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The credentials for a superb Noir are all there: Glenn Ford has been
one of the most convincing (and still strangely unsung) anti-heroes
American cinema has produced. The wonderful opening sequence (in which
Ford escapes both the police and the mob) is as minimalistic ally
brilliant as the seemingly tight budget would have allowed. Yet after
only a short while the film's tone changes radically: sweeter music,
romantic comedy and a (however underplayed) Christmas tear-jerker
emerge from what promised to be a crisp, economic little masterpiece.
I'm not saying the uneven pacing ruin the film completely but my suspicion is, looking at the credits (no, I don't mean the cast which features a wonderfully noir-ish array of characters: Evelyn Keyes, John Ireland, Ted de Corsia) there are TWO directors (one made good noirs with Ford, the other made Rat Pack flicks with Sinatra, Davis Jr, Martin et al), TWO directors of photography...
For what it's worth my guess is the producer got cold feet and hired a second director to save (a lame comedy? a routine noir?) a product he wasn't very happy with. He probably made a mistake...
The ingredients are all there for a superb Christmas holiday classic,
but Mr. Soft Touch somehow fails to measure up. It could be because two
directors with two different visions if any, Gordon Douglas and Henry
Levin got assigned to this film from Columbia.
The film starts out with the same premise as Angels With Dirty Faces. Glenn Ford is a former nightclub owner who while serving in World War II was done out of his share of the club by the mob. Unlike James Cagney who expected to move back into partnership with Humphrey Bogart and George Bancroft, Ford's a bit more realistic than that. He just robs the place and he's got both the law and Ted DeCorsia and assorted hoods looking for him.
Circumstances manage to place Ford in a settlement house in San Francisco where Evelyn Keyes takes an interest in him. He actually starts to help out around the place and spreads just a bit of that hundred grand he robbed from the mob. But Keyes who can't help falling for Glenn and her boss Beulah Bondi know he's trouble.
Mr. Soft Touch is not a bad film, but it could have been a holiday classic, it goes wide of the mark with some bad direction. Or maybe no direction, could happen with two directors. The most interesting character in the film is John Ireland who plays a sleazy tabloid columnist, but a man with an impeccable nose for news and trouble.
Glenn Ford's fans should like Mr. Soft Touch and Evelyn Keyes is absolutely radiant as the social worker. They teamed a few times as well for Columbia, but never got the acclaim that Ford did with Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Of course Mr. Soft Touch isn't Gilda.
A war hero returns from the service and winds up stealing his own money
back from the mob in "Mr. Soft Touch," a 1949 film starring Glenn Ford,
Evelyn Keyes, John Ireland, and Ted de Corsa.
Ford plays Joe Miracle (shortened from his Polish name) who comes home before Christmas and finds out his partner in a club has been murdered by the mob, and the mob has taken his money. Joe retaliates by breaking into the club and stealing $100,000 from the safe. With everyone looking for him, Joe has a friend buy him a ticket to Japan, but the ticket is for a later date. So he takes off and enters a settlement house run by Jenny Jones (Evelyn Keyes). Jenny thinks Joe is a musician down on his luck. Meanwhile, a newspaper columnist who knows what happened wants Joe's story and is trying to track him down. In writing about Joe, the mob picks up his trail.
Given the cast, Mr. Soft Touch was obviously intended to be a noir but turns into kind of a Christmas romance with comic aspects. For some reason it failed to hold my interest, even though I love Glenn Ford. The acting was good all around, but I preferred the beginning noir and wish it had stayed on that route. The original director was replaced, possibly to change the direction of the movie.
Someone on this board mentioned that John Garfield would have been better in this role. He would have been very good as he always was, but he and Ford were different kinds of types and actors. Garfield looked and acted tough, and Glenn Ford was Everyman. I think his casting in this is the better choice. Joe is a likable, nice guy who was ripped off by the mob while he was off serving his country. Glenn Ford didn't have Garfield's range, but in the right role, he was very effective. And, I might add, easy on the eyes.
"Mr. Soft Touch" is an odd sort of film. It's like merging a film noir
movie with a schmaltzy family film--and the results are far from great.
Now I am not saying it's a bad picture--but it could have easily been a
lot better--mostly because of its saccharine script.
The film begins with Glenn Ford on the run. It seems he held up a nightclub and stole $100,000. But was it exactly stealing? It seems that the club had belonged to Ford but while he was off fighting in the war, it was stolen out from under him. So, the money is just payback for what was rightfully his--at least in his mind. The problem is that the mobsters who now run the place are not about to let him get away with it...and Ford needs to get out of the country ASAP.
Now here is where it gets bizarre. His boat doesn't leave for a day so Ford tries to get himself locked up for the night--as he figures at least he'll be safe. But a do-gooder social worker feels sorry for him and gets the police to agree to release him to her program--something Ford really doesn't want. And, after a while, Ford's tough-guy persona is slowly eroded as he starts to think of others and care about the people in this Salvation Army-like setting. What's next? Well, it is predictable but a bit ridiculous--so watch it if you are really, really curious. I wouldn't.
Ford's character is a bizarre enigma. He's supposed to be tough and nasty--and he's good at that. But later, he's supposed to be a softy--and this just never range true. Nor, for that matter, did the script.
