Fireman Joe Martin comes to suspect that fires occurring in the warehouse and home of a furrier may have been deliberately set in order to cover thefts. He goes undercover, pretending to have been discharged from the fire department and appearing to ally himself with crooked insurance man Fred Fender, whom Joe suspects of being behind the arson ring. But Joe and his girlfriend Jane Jennings find themselves in over their heads. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
excellent Lippert crime programmer with Robert Lowery as an undercover arson investigator
Director William Berke knew how to deliver the goods in low-budget action films, crime films, westerns, and Jungle Jim vehicles. A fast-moving plot, a colorful and enthusiastic cast of veterans, interesting camera angles to cover what can't afford to be shot, clever little details to the characterizations and situations that make them seem realistic, and (mostly--not in the most hard-boiled films)a light touch to make the whole thing go down more smoothly (see my review of his 1935 David Sharpe short WILD WATERS). Looking at Mr. Berke's filmography, I've seen over 30 of his films and I've enjoyed every one of them! During his period working for Lippert Pictures, he made some excellent westerns and some fine detective-crime films with Hugh Beaumont (the Denny O'Brien series) and others (see my review of FBI GIRL, with Cesar Romero).This film stars the reliable and amiable Robert Lowery as a fire investigator who goes undercover to break the arson/insurance fraud ring led by Douglas Fowley, who is in great sneering form. In one scene, Berke has a low angle shot of Fowley barking orders to someone, and I thought to myself, "this is the model b-movie! These people KNOW what they are doing!" The fine cast also includes former Universal star Anne Gwynne as a schoolteacher who is moonlighting as a babysitter, and who becomes friends with Lowery. In the scene where they meet, Gwynne is grading papers on the dining room table while babysitting, and when Lowery chats her up and mentions that he did well in history class in school, she throws half of her pile of ungraded papers on the table in front of him and says "work on these!" Little touches like that make this film special. Marcia Mae Jones does a convincing job as Fowley's secretary, someone who is lonely and who is attracted to her boss while knowing what a sleaze he is, but Fowley knows she likes him and takes advantage of that fact. It's a dysfunctional relationship and it's played out very accurately. Once again, the kind of detail that makes this film special. Jones' facial expressions in the final scene in the car with Fowley are quite convincing also. There's a lot of action, and even though no viewer for a moment has any doubt how things will turn out at the end, the filmmakers manage to make it all seem fresh as it is happening, and by distinctive character touches and particulars in the script (the seedy backroom gambling den, for instance) they get us involved in a story that is so "Classic" in its details that the cynic could call it cliché-ridden. There are a number of b-movie gems hidden in the Lippert catalog waiting to be rediscovered. There's nothing noir about this film--Lowery is a hero, Fowley is the bad guy, and there's no grey area or corrupt world. It's just a well-done crime programmer that I pull out every few years and enjoy. Considering how many bad and pretentious films are playing right now on TV and in theaters, films like ARSON INC. are a breath of fresh air.
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