30 More Days Of Noir #12: No Man’s Woman (dir by Franklin Adreon)


This 1955 film tells the story of a murder.

When we first meet Carolyn Elleson Grant (Marie Windsor), she refuses to give her husband, Harlow Grant (John Archer) a divorce, despite the fact that they’ve been separated for several years and Harlow now wants to marry Louise Nelson (Nancy Gates) and Carolyn is now involved with an art critic named Wayne Vincent (Patrick Knowles).  Carolyn only married Harlow for his money and, while she has other rich lovers, she just enjoys making Harlow’s life as difficult as possible.  It’s hard to blame her because Harlow is kind of whiny.

However, Carolyn has grown bored with Wayne Vincent and she’s now decided that she would rather get involved with Dick Sawyer (Richard Crane), who is rich and owns a boat.  However, Dick is engaged to Carolyn’s personal assistant, Betty (Jill Jarmyn).  Carolyn thinks it would be perfectly amusing to not only seduce Dick but to also destroy Betty’s happiness.

Why?

As one character put it, Carolyn is “a witch!”

(Someone then adds that Carolyn is a word that “rhymes” with witch.  They don’t actually say the word because this film was made in 1955 but still….)

With Carolyn casually trying to destroy everyone’s lives and happiness, is it really a shock when some unseen person shows up at her art studio late at night and shoots her?

With Carolyn dead, it falls to Detectives Colton (Louis Jean Heydt) and Wells (John Gallaudet) to figure out the identity of the murder.  They immediately suspect that it had to have been Harlow Grant.  Not only does he have the motive and the opportunity but his name is Harlow Grant and I defy you to find anyone named Harlow Grant who hasn’t subsequently turned out to be involved in something shady.  Harlow, however, insists that he’s innocent and the investigation is about to get a lot more complicated….

Well, okay, maybe not a lot more complicated.  To be honest, it’s really not that difficult to figure out who the murderer actually is No Man’s Woman but that’s okay.  The investigation itself only takes the last third of this 70-minute film.  No Man’s Woman is a like a low-budget version of Gosford Park.  The murder is less important than all of the drama surrounding it.

And make no mistake, there’s a lot of drama!  This is a fun movie, specifically because Carolyn is such a wonderfully evil character and Marie Windsor has so much fun playing her.  Carolyn doesn’t really have any deep motivation for why she does the terrible things that she does.  She just does them because she can and she believes that she can get away with it.  A good deal of the film’s entertainment comes from just seeing how bad Carolyn can be.  In fact, you’re a bit disappointed when she’s murdered because Carolyn is the most enjoyable character in the movie.  She’s someone who is literally willing to do and say anything and she makes an apologies for her actions.  You wouldn’t necessarily want to work with her but she’s fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is adequate.  John Archer and Nancy Gates are a bit on the dull side as the “good” characters but I liked the performances of the other suspects.  Richard Crane and Jill Jarmyn, in particular, are memorable as Dick and Betty.  I loved how going out on someone’s boat was apparently the height of decadence in 1955.

No Man’s Woman is an entertaining mix of noir and soap opera.  Find it on Prime!

30 More Days of Noir #11: The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson (dir by Oswald Mitchell)


There’s been a murder!

Another one?

Yes, indeed.  It would seem that during the 1940s and the 1950s, people were just dropping left and right.  Mysterious murders were just a part of everyday life and you can be sure that every murder would bring with it an effort would be made to frame an innocent man.  The 1947 British noir, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson, opens with Peggy Dundas (Lesley Osmond) stumbling across a dead body.  The body belongs to a man who was planning on changing his will and disinheriting his nephew.  It seems like the nephew should be the obvious suspect, right?

Except …. the dead man has a letter pinned to his chest!  And the letter is signed by VLS, a notorious cat burglar who, in the days before World War II, was famous for robbing the French and then sending the authorities taunting letters.  So, obviously, VLS must be back and he must now be a murderer!

Except …. why would you kill a man and then leave behind a note letting everyone know that you did it?  That makes no sense at all.  Especially since VLS is actually a man named Mr. Nicholson (Anthony Hulme) and this mysterious Mr. Nicholson not only helped the British defeat the Germans but he also has a solid alibi for where he was on the night of the murder.  Obviously, VLS is innocent!

Except …. Peggy says that she saw a man who looked exactly like Mr. Nicholson at the scene of the crime!

