K ribbing but there are much better ways that one can spend their time. You could start a new fad diet, learn how to tie some trick knots or hell… you could try Velcroing yourself to the side of a train. All would be better uses of your time.

All things considered, this needs to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: Not much but I guess other big dino movies of the time.

Film Review: Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

Release Date: August 8th, 1951 (New York premiere)
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Art Cohn, Felix E. Feist, Guy Endore
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran, Lurene Tuttle, Ray Teal, Bobby Hyatt

Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I came to New York from up state. I was gonna be a dancer. I was a brunette. Started on my toes and wound up on my heels.” – Catherine “Cay” Higgins

Tomorrow Is Another Day isn’t a film-noir that is highly regarded or even all that remembered. Like its director Felix E. Feist, it flies under the radar of historical significance but probably needs a bit more light shown on it.

It stars Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, two actors that also probably deserve more recognition than they’ve gotten. They both had pretty good careers and had the chops to carry any picture. This film works so well because of their abilities, their chemistry and all of that being enhanced by the very capable Feist, behind the camera.

This could have actually been a better film than what it ended up being, had it followed the traditional film-noir framework and had a tragic ending. Instead, we get a soft and sweet ending where the two lovers on the lam come out unscathed. This was probably a last minute change due to the darker ending not testing well with audiences. In a way, this film sort of had the same fate as Douglas Sirk’s 1949 film-noir Shockproof. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two films in the happy ending and overall narrative.

Sappy, sweet ending aside, I liked this picture a great deal. Sure, it is mostly a cookie cutter noir and you’ll watch it feeling like you’ve seen this movie a dozen times over but Roman and Cochran are just so good on screen that you’re still lured in.

The sweet family that lives down the street also add a lot to the film. The husband is played by Ray Teal, who usually just had bit parts. Teal got to show his talents here. Teal’s wife is played by Lurene Tuttle, an accomplished actress and very likable here. The couple’s son comes to life through child actor Bobby Hyatt, who was the kid actor featured in more film-noir pictures than any other child in Hollywood.

Tomorrow Is Another Day is certainly better than average but not a classic. It works for what it is, even if it falls flat in the final moments. Still, the building of suspense and the paranoia of the characters was interesting to watch and experience.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Douglas Sirk’s Shockproof.

Film Review: Strangers On a Train (1951)

Release Date: June 30th, 1951
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, Czenzi Ormonde
Based on: Strangers On a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.” – Guy Haines

Alfred Hitchcock was a bit derailed before the release of Strangers On a Train. While he had had an incredibly successful career up until this point, his previous two films were box office duds. Those pictures were Under Capricorn and Stage FrightStrangers On a Train got the auteur director back on track, however, and it really set the stage for what was to come with a string of incredible pictures throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.

This is also a Hitchcock picture that falls into the film-noir style. It even stars Farley Granger, a guy who worked in several notable noir movies: They Live by NightSide StreetEdge of Doom and Hitchcock’s own Rope.

Alongside Granger are Robert Walker and Ruth Roman, a woman who does not fit the typical Hitchcock female lead archetype, which were almost always stunning blonde women. Hitchcock had reservations about using Roman and he also didn’t feel like Granger was believable as the type of man another man would become infatuated with.

Speaking of which, this is a film with very well hidden gay undertones in it. Robert Walker’s psychotic Bruno Antony was infatuated with Granger’s Guy Haines. While it isn’t explicitly stated, when you understand that this was an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith story, it makes that aspect of the men’s relationship much more apparent. She was known for writing about gay characters and obsessive infatuation in her novels, even if they did come out in a time when the subject was incredibly taboo. It is very clear though when you see later adaptations of her work like The Talented Mr. RipleyCarolRipley’s GameRipley Under Ground and The American Friend.

The story starts with Guy, on a train, as he is approached by Bruno, a complete stranger. Bruno has a weird obsession with the young man and it doesn’t take long to realize that the guy is off his rocker. Bruno suggests that he kills Guy’s soon to be ex-wife and in exchange Guy kills Bruno’s father. It will be a perfect set of murders as neither man has a real motive to kill their victims or any personal association with them. Guy continues to try and dismiss Bruno but Bruno follows though and murders Guy’s wife. He then becomes enraged when Guy doesn’t seem like he wants to return the favor and thus, begins to blackmail Guy and try to pin the murder on him.

Strangers On a Train is a dark and twisted movie that showcases the great and intelligent Highsmith story with respect and care. It is a film that has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Superb direction, stellar photography and believable actors that pull you along for this wild and intense ride. Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense” and this movie is a perfect example of how the director earned that moniker.

There are some incredible shots in this movie. Most notably, the scene where Guy’s wife is being strangled to death and you see it from the perspective of a reflection in the lens of her glasses, lying on the ground. The special effects shot of the carousel spinning wildly out of control is another great shot and in fact, that whole big finale is a visual delight.

Strangers On a Train is not my favorite Hitchock motion picture but it is really high up on my list of his best.