Released May 27, 1949: C-MAN, starring Dean Jagger, John Carradine, Harry Landers, and Lottie Elwen. Directed by Joseph Lerner (Guilty Bystander, Mister Universe, The King’s Musketeers). Dean Jagger is a U.S. Customs agent pursuing a ring of jewel thieves who stole an extremely valuable necklace and murdered his longtime friend and coworker. While following the primary suspect (Rene Paul) on a flight from Paris to New York, Jagger meets a beautiful woman from Holland (Lottie Elwen) who becomes ill during the flight and falls unconscious. But all is not as it seems. She was drugged by Paul’s accomplice, a discredited doctor (John Carradine), who hides the stolen necklace on her person. When the plane lands, Elwen is whisked off in an ambulance accompanied by Paul’s violent thug (Harry Landers), who is tasked with recovering the necklace from Elwen. However, Elwen manages to escape and is found by Jagger, who must now keep her and the necklace safe while he tries to bring Paul’s gang to justice. C-Man is a captivatingly crude example of 1940s indie film making. There is nothing polished or sophisticated about this offbeat film, and ultimately, that’s its greatest strength. The stripped-down production values and raw handheld camera work give the film a refreshingly visceral and gritty documentary-like feel. This is perhaps most evident in the startlingly violent fight scenes that have an edge of spontaneous realism, making us wonder if the participants are actually getting hurt. Adding to the film’s edginess is the avant-garde jazz soundtrack, with its unsettling chord structures and jarring horn stabs. Like many low-budget noirs, the outdoor scenes are shot on location in the streets of the city. But instead of typical Hollywood frames of towering Manhattan skyscrapers, we are treated to run down neighborhoods, liquor stores, and seedy hotels, all of which add to the film’s atmospheric cocktail of crudeness. However, for a film of this caliber, the acting is surprisingly competent, which can’t be said for all low-budget noirs. While he doesn’t ooze with charisma, Dean Jagger makes a likeable enough protagonist. The script has his character take a low key approach in most situations. So much so, that he ends up enduring several severe beatings during the course of his investigation. John Carradine gets top billing along with Jagger, but unfortunately, only appears in a couple of scenes and is never given the opportunity to make a significant impact. The most charismatic, if not slightly over-the-top, performance comes from Harry Landers, who plays Paul’s psychotic bulldog on a leash. Physically, he is considerably smaller than most of his co-stars, yet he uses his high-strung volatility to create a violently intimidating enforcer. The film moves along at a fast pace, so when a scene doesn’t work, it never lingers long enough to spoil the viewing experience. The story can be a little hard to follow in places, either because of crude editing or muffled dialog, but it never veers so far off course that you can’t quickly recover your bearings a minute later. It would be easy to dismiss C-Man as B movie (or even C movie, if you will) trash, but the guerilla production, gritty violence, and serviceable acting combine to create a quirky art film feel. It is by no means an elegant picture, but therein lies its charm. We give C-Man 3 out of 5 fedoras.
Happy birthday to actress Jeanne Crain, born May 25, 1925 in Barstow, CA. Crain’s family moved to Los Angeles when she was 9 years old, where as a young teen, she took an interest in acting and eventually studied drama at UCLA. In 1943 she landed a small uncredited part in the film, The Gang’s All Here. Her first substantial role was in Home in Indiana (1944), which led to star billing in In the Meantime, Darling (1944). Unfortunately, the latter was a flop and critics panned Crain’s performance. However, later that year she managed to recover with a strong showing in Winged Victory (1944). The following year, Crain starred in the musical State Fair (1945), which would be the first of several Hollywood musicals to feature her. Crain primarily appeared in comedies and romances, but her dramatic turn in Pinky (1949) earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Other notable films include: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) with Myrna Loy, People Will Talk (1951) with Cary Grant, and The Joker is Wild (1957) with Frank Sinatra. Crain also ventured into film noir territory four times: Leave Her to Heaven (1945-color) with Gene Tierney, Dangerous Crossing (1953) with Michael Rennie, Vicki (1953) with Jean Peters, and The Tattered Dress (1957) with Jeff Chandler. In the 1960s, Crain appeared in fewer than ten films, and was seen only sporadically on television. Her final film role was in Skyjacked (1972). Crain died of a heart attack in 2003 at age 78.