Could the Mysterious Mr. Nicholson have a look-alike?  Yes, actually, he does.  We learn this very early in the film so it doesn’t count as a spoiler.  The murderer is man named Raeburn (also played by Anthony Hulme).  Raeburn just happens to look exactly like Mr. Nicholson and he figured he would use that resemblance to his advantage by framing Nicholson for the crime!

So now, Nicholson has to not only prove his innocence but also track down the man who looks exactly like him!

That’s a lot of plot for a low-budget, 78 minute film.  What’s odd is that, even with all of that scheming and the short running time, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson still has some odd moments of blatant padding.  In the middle of the film, all of the action comes to a halt so that we can watch a lengthy dog act.  This is followed by a musical interlude.  Why?  Who knows?  Neither adds much to the plot.

Anyway, I was actually kind of hoping that The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson would turn out to be one of those really fun, old movies that you just happen to stumble across on Prime or on TCM late at night.  But it’s actually pretty boring.  There’s only a handful of locations in the film, which gives the whole thing a stagey feel and, though short, the movie often seems to drag.  Another huge problem is that Hulme plays Nicholson and Raeburn the exact same way, so it’s often difficult to keep track of which is which.  I was hoping for at least some split photography so Hulme could act opposite himself but we don’t even get that.  Instead, Nicholson and Raeburn are rarely on screen at the same time and, whenever they are, it’s obvious that a stand-in was used for the other man.

From a historical point of view, the film is interesting in that it was obviously made while London was still rebuilding from World War II.  The few location shots reveal a city that’s in the process of being recreated.  Nicholson is presented as being someone who was basically reformed as a result of fighting on the side of the good guys during World War II.  As one Scotland Yard inspector explains it, Nicholson may have been a criminal before the war but, once the war started, he remembered that was British first and he did what had to be done to help defeat Germany.  It’s a nice touch.

The historical aspect aside, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson is pretty forgettable.  When it comes to British noirs, I’ll take The Criminal.

30 More Days of Noir #10: Death in Small Doses (dir by Joseph M. Newman)


Ah, speed.

I have to admit that I always find films about amphetamines to be fascinating because I take them for my ADD.  I’ve been taking Dexedrine since I was in middle school and it has always amused me how people who don’t have ADD seem to think that the meds will give you super powers.  For instance, every season of Big Brother, there’s people online who get outraged over certain houseguests taking Adderall.  “She had an unfair advantage!” someone will say, “Because she’s taking Adderall!”  What can I say?  People who don’t have ADD just don’t get it.  Yes, if you have ADD, the meds can help you focus but it’s not like they’re going to give you any sort of special power that’s not available to any other person.

(I will admit that there is a slight difference between me on my meds and me off my meds.  Actually, my family says that there’s a huge difference but I think they’re exaggerating.  It is true that I’m a lot more focused when I take my Dexedrine.  My mind wanders a bit less than usual and I’m also usually in better control of my frustrations.  When I take my meds, I can finish any project.  When I don’t take them, I can talk about finishing any project.)

Dexedrine focuses me but apparently, it does the opposite for those who don’t have ADD.  The 1957 film, Death in Small Doses, features a truck driver named Mink Reynolds who, despite not having ADD, pops too many capsules and ends up playing really loud music and trying to force a waitress to dance with him.  He also hallucinates seeing a car and then grabs a knife and tries to kill another truck driver.  To be honest, that seems a bit extreme to me.  In fact, I’d almost argue that Mink’s behavior would indicate that the filmmakers really didn’t know much about amphetamines.  Making things even stranger is that Mink is played by Chuck Connors, who was a remarkably inexpressive actor.  Watching Connors, with his stone face, trying to dance and jump around is an interesting experience.  Mink is supposed to be a jazz-crazed, speed-abusing hepcat but instead, he comes across like an animatronic mannequin.  You can almost hear the gears shifting whenever he has to move across the screen.

Mink’s fellow truck driver is Tom Kaylor (Peter Graves), a seemingly upright man who is usually seen wearing a tie and who looks like he would be more comfortable working behind a desk than driving a truck.  Of course, that’s because Tom is actually an FBI agent!  He’s working undercover, pretending to be a truck driver so that he can smash a ring of drug dealers!  Of course, the problem here is that everything about Peter Graves’s screen presence shouts out, “Narc!”  With his square jaw and his perfect haircut and his stiff but authoritative delivery of his dialogue, he seems like he was created in a lab that specifically set out to develop the most stereotypical FBI agent imaginable.  There’s not a single rough edge to him and it’s hard to buy that the other truck drivers wouldn’t see straight through him.

