30 Days of Noir #13: Undertow (dir by William Castle)

In the 1949 film, Undertow, Scott Brady plays Tony Reagan.  Tony used to be a member of the Chicago mob but that’s all in the past now.  He served his country in World War II and now, as he tells his old racket friend, Danny (John Russell), all Tony wants to do is settle down and run a hunting lodge in Reno.

However, before Tony can forever abandon Chicago for Nevada, he has to make peace with his future in-laws.  He’s engaged to marry Sally Lee (Dorothy Hart).  In fact, he’s so in love with her that not even meeting a single teacher named Ann McKnight (Peggy Dow) can distract Tony from his plans.  The only problem is that Sally is the niece of a Chicago gangster named Big Jim Lee and, in the past, Big Jim and Tony haven’t always been the best of friends.  In fact, the Chicago police are constantly harassing Tony because they’re convinced that he wants to start a gang war with Big Jim.  Instead, Tony just wants to make peace with Big Jim before the wedding.

Tony goes to visit Big Jim and …. well, you can guess what’s going to happen, can’t you?  If you’ve seen enough film noirs, you know that no one is every totally out of the rackets.  No one believes an ex-mobster when they say that they’re no longer interested in making trouble.  Even worse, any murder committed with automatically be blamed on anyone who says that they’re no longer a member of the rackets.  That’s what happens to Tony.  Not only does he discover that Big Jim has been shot dead but everyone thinks that he’s the one who did it.  Fleeing through the shadowy streets of Chicago, Tony finds himself not only being pursued by the police but also by the murderers.  Everyone wants to either capture or kill Tony.

In fact, the only person who seems to be on Tony’s side is Ann McKnight.  Ann lets Tony hide out at her apartment while he tries to figure out what’s going on.  Of course, Ann does have a nosy landlady who has no hesitation about letting herself into the apartment whenever she feels like it….

The plot of Undertow isn’t going to win any points for originality.  It’s not going to take you long to figure out who is setting Tony up, if just because there really aren’t enough characters in the film for there to be much suspense about who is betraying who.  But no matter!  The film is still an atmospherically shot and briskly-paced thriller.  Undertow was directed by William Castle, who is probably best known for directing campy B-movies like The Tingler and Strait-Jacket.  There’s nothing campy about Castle’s direction of Undertow.  The majority of the film was shot on location and Castle makes great use of Chicago.  When Tony tries to lose the cops that are tailing him, it helps that he’s not running across a soundstage but instead down real city streets, ones that feels alive with tension and danger.  There’s also a great chase that takes place in a long and dark corridor in an underground garage.

Scott Brady (who was the brother of tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney) gives a sympathetic performance as Tony and he and Peggy Dow have a really likable chemistry in their scenes together.  Dorothy Hart is also well-cast as the film’s femme fatale, while Bruce Bennett has a few good scenes as a detective who is an old friend of Tony’s.  Fans of “classic” matinée idols will want to keep an eye out for Rock Hudson, making a brief appearance in his second film and credited as “Roc” Hudson.

30 Days of Noir #12: The Hitch-Hiker (dir by Ida Lupino)

The intense 1953 film noir, The Hitch-Hiker, begins with news of a murderer at large.

His name is Emmett Myers (William Talman).  He’s the rough-looking man who you might occasionally see standing by the side of the road, asking for a ride with his thumb outstretched.  For me, it only takes one look at Myers’s unfriendly face and his shifty eyes to know that I would never slow down to give him a ride.  However, The Hitch-Hiker takes place in a more innocent era, at a time when everyone wanted to be of help.  Anyone who gives Emmett a ride ends up dead.  He steals their cars and then drives across country, abandoning the car only when he learns that his previous murder has been discovered.  Emmett has hitchhiked from Illinois to Southern California and he’s left a trail of dead bodies behind him.

Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) don’t know who Emmett is.  They’ve missed all of the reports about Emmett’s killing spree.  They haven’t read the newspapers, all of which feature a picture of Emmett on the front page and a warning to never pick him up.  Roy and Gilbert have been too busy getting ready for a long-planned fishing trip in Baja California.  When they see Emmett hitchhiking in Mexico, they pull over and offer him a ride.

Unlike other movie hitchhikers, Emmett doesn’t waste any time before revealing who he is.  As soon as he gets in the car, he pulls a gun and tells the two men that they’re going to drive him deeper into Baja California.  He’s got a boat to catch and he says that all the two men have to do is follow orders.  Of course, both Roy and Gilbert know better.  They know that Emmett’s planning on killing them as soon as they arrive at their destination.  In fact, if Emmett learns that the police are looking for the two men, he’ll kill them sooner.  Roy and Gilbert not only have to keep Emmett from flying off the handle but they also have to keep him from discovering that both of them have been reported as being missing.

As the three men drive across California, Emmett continues to taunt his prisoners.  Repeatedly, he points out that the only reason they’re in this situation is because of their loyalty to each other.  As Emmett explains it, if the two men tried to run in opposite directions, Emmett would probably only be able to kill one of them.  If the two men both attacked him, Emmett would again probably only have time to kill one before the survivor subdued him.  Will Roy and Gilbert remains loyal to each other or will they finally embrace Emmett’s philosophy of every man for himself?

Oh, how you’ll hate Emmett Myers!  As played by William Talman, Emmett is not just a criminal but a bully as well.  The enjoyment that he gets out of taunting Roy and Gilbert will make your skin crawl.  Emmett is hardly the type of witty or charming master criminal who often shows up in movies today.  Instead, The Hitch-Hiker emphasizes that Emmett’s an idiot but, because he has the gun, he has the power.  Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy are also well-cast as the two friends who are forced to choose between survival and loyalty.

The Hitch-Hiker was one of the few films to be directed by a woman in the 1950s.  (It’s generally considered to be the only film noir to have been directed by a woman.)  Ida Lupino was not only an actress but also the only female director in the old Hollywood system and she made several hard-hitting films, the majority of which dealt with the type of issues that mainstream Hollywood was still too scared to handle.  With The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino emphasizes not only Emmett’s cruelty but also the bonds of friendship between Emmett’s two hostages.  Visually, she makes the wide open desert appears as menacing and as dangerous as any shadowy city street.  If urban noirs often suggested that threats could be hiding anywhere, The Hitch-Hiker takes the opposite approach.  The threat is in the back seat of the car and there’s literally no place to hide.

The Hitch-Hiker is an intense film that holds up well today.  Watch it below and never again make the mistake of helping out a stranger.

Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 11/5/18 — 11/11/18

“Make this your year!”

This words were shared during the 8th season opener of Degrassi by Mia Jones’s mother.  “Make this your year!” she said and Mia proceeded to do just that, not only becoming a top model but also eventually leaving the show after the actress who played her, Nina Dobrev, was cast on The Vampire Diaries.

Those words have been ringing in my head all this weekend.  This has been my birthday weekend.  Another year older and you know what?  I’m going to make this my year.  I hope you’ll make it your year too.

Here’s my week in review:

Movies I Watched:

  1. The African Queen (1951)
  2. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
  3. Casino Royale (1954)
  4. Double Indemnity (1944)
  5. Eighth Grade (2018)
  6. First Man (2018)
  7. God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness (2018)
  8. Gotti (2018)
  9. Halloween (2018)
  10. The Hitch-hiker (1953)
  11. The Hoodlum (1951)
  12. Incredibles 2 (2018)
  13. Leave No Trace (2018)
  14. Pickup (1951)
  15. The Red Menace (1949)
  16. Roses are Red (1947)
  17. The Sniper (1952)
  18. Suspiria (1977)
  19. Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
  20. Walk the Dark Street (1956)
  21. Wicked Woman (1953)
  22. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Television Shows I Watched:

  1. 911
  2. American Horror Story
  3. Bar Rescue
  4. California Dreams
  5. Dancing With The Stars
  6. Degrassi
  7. The Deuce
  8. Doctor Phil
  9. Face the Truth
  10. The Good Doctor
  11. Hell’s Kitchen
  12. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
  13. Legacies
  14. Paul: The Emissary
  15. Saved By The Bell
  16. Seinfeld
  17. South Park
  18. Survivor 37
  19. Veep
  20. The Walking Dead
  21. The Woman In White
  22. Young Sheldon

Books I Read:

  1. Blowing the Bloody Doors Off (2018) by Michael Caine
  2. The Essential James Garner (2018) by Stephen H. Ryan and Paul J. Ryan

Music To Which I Listened:

  1. Above & Beyond
  2. AC/DC
  3. Adi Ulmansky
  4. Big Data
  5. Bradley Cooper
  6. Britney Spears
  7. Carly Rae Jepsen
  8. La Casa Azul
  9. Cedric Gervais
  10. The Chemical Brothers
  11. The Crystal Method
  12. Dillon Francis
  13. DJ Judaa
  14. DJ Showoff
  15. DJ Snake
  16. Fitz and the Tantrums
  17. Flint Eastwood
  18. IC3PEAK
  19. Jakalope
  20. Joywave
  21. Kedr Livanskiy
  22. Lady Gaga
  23. Marta Sanchez
  24. Muse
  25. Robert DeLong
  26. Saint Motel
  27. Sleigh Bells
  28. St. Vincent
  29. Tara Lee
  30. Taylor Swift
  31. Vanessa Soul

Links From Last Week:

  1. On SyFy Designs, I live blogged Election Day.
  2. From Days Without Incident, Leonard writes abotu a song called Make the Move.
  3. On Reality TV Chat Blog, I wrote about the latest episode of Survivor!
  4. On my music site, I shared music from: Jakalope, more music from Jakalope, AC/DC, Carly Rae Jepsen, Britney Spears, even more music from Jakalope, and Flint Eastwood!
  5. On her photography site, Erin shared The Creek Continues, Texas Flag, Winter’s Coming, Cottonwood Park, Cottonwood Arts Festival, White Rock Lake, and White Rock Lake With Dallas In The Background!
  6. The Speakeasy #162… “OF COURSE NOT, SILLY!”
  7. Oscars: Disney Makes Up for Lost Time With ‘Black Panther’
  8. Don’t join this year’s Women’s March unless you’re good with anti-Semitism

Links From The Site:

  1. Erin shared the following artwork: The Smuggled Atom Bomb, Stiffs Don’t Vote, Bright Victory, Episode of the Wandering Knife, The Girl With No Shadow, Lakeside Love Nest, and Argosy!
  2. Gary reviewed The Unsuspected, Gun Fury, Macon County Line, and Return to Macon County!  He also paid tribute to Ethelreda Leopold!
  3. Jeff shared music videos from Talking Heads, INXS, and New Order!
  4. I shared music videos from Tara Lee, Big Data, Taylor Swift, and IC3PEAK!  I reviewed Hoodlum, Walk The Dark Street, The Sniper, The Red Menace, Pickup, Roses are Red, and Wicked Woman!
  5. Ryan reviewed Tongues of Fire, “The Complete Matinee Junkie : Five Years At The Movies”, Steranko : The Self-Created Man, and Iron Sights!  He also shared his weekly reading round-up!
  6. Arleigh wished me a happy birthday!

Check out what I did last week by clicking here!

Have a great week, everyone!  Make this your year!

30 Days of Noir #11: Wicked Woman (dir by Russell Rouse)

The 1953 film noir, Wicked Woman, opens with a bus coming to a stop in a small town in the middle of nowhere.

