C-Man

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.  C-ManWhile 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.

3 Fedoras

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