While Tom tries to bust the ring, he also finds time to possibly fall in love with two different women, both of whom seem as if they might know more than they’re letting on.  Amy (Merry Anders) is the waitress who has developed a drug habit of her own.  Val (Mala Powers) owns the boarding house when Tom and Mink live.  Can Tom trust either one of them?  And will Tom not only undercover the identity of the head of the drug ring but also survive long enough to bring the dealers to justice?

So, here’s the thing.  During its worst moments — i.e., whenever Chuck Connors is jumping all over the place and talking about how much he loves his friend “benny” — this is a campy and rather silly film that makes Reefer Madness look subtle by comparison.  However, during its best moments, this is a tough and entertaining noir that features good performances from Merry Anders and Mala Powers.  Both Anders and Powers manage to transcend the film’s sillier moments and they actually bring a charge of reality to the story.  And while director Joseph M. Newman may not have known much about drugs, he did know how to shoot a fight scene.  Making good use of its desolate locations (the truck drivers spend a lot of time driving through the desert) and setting many of the film’s best moments at night, Newman overcomes some of the script’s weaker moments.  In the end, it makes for a rather uneven but entertaining viewing experience.  Despite the film’s cluelessness about drugs and the miscasting of both Graves and Connors, this lesser-known noir is worth tracking down.

30 More Days of Noir #9: The Walking Target (dir by Edward L. Cahn)


In this 1960 noir, Nick Harbin (Ronald Foster) is a walking target!

That’s because he’s just been released from prison.  As the only survivor of a gang that pulled off a daring payroll robbery, Nick has done his time and he’s ready to get on with his life.  He even got himself an education while he was behind bars.  He’s decided to reform and no longer be the angry criminal that he once was.

But first, there’s a little matter of some money.

Only Nick knows where he buried the loot from the robbery.  Everyone wants it.  The press wants to know because it’ll make a great story.  A nosy detective wants to know because he’s convinced that Nick hasn’t changed his ways.  Susan (Merry Anders), who used to be involved with one of Nick’s criminal associates, wants to know because she’s only in it for the cash.  Susan’s current boyfriend, Dave (Robert Christopher) wants to know because …. well, again, it all comes down to greed.  Greed is also what’s motivating a local gangster to provide backing for Susan and Dave in their quest to find the money.  Dave is even willing to send Susan to seduce Nick.

However, all Nick wants to do is find the money and then split it with Gail (Joan Evans).  Gail is the widow of one of the robbers and Nick wants to do the right thing for her.  Of course, Nick is himself kind of in love with Gail.  Can Nick get the money, find love with Gail, and avoid slipping back into his criminal ways?  It won’t be easy.  Life is never easy when you’re….

THE WALKING TARGET!

Okay, that was a little bit melodramatic on my part but then again, it’s a melodramatic film.  Everyone is constantly plotting and double-crossing.  Appropriately, it all leads to a battle in the desert as modern-day outlaws prove themselves to be no more trustworthy than their vintage ancestors.

The Walking Target is a low-budget noir, one that clocks in at only 70 minutes and which, as a result, doesn’t waste much time when it comes to jumping into its story.  That’s one good thing about these B-movies.  They had neither the budget nor the time for red herrings.  As a result, you pretty much know what you’re going to get before the movies even begins.  The Walking Target features all of the usual tough dialogue and morally ambiguous characters that you would expect to see in a noir.  Merry Anders is an adequate femme fatale, though I do wish that Susan had been a smarter character.  (Nick sees through her way too easily.)  The film opens with the prison’s warden telling Nick that, even though he’s done his time, he’ll always be a no-good crook and that’s the perfect way for a noir to open.  Unfortunately, the film’s cinematography doesn’t really have the right noir look.  There aren’t enough shadows and the film often looks like it could just be an episode of an old TV show.  I guess that’d due to the budget but it really does keep the film from making the transition from being good to being great.

