WALK A CROOKED MILE (Gordon Douglas, 1948)
WALK EAST ON BEACON! (Alfred Werker, 1952)
PUSHOVER (Richard Quine, 1954)
A BULLET IS WAITING (John Farrow, 1954)
CHICAGO SYNDICATE (Fred F Sears, 1955)
THE BROTHERS RICO (Phil Karlson, 1957)
And still they keep on coming… Indicator’s fourth sampling of Film Noir according to Harry Cohen’s Columbia kicks in at the point where the genre (though as previously discussed, there those who would dispute that “Noir” is a genre) became contaminated with Cold War paranoia (scant years after Hollywood was lionising Uncle Joe and our Russian allies in the War against Fascism). Shoring up an older alliance, as if in compensation, Walk A Crooked Mile prioritises America’s allegedly special relationship with the Brits, importing Scotland Yard man Philip “Scotty” Greyson (Louis Hayward) to help Federal Bureau Investigator Daniel F. O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe) nail the source of atomic secrets leaking from the Lakeview Research Centre. Danny Boy (pictured above with Scotty and screaming broad) probably needs all the help he can get, given that one of his agents discounts one suspect as a possible spy / murderer because he was wearing a dog collar when bumping off one of their leads. Surely they can’t miss perpetual hovering heavy Raymond Burr in his cute little Lenin beard, though…
Released the same year as Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, Walk A Crooked Mile makes similarly telling use of its (San Francisco rather than New York) locations and also deploys a voice over narrator (in this case Reed Hadley) and “cast study”approach , devices that feature again in Walk East On Beacon! (and what better trajectory to take after you’ve walked that crooked mile?) The Commie sleeper cell in this one (who’ve kidnapped the son of missile scientist Finlay Currie) is located in Boston and Jim Belden (George Murphy) is the Fed charged with busting their nefarious activities wide open. The performances here are a little more pedestrian and veteran Alfred Werker’s direction is, er, workmanlike throughout (which is to say that his picture is a significantly less compelling proposition than Gordon Douglas’s) and over reliant on endless voice over / caption reminders that J. Edgar Hoover is the only thing standing between law abiding American patriots and the Reds under their beds. We even get stock footage of Hoover thrown in at apposite moments. Maybe it’s not Werker’s fault… I mean, who wrote this thing? (* checks IMDB *)… Jeez, Hoover even gets a co-writing credit. Maybe the filmmakers figured that, like LBJ, they’d be happier with ol’ J. Edgar “inside the tent pissing out rather than outside, pissing in”.
We’re back on more familiar, indeed textbook Noir turf with Pushover… nary a Bolshevik in sight but Kim Novak (in her first credited screen role, as Lona McLane) provides more than adequate recompense. Fred MacMurray has been here before, of course (in Billy Wilder’s classic Double Indemnity, 1944) but obviously didn’t learn his lesson… a pushover indeed, once again embarking upon the primrose path to perdition at the behest of a femme fatale. Oh what a tangled web Fred’s Detective Paul Sheridan weaves as he tries to make off with both Lona and the proceeds of a bungled bank heist. Philip Carey plays Rick McAllister, the cop colleague on his case. Moral ambiguity has always fuelled the finest Noir and Pushover provides it in spades. Roy Huggins’ screenplay was fashioned from two separate novels (Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and Bill S. Ballinger’s Rafferty) so hey, they didn’t even require any script input from J Edgar Hoover on this one.
The boundaries of Noir are again being tested in A Bullet Is Waiting, a film that deviates from the classic template in terms of its plotting, rural setting and most disoreintatingly, Franz Planer’s colour cinematography. We’re thrown straight into the action, the aftermath of a plane crash which strands Sheriff Munson (Stephen McNally) and Ed Stone (Rory Calhoun), the alleged murderer he was transporting to custody, in a remote wilderness. There they encounter sassy, androgynous Cally Canham (Jean Simmons), whose father David (absent for much of the picture but played, when he does turn up, by Brian Aherne) has brought her out here on some kind of Walden Pond kick. As the plot thickens, Cally’s struggle to work out whose side she should be on coincides with her blossoming from tom boy into beautiful young woman… you really couldn’t get away with stuff like that these days!
Things are firmly back in the Noir groove with Chicago Syndicate, with its hectoring voice over and city locations transplanted from The Naked City to the Windy City. Dennis O’Keefe is back (but this time with no plucky Limey sidekick) as mild mannered account Barry Amsterdam (!), whom the Feds want to help them bring down crime kingpin Arnie Valent in the same way they got Al Capone. Though initially reluctant, Bazza takes to his dangerous mission like a duck to water… I guess you can’t help being dynamic, growing up with a name like Barry Amsterdam! Allison (Fifty Foot Woman) Hayes and exotic nightclub chanteuse Abbe Lane (fronting Xavier Cugat’s hot mambo combo) keep things simmering nicely and Joseph Hoffman’s dialogue frequently crackles. If you think Jimmy Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) is the final cinematic word on mother-fixated gangsters, watch the climax of this one and think again. All it’s missing is Al Jolson singing Mammy…
Just two years later, director Fred Sears would be making The Giant Claw!
Richard Conte’s Eddie Rico (above, left) is another mob accountant (or formerly was), now living the straight life, only to be drawn back in by the exploits of his brothers Gino and Johnny (Paul Picerni and James Darren, above) in The Brothers Rico. It’s easy to see how the moral shadings of this one (its story courtesy of Georges “Maigret” Simenon) appealed so much to Martin Scorsese (who provides a brief introduction to the picture), also fascinating to observe how Karlson’s direction pushes at the limits of the Hays Code with its depictions of both violence and Eddie’s passion for his wife Alice (Dianne Foster)… conducted across separate beds! The film’s “happy”, righteous ending seems to indicate that Hays had the upper hand for the time being, though Otto Preminger was already in the process of demolishing it. Ace Noir cinematographer Burnett Guffey shot The Brothers Rico.
All the films look and sound just spanky in their remastered World BD premieres. With the exception of Walk A Crooked Mile, they come with commentary tracks (from Frank Krutnik, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas / Josh Nelson, Barry Forshaw / Kim Newman, Toby Roan and Jason Ney respectively). Douglas’s film is complimented with the 1946 short Routine Job: A Story Of Scotland Yard (1946) and March of Time episodes have also been selected for their thematic links with the main features. Likewise the Three Stooges shorts that we have now come to expect in this series. If you’ve ever struggled to get your head around the concept of Fake Shempery, check out here how 1949s Dunked in the Deep mutated into Commotion On The Ocean, seven years later (makes those “Bela Lugosi” scenes in Plan Nine From Outer Space look like a smooth piece of work!) All of the films are complimented by image galleries and half of them (Pushover, A Bullet Is Waiting and The Brothers Rico) with their original theatrical trailers. In further featurettes, Glenn Kenny examines the collaborations of director Richard Quine and Kim Novak,
Josephine Botting discusses Jean Simmons’ transition from British actress to Hollywood Star and Nick Pinkerton appraises the two-fisted directorial style of Phil Karlson. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition of this box packs an exclusive 120-page collector’s book comprising new essays by Beth Ann Gallagher, Bob Herzberg, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Omar Ahmed, Jen Johans, Monica Castillo and Jeff Billington, archival articles and interviews plus full film credits.