B-Girls and B-Movies: CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1957)

CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is just a routine ‘B’ crime drama, one of many churned out in the 50’s. Yet the performances of stars Brian Keith Beverly Garland , and an above-average supporting cast helped elevate the by-the-numbers material into something watchable. It’s those Familiar Faces we all know and love from countless movies that made CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL work for me.

The story revolves around racketeers muscling in on the Worker’s National Union so they can bring their “numbers rackets and ‘B’ girls” to the city. Politically ambitious State’s Attorney Jim Fremont is dead set on busting them up, and when the union’s treasurer is murdered, the finger of suspicion is pointed at honest Union President Artie Blane. Blane’s been framed by his rival, VP Ken Harrison, who takes his orders from “disbarred attorney” Alan Dixon, “one of the masterminds of the old Capone gang”. Blane is brought to trial and, thanks to some chicanery by an “old derelict” with the improbable name of Candymouth Duggan and a dummied-up tape recorder, is convicted of murder in the first degree.

Blane’s fiancée Laura Barton just won’t let the case go; she knows Blane was with her the night of the killing and is determined to prove his innocence. When the tape recording of Blane’s voice is found to be bogus, the case is reopened. Candymouth gets iced by Harrison’s “goons, and a nightclub impressionist named Kerry Jordan is also rubbed out. Fremont tracks down Laura’s former neighbor Sylvia, now living at a clip joint run by the mob called the Shanghai Low. He takes a brutal beating from the goons, and Laura and Sylvia are about to be shanghaied themselves on a plane bound for the Philippines before the cops come to rescue, getting into a car chase with the gangsters (“They’re gaining on us!”, one goon exclaims), and a shootout that leaves the three racketeers dead, but not before Harrison confesses everything and Dixon gets busted, putting an end to their reign of terror.

Brian Keith exhibits his natural ease before the cameras as Fremont. The actor had good parts in THE VIOLENT MEN, 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE, and THE PARENT TRAP, but that one role that would’ve put him on top always eluded him. Keith fared better on the small screen, starring in Sam Peckinpah’s seminal THE WESTERNER, the popular but saccharine sitcom FAMILY AFFAIR, and the comedy-actioner HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK. He became a respected character actor in the 70’s and 80’s with films like THE WIND AND THE LION (as Teddy Roosevelt), THE MOUNTAIN MEN, and SHARKEY’S MACHINE.

Beverly Garland (Laura) was the 1950”s Queen of the ‘B’ Girls (as in ‘B’ movies, not the other kind!), a fan favorite for her quickies with Roger Corman (SWAMP WOMEN, GUNSLINGER, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, NOT OFTHIS EARTH) and the silly horror THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE.  Bev really puts her all into the role, like she’s auditioning for juicier parts. It didn’t happen, but she certainly proves here she’s not just another pretty face, and later did get some good roles in both PRETTY POISON and AIRPORT 1975.

A slew of Familiar Faces appear in the movie, starting with former Universal leading man Dick Foran (THE MUMMY’S HAND, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY ) as the wronged Blane. Our favorite weasel Elisha Cook Jr.   does his usual fine job as the rum-soaked “old derelict” Candymouth. Character actor Douglas Kennedy is the crooked Harrison, ex-Garbo costar Gavin Gordon plays Dixon, sexy Beverly Tyler (VOODOO ISLAND, TOUGHEST MAN IN TOMBSTONE) is Sylvia, and the two goons are pretty-boy Anthony George (TV’s CHECKMATE, DARK SHADOWS) and mean-mugged noir vet Jack Lambert . Not to mention SUPERMAN’S Phyllis Coates as Keith’s wife and John Hamilton as the defense attorney.

Sidney Salkow isn’t given much to work with in either script or budget, but he guides his players along smoothly. You won’t find CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL on any “best-of” or “Top Ten” lists, but for fans of well acted ‘B’s and Familiar Face spotters it’s an enjoyable way to spend 75 minutes of your time.

 

 

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE NEANDERTHAL MAN (United Artists 1953)

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I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. All the Universal classics, Hammer horrors, big budget, low budget, no-budget, you name it. THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is without a doubt one of the worst I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just so-bad-it’s-bad.

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This totally unlikeable turkey involves a mad scientist whose experiments in evolution lead him to create a serum that devolves species. After success with turning a cat into a saber-toothed tiger (via stock footage and some really bad fake tusks), Professor Groves injects himself with the stuff and becomes Neanderthal Man. The prof goes on a pretty tame killing spree before getting his inevitable comeuppance. In a part that begs for John Carradine (or better yet, Bela Lugosi!), we get Robert Shayne of TV’s THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN  fame. The erstwhile Inspector Henderson is all over the place, overacting in some spots, underacting in others. Whereas a Carradine or Lugosi would’ve given some credibility to the demented doctor, Shayne’s just plain lousy.

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None of the actors really have a chance in the awful script by producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen (THE MAN FROM PLANET X ) .   Richard Crane (ROCKY JONES SPACE RANGER, SURF PARTY)  plays the hero, a zoologist called in to investigate the mysterious, dumb looking saber-tooth. Genre sweetie Beverly Garland’s on hand as a waitress who gets ravaged by the Neanderthal Man. Dialectitian Robert Easton has a small part as a local rube. The rest of the cast are pretty much non-entities, all of whom act overwrought trying to get through the long-winded screenplay.

German expressionist pioneer E.A. Dupont is credited as director, though it doesn’t seem like he did much directing here. Famed cinematographer Stanley Cortez had better days (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, THREE FACES OF EVE), and shows none of the artistic work of those films. It looks like Dupont just said “point and shoot”, and Cortez complied. The makeup job by Ed Wood vet Harry Thomas is about as scary as a Walmart Halloween mask.

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You readers can tell when I like a film, the posts are long and detailed. This one’s short. I see no reason to continue writing about this dull, unscary bomb. Don’t invite THE NEANDERTHAL MAN to your Halloween party, he’ll just bore everyone to death!!

 

 

 

 

 

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