The Walking Target is a diverting-enough film.  I liked Ronald Foster’s uneasy performance as Nick and it was enjoyable to watch everyone plotting and scheming.  The Walking Target is currently available on Prime and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good, if lesser-known, B-noir.

30 More Days of Noir #8: Accomplice (dir by Walter Colmes)


The 1946 film noir, Accomplice, tells the story of Simon Lash (Richard Arlen).

Now, I guess if you have a name like Simon Lash, you’re pretty much destined to become a private detective.  In this case, Lash is both a detective and an attorney.  I did some research — which is a fancy way of saying that I checked with Wikipedia — and what I discovered is that there was apparently quite a few stories written about Simon Lash.  He was a pulp hero created by Frank Gruber.  Gruber went on to write the screenplay for Accomplice, which was based on the novel Simon Lash, Private Investigator.  I don’t know if this was the only Simon Lash film or not.  If there were more Simon Lash films, let’s hope they found a more interesting actor than Richard Arlen to play him.

Yes, indeed, Richard Arlen makes for a rather dull hero in Accomplice.  Physically, he seems like he’s right for the role.  You look at Richard Arlen and you can imagine him beating someone up.  But, in this film at least, he has a boring screen presence that makes it difficult to really get invested in Simon as a character.  He doesn’t have the wounded cynicism of Humphrey Bogart or the killer eyes of Alan Ladd.  He’s just kind of there.

Simon Lash is hired by his ex-fiancée, Joyce (Veda Ann Borg), to track down here husband.  Joyce claims that her husband is president of a huge bank and that he’s suffering from amnesia.  Simon doesn’t quite trust Joyce and he worries that she’s actually using him to dig up dirt for a divorce.  Simon doesn’t work divorce cases.  Apparently, it’s a matter of honor for him.  Not surprisingly, it does turn out that Joyce hasn’t been totally honest with Simon.  Of course, it also turns out that Joyce’s husband has some secrets and tricks of his own.

Indeed, it’s a very complex story, which is something I appreciated.  I always love all the twists and turns of a typical California noir and this one had several.  It all eventually led to a shoot out at a castle in the desert and again, that’s exactly what you want a film like this to lead to.  Accomplice is only 66 minutes long and, as such, it never drags and the double and triple-crosses all come quickly.  That’s definitely a good thing.

Unfortunately, despite all of that, the film itself falls flat.  The main problem is one that I already pointed out.  Richard Arlen is just not a very compelling hero.  While Veda Ann Borg has the right look to play a femme fatale, she still has a strangely bland screen presence in this film.  It’s easy to imagine her trying to fool someone but it’s next to impossible to believe that she could actually do it.  She’s just a bit too boring for the role.  With different actors in the lead roles, Accomplice could have been a classic low-budget noir.  (Seriously, just imagine the film if it had reunited Detour’s Tom Neal and Anna Savage as Simon and Joyce.)  As it is, Accomplice is a bit of a disappointment.  The possibilities are more fun than the execution.

30 More Days of Noir #7: Hell Bound (dir by William J. Hole, Jr.)


Like so many film noirs, 1957’s Hell Bound opens with a narrator.  As we watch scenes of a group of thieves robbing a Naval ship of World War II narcotics, the narrator explains to us what each criminal is doing and how their plot will hopefully lead to them getting rich.  Again, this is something we’ve seen in a countless number of film noirs.  What makes Hell Bound unique is that the narration keeps going long after one would expect it to stop.  And the expected cops and federal agents are never introduced….

That’s because we’re watching a film within a film!  Jordan (John Russell) has made and produced the film himself, all to convince a gangster named Harry Quantro (Frank Fenton) to support his plan to …. well, to rob a Naval ship of narcotics.  Jordan promises that the real-life theft will go just as smoothly as the theft in the movie!  And, it must be said, Jordan’s movie was really well-made.  He hired actors and everything.  Harry agrees to give Jordan his backing on the condition that Jordan use Harry’s girlfriend, Paula (June Blair), in the operation.  That, of course, means that Jordan won’t be able to use his own girlfriend, Jan (Margo Woode).  That’s going to be awkward.