Getting off the bus is Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels).  From the minute she starts walking through the town, it’s obvious that Billie may not have a home and she may not have a lot of money but what she does have is total and complete confidence in herself.  Nobody tells Billie Nash what to do!  When she movies into a boarding house (the rent is $6 a week!), she’s leered at by her new neighbor, the diminutive Charlie Borg (Percy Helton, a character actor who will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent a week bingeing on TCM.)

It turns out to be a rather low-rent boarding house.  The landlady may be found of shouting, “I run a respectable place!” but nothing about this location seems to support that claim.  Billie has one room to herself.  The bathroom is down the hall.  A pay phone sits in the hallway.  Billie actually has to spend money to make a phone call.  Fortunately, Charlie Borg is always around and willing to loan her money.  In fact, when Billie says that she needs twenty dollars to buy a new outfit, Charlie hands it over and asks Billie to thank him by going out to dinner with him sometime.  Even though she has no intention of ever spending any lengthy amount of time with Charlie, Billie says sure.  Money is money.  You do what you have to do.

(Myself, I’d just like to live in a time when it only cost $20 to buy a new outfit.)

Once Billie finally manages to get Charlie to stop bugging her, she goes down to the local bar and applies for a job.  It’s not much of a bar but, again, money is money.  The bar is owned by Dora Bannister (Evelyn Scott), an alcoholic who asks Billie if she’s sure that she can the bar’s “rough crowd.”  Billie assures her that there’s no one so rough that she can’t handle and, as played by Beverly Michaels, you never doubt that she’s telling the truth.

Soon, Billie is flirting with the bar’s handsome bartender, Matt (Richard Egan).  Matt is ambitious and hard-working and, after just a few nights, he’s absolutely crazy about Billie.  The only problem is that Matt is not only married but he’s married to Dora!  That doesn’t matter to Billie.  In fact, she’s even come up with a scheme to steal not only Matt but also the bar from Dora.

Unfortunately, for Billie, the walls at the boarding house are extremely thin and Charlie overhears her and Matt scheming.  It turns out that Charlie’s not quite as clueless as he seems and soon, he’s blackmailing Billie.  He really wants that date….

Wicked Woman is a wonderfully sordid, low-budget film noir, one that features just a little bit of everything.  Adultery, blackmail, sex, addiction …. it’s all here and it’s impossible not to be entertained by the film’s over-the-top melodrama.  While both Richard Egan and Percy Helton are memorable as the two men in her life, the film is pretty much stolen by Beverly Michaels.  Whether coolly glaring at Charlie or giving a little smile after having done something particularly manipulative, there’s rarely a time that Billie isn’t in complete control of her destiny.  Beverly Michaels is a force of nature in this film and she turns “wicked” into a compliment.

30 Days of Noir #10: Roses are Red (dir by James Tinling)

As the 1947 film, Roses Are Red, begins, Robert A. Thorne (Don Castle) has just been elected to the office of district attorney.

Now, being the horror fan that I am, the thing that I immediately noticed was that the new district attorney had the exact same name as the character played by Gregory Peck in The Omen.  However, Roses Are Red has nothing to do with the son of Satan or the end of the world.  Instead, it’s just a briskly paced tale of swapped identity.

Robert A. Thorne is not just a brilliant lawyer.  He’s also an example of that rare breed, an honest politician.  He ran on a platform of reform and that’s what he’s intending to pursue now that he’s been elected.  As he tells his girlfriend, journalist Martha McCormick (Peggy Knudsen), cleaning up this country isn’t going to be easy but he’s determined to do it.  And the first step is going to be taking down the local mob boss, Jim Locke (Edward Keane).

