Desperate

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 Desperatetransport 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.

3.5 Fedoras

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