The name of this week’s The Gangsters All Here movie gets straight to the point. The movie is called The Hoodlum — a title so generic, it’s the movie equivalent of slapping a white-with-black-lettering label on a can of beans. But there’s nothing generic about the guy who plays the title role…
It’s Lawrence Tierney!
The Hoodlum is directed by Max Nosseck, who directed Tierney in his breakout role in Dillinger (1945). But by the time of this movie, both Tierney’s and Nosseck’s careers had hit bottom — Tierney due to a lot of jail time earned by off-screen drinking and brawling, and Nosseck because he went from Dillinger right b;lkack to the B- and worse-type movies he’d previously been doing.
One could almost say that the bitterness of these two men burst forth in this movie and made it work. Tierney plays Vincent Lubeck, a career criminal whose career is so vast, it’s lovingly detailed in the movie’s prologue. Lubeck gets paroled due to a lucky break, but he still comes out of jail declaring that life has never given him a chance and will continue to not do so. So when Lubeck gets a good look at both (a) a loot-filled armored car that passes his way every day, and (b) his brother’s sob-sister-and-virginal girlfriend, what do you think are the chances that he’ll try to nab both?
On a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, I give this movie a 4-½. Tierney sizzles from start to finish, and the movie is uncompromising in nearly every aspect of its subject matter (especially for 1951). I deduct a half-star only because the movie begins with that weariest of tropes, a plea to the jailhouse warden from the convict’s elderly mother. But if you stick with the movie right to the end, you’ll see that even this cliche gets turned on its head.
Usually, our The Gangsters All Here movies start out with the main characters already established as gangsters. But this week’s movie, Too Late for Tears, takes a different approach. What if a set of a particular set of circumstances was dropped in an Everyman’s lap to make him turn into a gangster?
Actually, in this case, it’s not an Everyman, but an Everywoman — social-climbing housewife Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott). And it’s not one circumstance, but sixty thousand of them. One night, Jane and her milquetoast husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy) are driving along a dark highway in their convertible, when a passing car happens to drop a satchel in their back seat. Upon further examination, the Palmers discover that the satchel contains $60,000 ($584,000 in 2015 dollars, if you’re counting).
Alan is all set to surrender the money to the police. But then Jane opens the satchel and spreads the money out on their bed — just so that she can get a look at it — and suddenly…
Not even some very assertive outside forces — in the forms of Dan Duryea and Don DeFore — can deter Jane in her lust for lucre. Besides being a riveting film-noir, the movie poses an interesting question: Just how many (or few) steps would it take us to let the gangster within us run wild?
No doubt about it — on a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, this movie gets a 5. A tightly woven screenplay by Roy Huggins (who went on to create a little TV series named “The Fugitive”) is mounted on the able shoulders of Lizabeth Scott, who runs with it to the finish.
Watching Plunder Road, I recalled the late film critic Roger Ebert’s four-star review of Brian DePalma’s excellent 1981 thriller Blow-Out. Describing how the lead character reconstructs a crime right in front of our eyes, Ebert wrote, “We [the movie’s audience] are challenged and stimulated: We share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses.”
Plunder Road gives you the same feeling of excitement. It’s the story of five men who pull off what is breathlessly described by radio newsmen as the biggest gold heist in history. The thrill of it is that we get to see it happen. The movie takes no shortcuts; its first 15 minutes show the robbery taking place in staggering detail. And it’s that attention to detail that keeps the movie riveting: Will the thieves pull off their intended goal of getting their stolen gold halfway across the country — where they can melt it down and throw the law off their trail — or will simple human frailty slip them up?
On a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, this movie definitely earns a 5. Most of the gangster movies we’ve shown up to now were filled with non-stop talk and endless exposition, but this movie never gives away any more than it has to, always leaving you eager to find out what happens next. This is thriller movie-making at its best.
You didn’t think The Gangsters All Here was going to ignore Halloween, did you? Darned if we didn’t dig deep in the vaults and find an honest-to-gosh gangster-zombie movie for ya!
Creature with the Atom Brain chronicles the only-slightly-hard-to-swallow tale of Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger), an exiled American gangster who has sworn revenge on the former cohorts who squealed on him. With the help of ex-Nazi-but-nevertheless-mad-scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye), Frank returns to America and gets his vengeance. Dr. Steigg is able to use atomically charged brains to reanimate corpses, whom Frank then uses to wipe out his old enemies.( It’s a bit like Plan 9 from Outer Space [released four years later], but with the backing of Columbia Pictures to give the movie a thin veneer of legitimacy.)