The wheelchair-bound Jim Locke is a man who prefers to stay in the safety of his penthouse, where he can feed his fish and give orders to his subordinates, all of whom have names like Duke (Charles McGraw), Knuckle (Jeff Chandler), Buster (Paul Guilfoyle), and Ace (Douglas Fowley).  However, his man on the police force, Lt. Rocky Wall (Joe Sawyer), has warned him that this new district attorney might not respond to usual combination of bribes and intimidation.  That’s not good news because there are men who might be willing to testify against Locke in return for a shorter prison sentence.

However, things start to look up when none other than Robert A. Thorne shows up at Locke’s penthouse and says that the honesty bit was all a sham and that he wants to be on Locke’s payroll.  However, Locke soon figures out that he’s not talking to Thorne.  Instead, he’s talking to Don Carney (also played by Don Castle), a career criminal who has recently been released from prison and who just happens to look exactly like Robert Thorne!

Locke and Don come up with a plan that seems foolproof.  What if Knuckle kidnaps Thorne and holds him hostage for a few days?  During that time, Don can study Thorne and learn how to perfectly imitate all of his movements and expressions.  Once the two men are absolutely indistinguishable, Knuckle will murder Thorne and then Don will take his place.

Knuckle manages to kidnap Thorne with absolutely no trouble.  The police, under the prodding of Lt. Wall, announce that Thorne has obviously run off to avoid dealing with the local gangsters.  Don starts the process of studying Thorne but it turns out that the district attorney has a few tricks of his own….

With a running time of only 67 minutes, Roses are Red doesn’t waste any time jumping into its somewhat implausible plot.  Fortunately, the film is so short and quickly paced that most viewers won’t really have time to worry about whether or not the film’s plot actually makes any sense.  This is an entertaining, low-budget film noir, featuring a host of memorable performances and all of the hard-boiled dialogue that you could hope for.  Don Castle does a good job playing both the sleazy Don Carney and the upright Robert A. Thorne.  History nerds like me will immediately notice that, with his mustache and his slicked back hair, Castle bears a distinct resemblance to former Manhattan D.A. and two-time presidential candidate, Thomas E. Dewey.

All in all, Roses are Red is an enjoyable film for fans of old school gangster noir.  Check it out below:


30 Days of Noir #9: Pickup (dir by Hugo Haas)

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived by the railroad tracks.  He was a station agent and his name was Jan Horak (Hugo Haas) but everyone just called him “Hunky.”  He was a middle-aged man, originally from Eastern Europe.  He lived in a little house and basically kept to himself.  His only friends were a slang-spouting hobo known as The Professor (Howland Chamberlain) and his assistant, the young and handsome Steve (Allan Nixon).  With no family in the United States, Hunky was frequently lonely so he decided to go to the town carnival and buy a puppy.  Instead, he ended up meeting the woman who will not only become his wife but who would also eventually plot his murder.

And so begins the low-budget 1951 film, Pickup.

The woman who Hunky meets is Betty (Beverly Michaels).  When we first see Betty, she’s riding on a miracle-go-round with a rather bored look on her face.  (The camera lingers on her legs, which was the traditional way that films introduced “dangerous” women in the late 40s and 50s.)  We know that Betty is probably bad news because she chews gum with her mouth open and she smirks as soon as she sees Hunky stumbling around the carnival.  She approaches him and starts to flirt with him.  Hunky is so smitten that he forgets about buying a puppy.

Instead, he returns home and prepares for a wedding.  However, what Hunky doesn’t know is that Betty is in desperate need of money and the only reason that she’s showing any interest in him is because she’s under the impression that he’s rich.  As soon as they get married, Betty starts planning for a way to lose a husband while still getting to keep his money.  Not surprisingly, it involves Steve….

It also involves a sudden case of deafness.  Even before Hunky marries Betty, he suffers from a persistent ringing in his ears.  It only gets worse as it becomes more and more obvious just how unhappy Betty is in their marriage.  One day, while standing on the railroad tracks, Hunky loses his hearing all together.

He screams at the sky and hears nothing.

He grabs a sledgehammer and starts pounding it against the tracks and, again, he hears nothing.