Released May 23, 1948: I WOULDN’T BE IN YOUR SHOES, starring Don Castle, Elyse Knox, and Regis Toomey. Directed by William Nigh (Mutiny in the Big House, Black Dragons, Allotment Wives). Don Castle and Elyse Knox are a married couple whose dancing careers have recently hit a slump. They eke out a modest existence in a small one-room apartment, supported by Knox, who teaches at a local dancing school. Through a series of circumstances that involve a lost pair of tap shoes, a found wallet, and out-of-print bills, the police come to suspect Castle of committing a brutal murder and robbery in the neighborhood. Castle is eventually tried and convicted of the crime, which he did not commit. As his execution date nears, Knox desperately seeks a way to save her husband from the electric chair, and eventually approaches one of the detectives (Regis Toomey), who has a crush on her, for help. This is one of those lesser known noir films with a story that’s worth bringing to life that had to claw its way to the big screen on a bare bones budget. The cast doesn’t contain any big name actors, the production values are adequate at best, the dialog is occasionally awkward and inelegant, and the overall presentation lacks the flair of a major feature. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, the film succeeds, primarily on the strength of its capable story. In the early going, the plot details may seem a little far fetched with too many convenient coincidences stacked on top of one another, but by the end, we’re rewarded with a satisfying outcome that has all the pieces falling into place in a plausible manner. Convincing performances by Castle and Knox keep us emotionally invested for the duration. The love between them is palpable, and their relationship has an aura of authenticity that makes their nightmarish situation all the more tragic. However, the casting of veteran character actor Regis Toomey as the police detective who is sweet on Knox is one of the film’s bigger liabilities. Toomey is no stranger to playing cops, and he’s great at portraying hard-boiled police work. But when it comes to expressing his romantic feelings during intimate conversations with Knox, he’s dreadfully stiff and awkward, and not in a charming “aww shucks” way. You can almost see Knox struggling to play against his rigid face and monotone delivery. But what I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes lacks in polish, it makes up for with a satisfying mystery and a sly ending that gradually creeps up on you. Some viewers will pick up on it sooner than others, but the plot does a decent job of misdirecting us for as long as possible. We give I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.
Happy birthday to actor Raymond Burr, born May 21, 1917 in New Westminster, BC, Canada. With broad shoulders, heavy eyebrows, and a commanding voice, Raymond Burr became known to legions of fans for his enduring television characters of attorney Perry Mason and detective Robert Ironside. However, many years of stage and film experience preceded those roles, and fortunately for us, much of it lay in the realm of film noir. In 1923, Burr’s mother divorced and moved Burr and his siblings to Vallejo, CA. Burr did some acting as a teenager and starting in 1934, joined several repertory theater groups that toured Canada, Australia, England, and India. In 1940, Burr made his debut on Broadway and later got his first starring role with the Pasadena Playhouse. Burr continued appearing on stage both with the Pasadena Playhouse and on Broadway for several years until his first film role for RKO, an uncredited part in Without Reservations (1946), which marked the beginning of a prolific film career. From 1946 to 1957, Burr appeared in over 50 films, mostly as a supporting actor, and usually as a villain or heavy. During this period, he was cast in nearly 20 classic noir films: Desperate (1947), I Love Trouble (1948), Sleep, My Love (1948), Ruthless (1948), Raw Deal (1948), Pitfall (1948), Walk a Crooked Mile (1948), Red Light (1949), Abandoned (1949), M (1951), A Place in the Sun (1951), His Kind of Woman (1951), The Whip Hand (1951), FBI Girl (1951), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Rear Window (1954-color), Please Murder Me (1956), A Cry in the Night (1956), and Affair in Havana (1957). Burr is also remembered for his role as reporter Steven Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), a character he reprised in two subsequent Godzilla films: Godzilla (1977) and Godzilla 1985 (1984). During the 1940s and 50s, Burr could also be heard on radio, making guest appearances on shows like Pat Novak for Hire, Dragnet, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and starring in Fort Laramie. In 1956, Burr was cast in the title role of the television series, Perry Mason (1957-1966). He had originally auditioned for the part of District Attorney Hamilton Burger, but Gail Patrick Jackson, author of the Perry Mason novels, felt Burr was the ideal choice to play Mason. The show was a tremendous success, earning Burr two Emmys and making him a household name. After Perry Mason was cancelled, he continued his television success as the wheelchair-bound detective in Ironside (1967-1975). Burr made several attempts to launch new series in the late 1970s and early 80s without success, but in 1985, he starred in the television reunion movie Perry Mason Returns, which led to 25 more Perry Mason TV movies from 1986 to 1993. He also appeared in The Return of Ironside (1993). Burr was known to be very generous with his money, donating to charities, helping out friends, and sponsoring over 25 foster children. He also made multiple tours of Korea and Vietnam with the USO during war years. Burr died of liver cancer in 1993 at age 76.
