Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 12: Too Much Crime On My Hands

And too many crime films in my DVR, so it’s time for another housecleaning! This edition of “Cleaning Out the DVR” features bank robbers, thieves, murderers, and other assorted no-goodniks in films from the 30’s to the 70’s. Here we go:

PRIVATE DETECTIVE (Warner Bros 1939; D: Noel Smith) Girl gumshoe Jane Wyman (named “Jinx”!) solves the murder of a divorced socialite embroiled in a child custody case, to the consternation of her cop fiancé Dick Foran. Maxie Rosenbloom plays his usual good-natured lug role as Foran’s partner. The kind of movie for which the term “programmer” was coined, furiously paced and clocking in at a swift 55 minutes. No wonder they talk so fast! Fun Fact: The Warner Brothers Stock Company is well represented with Familiar Faces Willie Best, Morgan Conway, Joseph Crehan, Gloria Dickson, John Eldredge, Leo Gorcey , John Ridgley, and Maris Wrixon all packed into it. What, no Bess Flowers?

HOLLOW TRIUMPH (Eagle-Lion 1948; D:Steve Sekely) This one used to be shown frequently on my local cable access channel from a murky public domain print; TCM aired a nice, crisp copy back in January. Thanks, TCM! Star Paul Henreid (who also produced) plays an unrepentant ex-con who, upon release from stir, holds up a mob-connected gambling joint. Now hunted by the gangsters, he takes it on the lam, murdering a lookalike psychologist and stealing his identity. In true noir fashion, things go steadily downhill from there. Noir Queen Joan Bennett  plays the shrink’s secretary/mistress, who falls for the crook. Heel Henreid is certainly no Victor Laszlo in this one! Director Sekely is on point (check out his REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES sometime!), and DP John Alton’s shadowy shots make this an effective B thriller. A personal favorite! Fun Fact: Look quick for young Jack Webb as one of the hoods.

DIAL 1119 (MGM 1950; D:Gerald Mayer) Escapee from State Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane holds the patrons of the dingy Oasis Bar at gunpoint, demanding to see the police shrink who got him convicted. Marshall Thompson makes a convincing psych-killer, and he’s ably supported by a strong cast (Sam Levene, Virginia Field, Leon Ames, Andrea King, Keefe Brasselle). William Conrad is killed off early as the dour bartender “Chuckles”. Worth a look for the cast and some adult-themed subject matter. Fun Fact: This was director Mayer’s first feature, which probably made his uncle, studio boss Louis B. Mayer, proud.

THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS (Warner Bros 1969; D: Antonio Isasi) This US-Spanish coproduced crime caper is totally underrated and totally fun, with a cool 60’s vibe to it. Gary Lockwood (2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY) stars as a Vegas blackjack dealer who plots to steal one of security expert Lee J. Cobb’s hi-tech armored cars, with inside help from sexy Elke Sommer, as revenge for his brother’s death. Jack Palance is also on hand as a Treasury agent investigating Cobb’s shady connections. There’s some nifty twists and turns along the way, and great location footage of the Vegas strip in it’s heyday. It’s as if Sergio Leone decided to make a caper movie, and is highly recommended! Fun Fact: Jean Servais, who starred in the classic French caper film RIFIFI, has the small but pivotal role of Lockwood’s brother.

BUNNY O’HARE (AIP 1971; D: Gerd Osawld) Bette Davis, left homeless when the bank forecloses on her house, teams up with dimwit fugitive Ernest Borgnine to rob banks disguised as hippies, making their escape on a motorcycle. It’s as silly as it sounds, with the two stars trapped by a lame script that seemed outdated when it was made, and non-existent direction by Oswald (who also helmed the dire AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.). Ernie mugs shamelessly throughout, while Miss Davis sued the studio after it was released, claiming the re-edit wasn’t what she signed up for, and hazardous to her career. When you hear her spout the line “I’ll open ya up like a can a’tomata soup”, you’ll probably agree! Some good character actors pop up (Jack Cassidy, John Astin, Jay Robinson, Bruno VeSota), but this mess is for Davis completists only. Fun Fact: Bette and Ernie did much better with their first film together, 1956’s THE  CATERED AFFAIR, written by Gore Vidal and directed by Richard Brooks, adapted from a TV play by Paddy Chayefsky.