He tells Betty and Steve that he can’t hear and, when they reply, he can see their lips move but he can’t hear a word that they say.

Hunky’s gone deaf!  Steve moves in to help Betty take care of her husband.  He also moves in because he’s been having an affair with Betty for quite some time.  They openly discuss murdering Hunky in front of him, confident that he can’t hear a word that they’re saying.  What they don’t realize, though, is that Hunky’s deafness was only temporary and he knows exactly what they’re planning to do….

I really liked Pickup.  Plotwise, it’s not the most original film ever made.  In fact, the film is often described as being an unofficial remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (this despite the fact that Pickup is based on a novel that was published before James Cain’s famous story).  But that said, the film has enough odd and quirky moments to make it stand out.

For instance, there’s the character of the Professor, who comes across like some sort of early beatnik who has somehow found himself in a hard-boiled crime film.  There’s the scenes of Hunky not only losing his hearing but also slowly recovering it, with dialogue fading in and out as if it was recorded underwater.  And then there’s Beverly Michaels, giving an absolutely wonderful performance as Betty.  As played by Michaels, Betty is someone who is very much aware that she’s playing a role.  She delivers every sarcastic put-down with confidence and style but, throughout the film, there are hints that Betty is not quite as sure-of-herself as she seems to be.  (Just watch the scene where she nervously tries to light a cigarette.)

There’s a profound sense of melancholy running through Pickup, one that only really becomes clear after the film ends. For that, we must credit director and star Hugo Haas.  Originally hailing from what is now the Czech Republic, Hugo Haas came to Hollywood to escape the Nazis and he plays Hunky with the sad weariness of a man who understands that the world can be a dark place.  As written, Hunky seems incredibly naive but, as played by Haas, he’s just a man so desperate to believe in love and kindness that he allows himself to tricked.  However, as the film makes clear, he’s never as much of a fool as the people around him believe him to be.  Before eventually returning to Europe, Haas made a handful of successful (if not quite critically acclaimed) films in America.  Almost all of them seemed to return to the same theme of outsiders searching for love.

Personally, I recommend picking up Pickup.  It’s a classic B-noir, worth seeing for both Beverly Michaels and Hugo Haas.

30 Days of Noir #8: The Red Menace (dir by R.G. Springsteen)

The 1949 film, The Red Menace, starts in the same manner as many film noirs.

It’s night.  It’s dark.  A car speeds through the desert.  Inside the car are Bill Jones (Robert Rockwell) and Nina Petrovka (Hannelore Axman).  When they stop at a gas station, the owner asks too many questions and gets a phone call.  Bill and Nina get paranoid and speed off.  What are they running from? we wonder.

We’re not the only ones wondering.  Soon a narrator starts to speak.  “What are they running from?” the narrator asks.  The narration is supplied by Lloyd G. Davies, who was apparently a members of the Los Angeles city council at the time this film was made.

It’s flashback time!  We discover that Bill is an ex-GI, recently returned from World War II.  Haunted by the death and destruction that he saw in Europe, Bill is now questioning everything that he once believed about America.  One day, a man overhears Bill yelling at a bureaucrat at the VA.  The man approaches Bill and tells him that he can help.  The man leads Bill to a hidden bar and introduces Bill to the sultry Mollie O’Flaherty (Barbara Fuller).  Mollie invites Bill back to her apartment.

Are we in Double Indemnity territory?  Is she going to convince him to murder her husband?

Are we heading down the same path that doomed Lawrence Tierney in The Hoodlum?  Is Mollie going to trick Bill into serving as the fall guy for a bank robbery?

Or …. is she going to show him a book?  In fact, not just one book but …. SEVERAL BOOKS!