Anyway, Jordan starts to assemble his crew and they’re the typical film noir collection of misfits.  One of the more fun things about Hell Bound is that it’s full of odd and eccentric characters, the types who would you actually expect to find trying to rob the U.S. Navy of narcotics in the 1950s.  My favorite character was the blind drug dealer named Daddy (Dehl Berti).  He has the perfect attitude for someone who had the luxury of not having to see the damage caused by his professions.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect plan.  Whenever you get a bunch of criminals together to pull off the perfect heist, there’s bound to be some betrayals and some paranoia.  We’ve all seen the ending of Goodfellas and we all know what the piano coda from Layla means.  Complicating matters is that a big part of the scheme requires Paula to fake being an ambulance nurse and that means that she’s going to have to work with an honest ambulance driver named Eddie Mason (Stuart Whitman).  Eddie is a good, working class guy who just wants to help people and make the world a better place.  How can Paula go through with her part of the plan when she’s got Eddie looking at his hands and saying that he wants to use them to be a healer!?

I really liked Hell Bound.  I wasn’t expecting much from it but it turned out to be a really effective and clever 50s film noir.  Clocking in at 70 minutes, it doesn’t have any time for excess padding or anything else.  As soon as the film-within-a-film comes to an end, it jumps right into the action and it doesn’t let up.  Add to that, you’ve got John Russell giving a tough and gritty performance as the wannabe criminal mastermind and then you’ve got Stuart Whitman managing to make his self-righteous character likable and June Blair doing a great job as the femme fatal.  Hell Bound is bit of an unsung classic, a tough and gritty film noir that packs a punch.

 

30 More Days of Noir #6: The Dark Past (dir by Rudolph Mate)


Now, this is an interesting little film noir!

This 1948 film stars William Holden, Lee J. Cobb, Nina Foch and Lois Maxwell.  William Holden is Al Walker, an escaped convict and a ruthless murderer.  Nina Foch is Betty, Walker’s devoted girlfriend and partner in crime.  Lee J. Cobb is Dr. Andrew Collins.  Lois Maxwell, years before she would be cast as Miss Moneypenny in the first Bond films, plays Ruth Collins, Andrew’s wife.  When Walker, Betty, and the gang break into the Collins home, they hold he doctor and his family hostage.

That may sound like a similar set-up to Desperate Hours and hundreds of other low-budget crime movies.  And, indeed, it is.  What sets The Dark Past apart from those other films is that Dr. Collins is a psychiatrist and his response is not to try to defeat or trick Walker but instead to understand him.  Even after Walker kills a friend of the family’s, Collins remains convinced that he can get to the heart of Walker’s anger and help the criminal start the process of reform.

When the nervous and violent Walker threatens the family, Collins calmly offers to teach him how to play chess.  When it looks like Collins might have a chance to escape, he instead stays in the house and continues to talk to Walker.  Eventually, he finds out about a recurring dream that Walker has been having, one that involves Walker standing in the rain under an umbrella that has a hole in it.  Collins links the dream to Walker’s traumatic childhood and he shows Walker why he feels the need to be violent and destructive.  But will it make a difference when the cops show up?

The Dark Past is an interesting relic.  Watching it today, it can seem a bit strange to see just how unquestioning the film is of the benefits of analysis and dream interpretation.  Nowadays, of course, we know that dream symbolism is often just random and that it’s impossible for a psychiatrist to “cure” a patient after only talking to them for an hour or two.  However, The Dark Past was made at a time when psychiatry was viewed as being the new science, the thing that that no one dared to question.  This was the time of The Snake Pit and Spellbound.  The Dark Past suggests that all any criminal needs is just a night spent talking to someone who had studied Jung and Freud.  Today, the film seems a bit naive but it’s still an interesting time capsule.

William Holden is great as Al Walker.  That, in itself, isn’t a surprise because William Holden was almost always great.  Still, Holden does an outstanding job of making Walker and his neurosis feel real and, like the best on-screen criminals, he brings a charge of real danger to his performance.  Lee J. Cobb has the less showy role but he also does great work with it.  It takes a truly great actor to make the act of listening compelling but Cobb manages to do it.

The Dark Past may not be as well-known as some film noirs but it’s an interesting and occasionally even compelling film.  Keep an eye out, eh?

30 More Days of Noir #5: The Criminal (dir by Joseph Losey)


From 1960, it’s British noir!

Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) is a career criminal, one who divides his time between long stretches in prison and short visits to the real world.  He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s clever, and he’s totally trapped.  Baker moves through the film like a natural-born predator, waiting for the moment to strike.  When he’s in prison, he’s as defiant as a caged tiger.  When he’s out of prison, he’s always stalking the next prize.