Enjoy the “Cleaning Out the DVR” series:

  1. Five Films From Five Decades
  2. Five Films From Five Decades 2
  3. Those Swingin’ Sixties
  4. B-Movie Roundup
  5. Fabulous 40’s Sleuths
  6. All-Star Horror Edition!
  7. Film Noir Festival
  8. All-Star Comedy Break
  9. Film Noir Festival Redux
  10. Halloween Leftovers
  11. Five from the Fifties

The Elements of Style: Steve McQueen in BULLITT (Warner Brothers 1968)

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Steve McQueen was the personification of 60’s screen cool in BULLITT, a stylish action film directed by Peter Yates. It’s the first of producer Philip D’Antoni’s cop trilogy, both of which (THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE SEVEN-UPS) I’ve previously covered. Unlike those two films, the grittiness of New York City is replaced by the California charm of San Francisco, and the City by the Bay almost becomes a character itself, especially in the groundbreaking ten minute car chase between McQueen’s Mustang and the bad guy’s Dodge Charger.

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Style permeates the film from the get-go, with the snappy opening credits montage by Pablo Ferro. Then we get right into the story, as San Francisco detective Frank Bullitt is assigned to guard mob witness John Ross, scheduled to testify before a Senate Subcommitte on crime. Hot shot politician Walt Chalmers wants Bullitt because of his reputation and PR value with the papers. Things go awry when Ross is attacked in the seedy hotel room he’s being hidden in, causing the death of a cop. Ross survives, barely, and another attempt is made at the hospital. When he succumbs to his injuries, Bullitt and partner Delgatti stash the body in the morgue, and begin their investigation. Chalmers demands to know where Ross is, thinking him still alive, but Bullitt won’t give in until he completes his search for the truth.

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Frank Bullitt is the prototype for D’Antoni’s “Maverick Cop”. Cool as a cucumber, always butting heads with authority, breaking the rules, and of course driving like a maniac! McQueen’s just right for the part, with his ice-blue eyes revealing nothing and his naturalistic acting style. His iconic dark blue turtleneck, tweed jacket with elbow patches, and desert boots set a style trend among men who wanted to be like Steve, but there’s only one Steve McQueen!

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And that car chase set the style for literally dozens of cop films to come. Bullitt’s green ’68 Mustang GT goes up against a ’68 Dodge Charger in one of the wildest chase scenes ever filmed. McQueen drove in the close-ups (he was a race driver of note), but the heavy lifting was done mostly by stuntman Carey Lofton and motorcycle racing champ Bud Ekins (who also doubled for McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE). Bill Hickman, stunt driver extraordinaire, was behind the wheel of the Charger,  and choreographed most of the sequence. The action takes us from Fisherman’s Wharf, through Midtown, and ends just outside San Francisco on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway. Frank P. Keller deservedly won the Oscar for best editing that year largely due to this exciting chase.

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The cast features Robert Vaughn (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E) as Chalmers, as grandstanding politician (is there any other kind?). Vaughn had costarred with McQueen in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and the two men work well together here. I love this bit of dialog- Chalmers:  “Frank, we must all compromise”. Bullitt: “Bullshit”. Vintage McQueen! Jacqueline Bisset’s on hand in the role of Bullitt’s sensitive artist girlfriend (“With you, violence is a way of life, violence and death”, she tells him). Don Gordon plays Bullitt’s partner Delgatti; the two were friends offscreen and appeared together in PAPILLION and THE TOWERING INFERNO. Simon Oakland is Bullitt’s tough boss, like he was Darren McGavin’s tough boss in THE NIGHT STALKER (both the movie and TV show). George Stanford Brown (THE ROOKIES), Norman Fell (THREE’S COMPANY), Vic Tayback (ALICE), Felicia Orlandi, Ed Peck, and Al Checco are also among the supporting cast, as is young Robert Duvall in a small role as a cab driver.

Director Peter Yates was recommended by McQueen after the star saw his British film ROBBERY, which also involved a car chase. Yates would go on to make interesting films, including THE HOT ROCK (based on a Donald Westlake novel), THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (an underrated crime drama starring Robert Mitchum), THE DEEP, the bicycle racing saga BREAKING AWAY, EYEWITNESS (another underrated film), THE DRESSER, and SUSPECT. William A. Fraker’s cinematography is stunning, and Lalo Schifrin adds another solid jazz score to his resume.