Released May 19, 1950: SHADOW ON THE WALL, starring Ann Sothern, Zachary Scott, Gigi Perreau, and Nancy Davis. Directed by Pat Jackson (White Corridors, Something Money Can’t Buy, The Gentle Touch). In a fit of rage, Ann Sothern shoots and kills her sister (Kristine Miller) after she discovers Miller is having an affair with her fiancé (Tom Helmore). Distraught, she drops the gun, which belongs to Miller’s husband (Zachary Scott), and leaves the scene of the crime. In the aftermath, Scott is wrongfully convicted of the killing and Sothern gets away with murder. However, Scott’s young daughter (Gigi Perreau), who was traumatized by the event and has repressed all memory of it, may have actually witnessed the crime. While under care in a psychiatric hospital, her nurse (Nancy Davis – who would later become Nancy Reagan), works diligently with Perreau to unlock her memories in an effort to heal the trauma. Davis gradually discovers Perreau may have actually seen another person commit the crime. When Sothern gets wind of this, she becomes distressed, and sets out to silence Perreau. At its core, this is a dark and rather disturbing film. In addition to a sordid affair involving sisters that results in murder and a wrongful conviction, the primary source of tension for the remainder of the story is Sothern’s attempts to kill a child. However, within that dark framework, the film actually offers no real surprises and only has a couple of suspenseful moments. Most of the film is devoted to Davis’ efforts to learn the truth by getting Perreau to recall what transpired the night of the murder. Fortunately, the on-screen chemistry between Davis and Perreau is strong and keeps things interesting, with Perreau in particular, giving a compelling performance as the traumatized child. Sothern’s role is an interesting one, because she doesn’t start out as a bad person. Killing her sister wasn’t her original intent, and after Scott is convicted, she even contemplates confessing, but the prospect of dying in the electric chair is more than she can handle, so to maintain her freedom, she suddenly finds herself desperately trying to murder a child. Ultimately, it’s Sothern’s frighteningly believable journey into the depths of such unthinkable desperation that is so disturbing. Shadow on the Wall is a dark and sobering thriller, and even though the story is rather predictable and doesn’t offer many thrills, it still makes for interesting viewing. Also, be sure to look for Barbara Billingsley in a small part as a maid early in the film. We give Shadow on the Wall 3 out of 5 fedoras.
Watch our video review of the classic noir film: THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), starring Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Alan Ladd, and Laird Cregar.
Happy birthday to director Andre de Toth, born May 15, 1913 in Mako, Csanad, Hungary, Austria-Hungary. de Toth earned a law degree from the Royal Hungarian University, but as a student, also wrote several plays that garnered high praise. This led to deeper involvement in the theater, where he became an actor during the early 1930s. Several years later, de Toth started working in Hungarian film as a writer, editor, assistant director, and occasional actor. By 1939, he was directing his own films, but when war broke out, he fled to England and worked as an assistant to producer/director Alexander Korda. In 1942, de Toth emigrated to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, where he embarked on a career in Hollywood. His first project was as assistant director on The Jungle Book (1942). The following year he directed his first American film, Passport to Suez (1943) with Eric Blore and Ann Savage. de Toth preferred films with a rough, gritty edge, so it’s not surprising he went on to direct several classic noir films: Dark Waters (1944) with Merle Oberon and Franchot Tone, Guest in the House (1944) (uncredited) with Anne Baxter and Ralph Bellamy, Pitfall (1948) with Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott, Crime Wave (1954) with Gene Nelson and Sterling Hayden, and Hidden Fear (1957) (also as writer) with John Payne. During the 1950s, de Toth primarily directed westerns, but perhaps his most well-known film, House of Wax (1953) with Vincent Price, also came from this period. House of Wax was one of the earliest 3D movies, yet de Toth was unable to appreciate the 3D effect because he only had one eye. de Toth spent the early 1960s directing several TV episodes along with a handful of films, but by the end of the decade, had essentially retired from film. de Toth was married seven times. One of his wives, from 1944 to 1952, was actress Veronica Lake, with whom he had two children. de Toth died from an aneurysm in 2002 at age 89.