Bill is actually quite shocked to discover that Mollie not only has a large collection of books but that she’s actually read some of them.  He’s even more shocked when he discovers that most of them are books about communism!  Mollie admits that yes, she is a communist.  She goes on to explain that communism isn’t what Bill has been led to believe it to be.  She argues that the communists just want the best for the workers and that the communists were the first group to fight for civil rights.  Bill says that he doesn’t care about causes anymore but he soon starts to hang out with Mollie and the members of the local communist cell.

While Mollie may have been the one assigned to bring Bill into the cell, it’s Nina who is instructed to teach Bill about Marx.  (Of course, she can’t just educate him at a school.  Instead, she has to do stuff like speak to him while they’re going in circles on a ferris wheel.)  At first, Bill is a happy communist, helping to organize labor protests and attending all of the right meetings.  However it doesn’t take long before both Bill and Nina start to realize that not everything is perfect in the aspiring worker’s paradise.  For one thing, the heads of the cell look, act, and speak more like gangsters than revolutionaries.  Disagreeing with the party line can lead to everything from a beating to a murder to a denouncement in the local communist newspaper, The Toiler.  Even the party’s commitment to civil rights turns out to be a lie as the party leaders curse the only black member of the cell behind his back.

When Mollie’s lover, the poet Henry Solomon (Shepard Menken), makes the mistake of writing a poem that suggests that Marx was inspired by Hegel, he’s told that the official party position is that no one inspired Marx but Marx.  Henry is told to either denounce his poem or be cast out of the movement.  After Henry tells off the leaders of the cell, he is denounced in The Toiler.  Henry finds himself cast out by all of his friends, sentenced to wander the dark streets of Los Angeles alone.  Even though Henry made a point of tearing up his communist membership card, it turns out that the party has several copies of every card.  Whenever Henry gets a new job, his employer is mailed a copy of Henry’s card and Henry finds himself unemployed again.  As for Mollie, she’s visited by not only her mother but also by her priest, all of whom tell her that the communists are no good.  Can a trip back to church save Mollie’s soul?

Meanwhile, Bill and Nina find themselves being targeted by one of the leaders of the cell, Yvonne Kraus (Betty Lou Gerson). Yvonne is so evil that, when she’s confronted by U.S. immigration officers, she immediately launches into a bizarre and rather incoherent monologue.  Drums start to play in the background as she speaks, letting us know that she’s totally sold her soul to the communists.  It’s suggested that Yvonne wants Bill to herself but Bill has fallen in love with Nina and Nina with him.  This is despite the fact that no one in the cell is allowed to all in love without prior permission.

Definitely a film of its time, The Red Menace takes all of the usual gangster film clichés and uses them to tell a story not about the Mafia but instead about the Marxists.  Instead of greed, the film’s femme fatales are motivated by Das Kapital.  Speaking of which, the film features a bit more ideology than you might expect.  Mollie, Nina, and Solomon are all given scenes where they explain the philosophy behind communism and in which they explain why an otherwise decent American might turn against their own government.  The film suggests that Yvonne and her cohorts are evil not so much because they believe in communism but because they’re hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach.

Which is not to say that The Red Menace is a particularly nuanced film.  Especially when Gerson’s delivering her dialogue, The Red Menace is a frequently over-the-top melodrama.  This is a movie in which Bill and Nina are fortunate enough to meet a folksy and patriotic sheriff named Sam.  “We just call him Uncle Sam!” a nearby child cheerfully exclaims.

The Red Menace is a film that’s occasionally silly and occasionally effective.  It can make for a disjointed viewing experience, as harrowing scenes of Henry being shunned by former comrades are followed up by scenes of folksy old Uncle Sam talkin’ about how everyone gets a second chance in ‘Merica.  It’s a film that begins with a picture of an octopus with the face of Karl Marx and ends with a shot of the Statue of Liberty.  The Left will hold the film up as being a campy document of American paranoia while the Right will just enjoy watching a bunch of commies get what they deserve.

And then there’s the unapologetic history nerds, like me.  I enjoyed the movie.  It’s a document of its time.