Here is a strange movie. Depending on what part you are tuned into, you
may be watching a gangster movie with vintage Depression-era wise-guy
chatter, or a heart-touching true-meaning-of-Christmas film, or a comic
variation on a "Crazy House"-type theme, featuring scenes with
eccentric characters pontificating weirdly. Then I saw that there were
two directors, so maybe that is why the film shifts so much.
Not that it is bad. On the contrary, "Mr. Soft Touch" is quite an entertaining movie, with a fast-paced script that barely ever pauses to catch its breath. The reason this film works for me is that Glenn Ford so easily slides from film-noir to romance to comedy and back and forth again. A very interesting role for Glenn, perhaps inadvertently given a chance here to show how versatile he could be.
Evelyn Keyes plays an interesting character as well. It is unusual for a film made in what was still the 1940's to feature a character who so openly refers to, and sometimes uses manipulatively, a handicap such as deafness; the references to the hearing aid may make a modern viewer a little uncomfortable.
The only character who seems out of place is John Irelands's crusading reporter. He wears a pair of dark-framed, "please don't hit me" glasses, which don't seem right for some reason. His character is perhaps a good guy, perhaps not; we never really find out, and in the end, neither we nor the directors seemed to care. Just not sure how he really fits in.
From a social standpoint, "Mr. Soft Touch" presents an up-close and intimate look at private charity in the days before the government took over that role. We get a chance to spend quality time with those caring souls who fought tirelessly against an endless shortage of money and supplies, and who believed that it was worth helping people, even if it was only one person at a time. No one in this movie whines about getting a check from the government.
The bottom line, then, is that you have a film that is part "Little Caesar", part "Its a Wonderful Life", part "Bowery Boys", and part "You Can't Take it with You". If you accept the genre-changes that occur haphazardly throughout the film as all part of the fun, then you can have yourself an enjoyable hour and a half in the company of "Mr. Soft Touch".
Reworking of an old John Garfield film, with some of the same cast, this slight drama tells the story of a guy (Ford) on the run with stolen loot who ends up in a settlement house. There he learns a few things about life and himself. He falls for a woman (Keyes) who works there and has taken pity on him, thinking he is a down and out musician. A reporter (Ireland) discovers his true identity, which leads to gangsters pursuing him and causing no end of trouble. Ford is OK, but Garfield was much more convincing in an almost identical role. Keyes is simply window dressing. This kind of film was very popular in the 1930s, but pretty passe by the late 1940s. Columbia or whomever probably was looking over some old movie scripts and decided to dust this one off and make it the bottom half of a double bill.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Glenn Ford is Joe Miracle (nee with some Polish jawbreaker of a real
name). He returns from the war to find that a gangster, the ever
reliable Roman Bohnen, assisted by his even more ever-reliable
coffee-grinder-voiced henchman, Ted DeCorsia, have killed his partner
and stolen the money from the night club Ford and his partner owned.
Ford, quite naturally, steals it back and the gangsters are after him. Ford finds sanctuary in a settlement house run by Evelyn Keyes for indigents and neighborhood kids. Keyes mistakes Ford for a bum and puts him up in the upstairs flophouse in a bunk with shredded sheets and blankets. Ford must have these indignities visited upon him for the few days until his ship leaves for a foreign port.
Guess what happens. He outwits the gangsters and Ford and Keyes fall in love and Ford, dressed as Santa Claus, uses the money to refurbish the settlement house with new mattresses, sheets, hot and cold running maids, and everything else until it looks like the Burj El Arab Hotel in Dubai. Everybody lives happily ever after except those who don't deserve it.
The Depression-era script seems to have been taken out of some unused filing cabinet and dusted off. It may have been rejected at some time earlier by Frank Capra as too sappy for his attention. The "kids" in the settlement are derived from "Dead End", with their oddball features and funny hats. One of them wears a beanie -- in 1949. They try to teach the supposed novice Ford how to shoot dice, and they lose to their surprise. The shtick was done better in an Abbot and Costello movie in 1941. But the kids simply serve as an index of how much care has gone into the production, which is to say not much.
Actually, the beginning, which has the police in pursuit of Ford through the neighborhoods of San Francisco has some rather promising crime-drama elements. The location is unmistakable, the Bay Bridge prominently featured. But then, for some reason, the sense of place disappears and the city becomes studio bound and utterly fictional. Several addresses are mentioned in the script. A movie-obsessed fan Googled them and none of the streets exist in San Francisco. (There is a brief glimpse of a street sign identifying the real Valencia.) Not that the city is ever named, but it it had been, it would have been called something like "Central City", as was the thinly disguised Los Angeles in "The Street With No Name." Something generic, you know? Glenn Ford goes through the movie looking intense. He always looks intense. Even when he's comically cheating "the kids" out of their change during the game of craps, you can't tell the scene is supposed to be funny. I have no idea why he adopted this stern and unamused stance. He had a considerable comedic talent that he displayed in later roles.
Overall, it's dull, silly, and predictable, a cross between film noir and Capraesque comedy, and a not an especially easy one to bear. The "soft touch" of the title has shaped the entire production.
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