Happy birthday to actor Charles McGraw, born May 10, 1914 in Des Moines, IA. With his unmistakable gravelly voice and jagged features, Charles McGraw had a long and prolific career in film and television that spanned four decades. His gruff demeanor was ideally suited to roles as thugs, military men, and cops, of which he played many. He began his film career in the early 1940s with parts in several war films, but it was his portrayal of a hit man in the classic noir film The Killers (1946) that got audiences to notice and made him a mainstay of film noir. McGraw went on to appear in more than a dozen more classic noir films: The Long Night (1947), Brute Force (1947) uncredited, The Gangster (1947), T-Men (1947), The Hunted (1948), Berlin Express (1948) uncredited, Border Incident (1949), The Threat (1949), Side Street (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), His Kind of Woman (1951), Roadblock (1951), The Narrow Margin (1952), Loophole (1954), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), and The Man in the Net (1959). McGraw played a gladiator trainer in Spartacus (1960), and later in his career, appeared in The Birds (1963), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Hang ‘Em High (1968), In Cold Blood (1967), and A Boy and His Dog (1975). On television, McGraw starred in the Adventures of the Falcon (1954-55) and made appearances in dozens of shows throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, including: Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 77 Sunset Strip, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke. McGraw died in a freak accident when he slipped and fell through a glass shower door in 1980. He was 66.
Released May 9, 1947: DESPERATE, starring Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, and Douglas Fowley. Directed by Anthony Mann (The Great Flamarion, Railroaded!, Border Incident). Raymond Burr hires an old schoolmate and truck driver (Steve Brodie) to transport some goods with his truck. What Brodie doesn’t know is that Burr is now the head of a small gang of criminals and his truck is going to be used in a warehouse robbery to transport stolen goods. On the night of the job, Brodie discovers the truth and tries to disrupt the heist by alerting a passing police officer. A gun battle breaks out and the officer is shot and killed. In the aftermath, Burr’s younger brother (Larry Nunn) is arrested and charged with murder. Infuriated by these developments, Burr orders Brodie to go to the police and falsely confess to the murder so Nunn will be released. When Brodie refuses, Burr calls the police with an anonymous tip implicating Brodie. He also threatens to harm Brodie’s newlywed wife (Audrey Long). Brodie gets to Long before Burr does, and they manage to hop a train out of town to escape both Burr and the law, setting in motion a protracted game of hide-and-seek across several states. This film is smartly paced, alternating moments of high suspense with relatively long stretches of calm, while gradually building the overall level of tension. Visually, the film contains some striking noir imagery, such as in Burr’s gangster hideout, and in the stairwell of an apartment building during the final showdown. These scenes are dominated by pitch-dark shadows that are finely etched by traces of light. Director Anthony Mann intensifies the distinctively menacing faces of Burr and his thugs (William Challee, Freddie Steele, Lee Frederick) by using light to chisel their most prominent features out of the darkness. In a dramatic tension-filled scene near the end of the film, Burr, Brodie, and Challee stare at each other in silence, while Mann uses a series of close-ups that alternate between each character’s face. The magnification increases with each cycle, eventually fixing on the eyes. One can’t help wondering if Sergio Leone might have been influenced by this scene many years later when shooting the final showdown in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966). Brodie and Long give admirable performances as the desperate young couple on the run, but it’s Raymond Burr who, in only his fourth film role, propels the movie forward with a convincingly intimidating portrayal of a vengeful thug. The film’s best scenes are definitely those that feature Burr. The film’s weakest point is the final showdown between Brodie and Burr, which is disappointingly unimaginative, especially when compared to some of the compelling situations and predicaments that preceded it. Overall, Desperate is a competent noir film, neither spectacular nor terrible, that is bolstered by some magnificent visuals and a formidable performance by Raymond Burr. We give Desperate 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.