Luckily, there’s a relentless good guy on the case, in the form of habitually pipe-smoking police scientist Chet Walker (Richard Denning from Creature from the Black Lagoon) — who, in best ‘50s chauvinistic style, seems just as interested in slapping his wife on her behind and demanding a cold martini from her as he does in solving the strange case of multiple murders. And speaking of behinds…
On a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, I’d give this one a 3. It’s not quite as bad as anything that writer-director Ed Wood ever cooked up, but it’s not for lack of trying. You’ll be amazed at how nonchalant people are when they’re accosted by monotone gunslingers with huge stitches across their foreheads.
1. When this movie was first released, it was banned in Sweden and Finland (giving those countries far more points for good taste than I previously would have).
2. The movie’s title inspired a same-named song (by a performer named Roky Erickson), which in turn provided the name for an alternative rock band from Antwerp, Belgium.
This week, The Gangsters All Here makes a bid for legitimacy with a film-noir gem titled The Big Combo. It stars Cornel Wilde as Police Lt. Leonard Diamond, who is on a one-man quest to bring down Mr. Brown (ultra-slick Richard Conte), a racketeer who appears to control everything and everyone in town except for Lt. Diamond. The worthy supporting cast includes Helen Walker (in her final film role), Jean Wallace, and Brian Donlevy (who seems to play a slobbering syncophant in about every other one of these types of movies).
And my dear online blogger-friend Salome at BNoirDetourwould never forgive me if I didn’t mention two other memorable supporting actors: Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as Mr. Brown’s henchmen Fante and Mingo. When I first watched this movie, I regarded this less-than-dynamic duo as simply the movie’s answer to Of Mice and Men‘s simpletons George and Lennie. But Ms. Salome finds a fascinating homoerotic subtext to this pair’s relationship, right down to their sleeping in separate but nearby beds. You decide.
Are you kidding? With all of the aforementioned juicy plot elements, plus a jazzy score from Laura‘s David Raksin, this movie can’t possibly get less than 5 out of 5 fannies. You’ll want to stay put right up to the movie’s final shot (which unapologetically apes, er, does a homage to a legendary film from the 1940’s). See you this Saturday!
This week, Broderick Crawford joins our The Gangsters All Here Rogue Gallery. The Mob stars Crawford as Johnny Damico, a tough-skinned cop who, for spoiler reasons I won’t go into here, goes undercover to infiltrate a waterfront crime ring. Waterfront corruption was a rich vein of storylines for Columbia Pictures to mine — it earned movie immortality for Marlon Brando three years later in On the Waterfront — but Crawford definitely makes the territory his own. Add fine supporting work from Ernest Borgnine, Richard Kiley, and John Marley (two decades before his menacing role in The Godfather), and how can you lose?
(CORRECTION: Last week, I mistakenly touted our weekly movie entry, Machine Gun Kelly, as Charles Bronson’s movie debut. In fact, Bronson has a walk-on role here as a waterfront worker, and he had several years of movie work behind him by the time he did Machine Gun Kelly, which was actually Bronson’s starring debut. My apologies.)
On a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, this movie rates an on-the-nose 5. Despite contemporary reviews that dismissed The Mob as just another shoot-’em-up, this one has it all. There are gritty action scenes, nail-biting suspense, and best of all, Broderick Crawford in a role that shows his softer side along with his well-known gruffiness. You won’t want to miss this one!
To The Gangsters All Here Rogues Gallery of Walter Matthau, Steve McQueen, Dick Powell, James Cagney, and Hugh Beaumont, we now add Charles Bronson! In his first starring role, Bronson plays the title role of George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, a tough-talking, fist-waving gangster who nevertheless shrinks at the sight of any symbols of death. Kelly can spit out some neat lead with his Thompson gat, but just wave your poison-icon tattoo at him and he shrinks like a little kid!
On a scale of 1 to 5 fannies, I rate this movie a 3. It’s not a perfect gangster movie, but it has enough disparate elements to keep you fascinated, not the least of which is a crazily incongruous score by “Gilligan’s Island” composer Gerald Fried. And where else will you get the chance to see Charles Bronson and “The Dick Van Dyke Show’s” Morey Amsterdam share scenes in a movie?