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Everything works together to make BULLITT (along with BONNIE AND CLYDE) one of the most stylish American films of the 1960’s, and one that holds up well today. I only wish Philip D’Antoni had made a few more; with BULLITT, I’ve completed covering his cop trilogy. That’s alright, though. Now I can watch them again without taking notes, and just enjoy them as a fan!

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt. 5: Fabulous 40s Sleuths

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It’s time again for me to make room on the DVR! This edition features five Fabulous 40’s films of mystery and suspense, with super sleuths like Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes in the mix for good measure. Here’s five capsule reviews of some crime flicks from the 1940s:

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WHISTLING IN THE DARK (MGM 1941, D: S. Sylvan Simon): The first of three movies starring comedian Red Skelton as Wally Benton, aka radio detective ‘The Fox’. Skelton is kidnapped by a phony spiritual cult led by Conrad Veidt to devise “the perfect murder”. Ann Rutherford and Virginia Grey play rivals for Red’s affections, while Eve Arden is her usual wisecracking self as Red’s manager. Some of the jokes and gags are pretty dated, but Red’s genial personality makes the whole thing tolerable. Fun Fact: Rags Ragland (Sylvester) was once the Burlesque comedy partner of Phil Silvers.

Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) Lionel Atwill (Professor James Moriarty)
Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) Lionel Atwill (Professor James Moriarty)

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (Universal 1942, D: Roy William Neill): Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes in this fourth entry in the series. All the gang from 221B Baker Street are along for the ride (Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Mary Gordon) as Holmes tries to foil a plot to steal a new bomb sight (for the war effort, don’t you know) by his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty. A secret code holds all the answers. That Grand Old Villain Lionel Atwill plays “The Napoleon of Crime”, and it’s terrific to watch screen vets Rathbone and Atwill engage in a battle of wits. In fact, it’s my favorite Universal Holmes movie because of the pairing of the two. Fun Fact #1: Rathbone and Atwill also costarred in 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Fun Fact #2: Kaaren Verne (Charlotte) was the second wife of another screen villain, Peter Lorre!

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TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (RKO 1945, D: Anthony Mann): Ann Rutherford’s back as a female cab driver who helps an amnesia victim (Tom Conway) piece things together in this early effort from director Anthony Mann. Unlike Mann’s later films, the tone’s light and breezy here. There’s lots of plot twists to keep you guessing, and Conway and Rutherford have good onscreen chemistry. Cracked Rear Viewers will recognize supporting players Lester Matthews (The Raven), Jean Brooks (The Seventh Victim), and Jane Greer (Out of the Past). Hollywood’s favorite drunk Jack Norton does his schtick in a bar scene (where else?). Fun Fact: Actor Dick Lane (reporter Haley) later became a TV sports commentator in the 50’s, announcing pro wrestling and Roller Derby matches!

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DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (RKO 1947, D: John Rawlins): Chester Gould’s stalwart comic-strip cop (personified by Ralph Byrd) goes up against gangster Gruesome, who uses a paralyzing gas to commit bank robberies. Boris Karloff is Gruesome (of course he is!), and adds his special brand of menace to the proceedings. (At one point, Dick’s aide Pat exclaims, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff!”) Gould’s trademark quirky character names like L.E. Thal and Dr. A. Tomic are all in good fun, and the Familiar Face Brigade includes Anne Gwynne, Milton Parsons, Skelton Knaggs, and Robert Clarke, among others. Fast moving and fun, especially for Karloff fans. Fun Fact: Boris played many gangsters early in his career, including a role in the 1932 Howard Hawks classic SCARFACE.

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THE THREAT (RKO 1949, D: Felix Feist): Convict Red Kluger (Charles McGraw) busts out of Folsom Prison and kidnaps the cop who sent him away (Michael O’Shea), the DA (Frank Conroy), and his former partner’s moll (Virginia Grey again). The police go on a manhunt to capture Kluger and save the others in this taut, suspenseful ‘B’ crime noir.  Quite brutal and violent for it time, with McGraw outstanding as the vicious killer on the loose. A very underrated and overlooked film that deserves some attention. Highly recommended! Fun Fact: Inspector Murphy is played by Robert Shayne, better known as Inspector Henderson on TV’s SUPERMAN.

Enjoy others in the series: