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: