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Con-man John Payne hooks Joan Caulfield and gets hooked
There is no film noir starring John Payne that cannot be watched again and again with increasing pleasure. Think "Larceny" (1948), "The Crooked Way" (1949), "Kansas City Confidential" (1952), "99 River Street" (1953), "Hell's Island" (1955), "Slightly Scarlet" (1956), "The Boss" (1956), and "Hidden Fear" (1957). I expect the same of "The Saxon Charm" (1948), which is on my to-see list. Payne looks imposing, but he's often vulnerable and placed in situations where he's vulnerable. He looks serious mostly, but he conveys a certain mordant quality, even directed at himself. He delivers hard-boiled dialogue as if he were inventing it on the spot and meant it. He's always on the move, working to extricate himself, or advance his interest against other forces. His roles are typically dynamic. And the man is likable. The stories are strong. All of this makes repeated viewing a natural.
"Larceny" is way ahead of "The Sting" (1973), "House of Games" (1987), and "The Grifters" (1990) in showing how con-men acting in teams can thoroughly persuade their marks, involve them in some scheme, and walk off with their money. The team in this case has Dan Duryea as its leader. Richard Rober is the strong man who does such chores as following Payne and transporting Duryea's moll, Shelley Winters, to the airport. Payne is the smooth operator who works in tandem with Duryea to put across the swindle. Dan O'Herlihy is the indispensable fake lawyer, or real estate agent or accountant who adds a seemingly independent veneer of respectability and endorsement to a scheme.
What can go wrong? Plenty. Winters and Payne are playing around behind Duryea's back, and she's a stick of dynamite. Duryea is suspicious. They have a new scheme to swindle the rich people of Mission City, with Joan Caulfield, the war widow, as the linchpin. Payne assumes the role of a wartime buddy of her husband, but he seems to be softening up with her. Maybe, because his flirtations with Dorothy Hart and Patricia Alphin, also seem genuine. Winters has secretly followed the gang out to California instead of boarding a plane to Cuba. She wants Payne badly. Caulfield has decided to finance the entire venture (a boys club) herself, rather than solicit contributions from the town's wealthy. Payne thinks that should scotch the deal, but Duryea doesn't. Their conman brains and schemes shift into high gear.
Universal or whoever hasn't seen fit yet to produce a DVD of any kind, remastered or not, of this very good noir. You'll have to seek it out in the collector's market.
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