Johnny has a hard time staying out of prison.  When we first meet him, he’s in prison and it quickly becomes clear that he’s quite a respected figure behind bars.  When he gets out, the first thing that he does is team up with his old associate, Mike Carter (Sam Wanamaker), and make plans to rob a racetrack.  Mike and Johnny have an interesting relationship.  On the one hand, Mike kept Johnny’s apartment for him while he was locked away and Johnny obviously has enough faith in Mike to work him.  On the other hand, neither man seems to truly trust the other.  That’s the world of criminals, I suppose.  Never trust anyone.

Of course, it quickly turns out that there’s actually a good reason to never trust anyone when you’re living a life of crime.  As soon as Johnny, Mike, and the gang pull of the racetrack robbery, Johnny’s betrayed.  Johnny ends up locked away once again, all thanks to Mike.  However, it turns out that Mike may have acted too soon because Johnny hid all the money before he was sent back to prison.  Now, Mike has to figure out a way to pressure Johnny into revealing where the money’s buried while Johnny has to try to survive in a world of ruthless prisoners and guards who are ineffectual at best and crooked at worst.  Mike’s not the only one who is interested in where Johnny put all that cash….

I have to admit that I’m probably a bit biased when it come to The Criminal because it’s a British crime film that I actually saw while in the UK.  It’s one thing to watch a tough British crime film from the safety of Texas.  It’s another thing to watch it at 2 in the morning while in a hotel room with a nice view of the Thames.  As opposed to the watered down British-American co-productions that we tend to get used to here in the United States, The Criminal was British through-and-through, from the tough working class accents to the harsh urban landscape to the stylish suits that were worn even inside the prison.

It’s a dense movie.  Though Stanley Baker is undoubtedly the star, director Joseph Losey is just as interested in the other people who come within Johnny’s orbit and, as a result, we get to know not just Mike but also the guards and the other prisoners.  Partrick Magee, who was a favorite of Kubrick’s, makes a strong impression as Barrows, the prison guard who may be a manipulative sadist or who may just be a man who is doing what he has to do to maintain some sort of order in the prison.  The film’s portrayal of Barrows is ambiguous but the same can be said for almost everyone in the movie.  In classic noir fashion, there are no traditional heroes.  Johnny’s bad but he’s a little bit less bad than the men who betrayed him and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to discover where Johnny hid that money.

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Criminal alternates between scenes of hard-edged reality and scenes that feel as if they could have been lifted from some sort of Boschian nightmare.  The scenes outside the prison are harshly realistic while the inside of the prison feels almost like some sort of surrealistic dreamscape where demons take human form.  The Criminal is an effective and violent British noir, one that will encourage you to keep your eyes on the shadows.

30 More Days of Noir: The Killer Is Loose (dir by Budd Boetticher)


Film noir comes to the suburbs!

The Killer is Loose opens with the robbery of a savings and loan.  At first, it seems like meek bank teller Leon Poole (Wendell Corey) behaved heroically and kept the robbery from being far worse than it could have been.  How meek is Leon Poole?  He’s so meek that his nickname has always been Foggy.  People have always made fun of him because of his glasses and his bad eyesight.  Everyone assumes that Poole is just one of those quiet people who is destined to spend his entire life in obscurity.

However, the police soon discover that Leon Poole is not the hero that everyone thinks that he is.  Instead, he was involved in the robbery!  When Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) leads a group of cops over to Poole’s house to arrest the bank teller, Poole’s wife is accidentally shot and killed.  At the subsequent trial, Poole swears that he’ll get vengeance.  And then he’s promptly sent off to prison.

Jump forward three years.  Leon Poole is still in prison.  He’s still deceptively meek.  He still wears glasses.  Everyone still assumes that he’s harmless.  Of course, that’s what Poole wants them to believe.  He’s still obsessed with getting his vengeance.  Meanwhile, Detective Wagner and his wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming), are living in the suburbs and have a somewhat strained marriage.  Lila wants Wagner to find a less dangerous and less stressful job.  Wagner wants to keep busting crooks.

When Poole see a chance to escape from prison, he does so.  That’s not really a shock because even the quietest of people are probably going to take advantage of the chance to escape from prison.  What is a shock is that Poole ruthlessly murders a guard while making his escape.  He then kills a truck driver and steal the vehicle.  He then tracks down his old army sergeant and guns him down while the man’s wife watches.  Always watch out for the quiet ones, as they say.

Now, Poole has just one more target.  He wants to finish his revenge by killing Lila Wagner.

The Killer is Loose is a tough and, considering the time that it was made, brutal film noir.  (Seriously, the scene where Poole kills his former sergeant really took me by surprise.)  While both Rhonda Fleming and Joseph Cotten give good performances in their roles, it’s Wendell Corey who really steals the film.  Corey plays Poole not as an outright villain but instead as a man who has been driven mad by years and years of taunts.  After spend his entire life being told that he was a loser, Poole finally decided to do something for himself and, as a result, his wife ended up getting killed by the police.  Now that Poole’s managed to escape from prison, he’s willing to do anything just as long as he can get his final revenge.  Corey plays Poole with a smoldering resentment and the performance feels very real.  (If the film were made today, it’s easy to imagine that Poole would be an anonymous twitter troll, going through life with a smile on his face while unleashing his anger online.)  It brings a very real spark and feeling of danger to a film that would otherwise just be a standard crime film.

The Killer Is Loose also makes good use of its suburban setting, suggesting that both Fleming and Cotten have allowed themselves to get complacent with their life away from the obvious dangers of the big city.  You can buy a new house, the film seems to be saying, but you can’t escape the past.

30 More Days of Noir #3: Guns, Girls, and Gangsters (dir by Edward L. Cahn)


Guns, Girls, and Gangsters!  The title of this 1958 film pretty much sums it all up.

Now, technically, I guess you could debate whether or not the criminals in this film really qualify as gangsters.  When I hear the term “gangster,” I tend to think of the big Mafia chieftains, like Al Capone and the Kennedys.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen The Godfather too many times but I always associate gangsters with wealth, big mansions, elaborate weddings, and aging crooners who need someone to chop off a horse’s head in order to get a role in From Here To Eternity.  However, the gangsters in this film are all basically small-time criminals.  One of them does own a nightclub but it’s not a very impressive nightclub.  If anything, they’re wannabe gangsters.  However, Guns, Girls, and Wannabes just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Chuck Wheeler (Gerald Mohr) has a plan.  He wants to rob an armored car.  It’s a Vegas armored car, so of course it’s going to be full of money and since Michael Corleone killed Moe Greene three years before, there shouldn’t be too many repercussions from hijacking it.  (Sorry, I’m still thinking about The Godfather.)  To enlist the aid of a nightclub owner, he enlists the aid of a singer named Vi (Mamie Van Doren).  Vi just happens to be the wife of Chuck’s former prison cellmate, Mike (Lee Van Cleef).  Vi has been demanding a divorce for a while but Mike won’t grant it because he’s insanely jealous.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to find out that Chuck and Vi are now a couple but, fortunately, he’s locked up.

Except, of course, Mike escapes from prison around the same time that Chuck and the gang manage to hijack that armored car.  As you can guess, this leads to mayhem and havoc.  That’s where the guns of the title come into play….

Guns, Girls, and Gangsters is an entertaining little B-noir.  It’s only 70 minutes long so the film doesn’t waste any time getting to the action.  (There’s also a narrator who serves to fill in any plot holes and to keep the audience entertained with his rather self-important delivery.)  Gerald Mohr is a bit on the dull side as Chuck but you better believe that Lee Van Cleef is 100% menacing and oddly charismatic as the as the always angry Mike.  Van Cleef brings a charge of very real danger to the film.  (Perhaps he’s the gangster that the title was referring to, though I would still think of him as being more of an outlaw than a gangster.)  And, of course, you’ve got Mamie Van Doren, playing yet another tough dame in dangerous circumstances.  Van Doren gets to perform two musical numbers in Guns, Girls, and Gangsters and they both have a low-rent Vegas charm to them.  Watching this film, it occurred to me that Van Doren may not have been a great actress but she had the perfect attitude for films like this.  She played characters who did what they had to to do survive and who made no apologies for it and it’s impossible not to be on her side when she’s having to deal with creeps like Chuck or sociopaths like Mike.

Guns, Girls, and Gangsters is an entertaining B-noir.  There’s enough tough talk, cynical scheming, and deadly double crosses to keep noir fans happy.