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Two interesting Fox 1937 "B" movies, both starring Brian Donlevy as a cab-driver, are available on a VintageFilmBuff DVD. The better of the two is Midnight Taxi, which has the advantage of a superior support cast in Alan Dinehart at his most menacingly stylish; Harold Huber sans ridiculous accent in one of his most convincing performances (yes, he does overact in one scene, but in that little bit he's supposed to be putting on an act); Gilbert Roland, who makes a surprisingly effective heavy; Sig Rumann, chillingly underplaying his unforgettable entrance; and Frances Drake as our charmingly crooked heroine. I was surprised to note the names Lon Chaney Jr, and Regis Toomey in the end credits. I hadn't noticed them at all, so I ran the movie again. They both play treasury men and in their scenes they are completely shaded by James Flavin and Norman Willis who enjoy just about all the dialogue, plus all the close-ups and all the action. Production values are remarkably high for a "B", and director Eugene Forde has taken advantage of this largess to snap up the pace and super-charge the action. Strikingly moody noirish photography from Barney McGill also helps. John Patrick and Lou Breslow take credit for the snappy script which also supplies some wonderfully vivid dialogue for masterful but little-known players like Harry Semels as the sleazy café proprietor who just manages to beat the rap.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Brian Donlevy is a fed working as a taxi driver to track down
Its a solid little movie filled with action and suspense. Its the sort of film that is so good you end up wondering why in the hell you've never seen it. Its a film that very much has the look and feel of the later film noirs, a fact that adds very much to the mood.
In all honesty the only reason I picked the film up was because of Donlevy. Boy am I glad I did. It was the perfect film to watch at night when you don't want to go to sleep but instead stay up all night seeing how it comes out.
1937's "Midnight Taxi" supplied Brian Donlevy with another starring role similar to "Half Angel," a federal agent, 'Chick' Gardner, posing as a cab driver to ferret out a dangerous counterfeit ring. The opening sequence is striking: a taxi forces another car off the road, its driver perishing in the flames, then the cabbie (Harold Huber) sends his own taxi down the same embankment, hurling himself after it to make it look like a tragic accident. We quickly learn that the dead driver was about to offer the feds some critical information, but was found out. Alan Dinehart makes a smooth villain, as does Gilbert Roland, but it's delightful to find gorgeous Frances Drake among them, her presence a welcome distraction for Roland (whose advances are firmly rejected) and Gardner (whose tough resolve makes an impression on her). Memorable turns come from Sig Ruman, Harry Semels, James Flavin, Otto Hoffman, and Zeffie Tilbury. As two federal detectives, Lon Chaney and Regis Toomey are a study in contrasts; Chaney is listed eighth out of ten, while Toomey is billed dead last, yet Lon's superfluous role as Erickson hardly registers (only two or three lines), while Toomey excels as Hilton, enjoying a standout scene in Donlevy's cab, disguised as an old woman before reporting the results back to headquarters. At this stage of Chaney's career, he had hopes that 20th Century-Fox would be using him extensively, but his two years there only resulted in an unbroken string of unbilled bits, few featured roles (his Fox farewell found him ignominiously listed 31st out of 31 in 1939's "Jesse James"). Despite such sterling results, Donlevy soon found himself moving down from leading men to supporting villains, particularly in the aforementioned "Jesse James" (he's the one who kills Jesse's mother).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a moderately entertaining crime drama starring Brian Donlevy as a federal agent who becomes cab driver and finds a counterfeiting racket going on within the industry. Some good lines make this fairly amusing, but it has a sense of familiarity to it that makes it rather pedestrian and predictable. Frances Drake is a rather cold leading lady named "Gilda" (giving the indication that she's somehow involved in the racket behind the scenes) while such character actors like Alan Dinehart, Sig Ruman and Lon Chaney Jr. (in an early role made before he became a "B" horror icon) are among the villains. Even at just over 70 minutes, this seems to go on just a bit too long. Action on the roads and waterways helps speed things up a little, but ultimately, this is one racket movie too many that I've had to endure, and unfortunately, there has been a lot better.
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