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This movie is about a reporter and his photographer wife who
accidentally become involved with a vicious gang of modern day cattle
rustlers! Oddly, this gang is more like organized crime and the couple
see a potential story if they can infiltrate them. The trouble is, and
this makes the film a bit silly, is that the leaders of the gang know
who they are--so taking up with some of their lower level gang members
seemed awfully risky and was destined to be discovered. Still, the
story was moderately interesting.
This film can be found on the DVD "Forgotten Noir Double Feature Vol. 5: FBI Girl / Tough Assignment". FBI GIRL and TOUGH ASSIGNMENT were made by Lippert Productions, a small-time Hollywood film company. Unlike FBI GIRL, TOUGH ASSIGNMENT looked very low budget and cheap. It also suffered from sub-par writing, as the film oddly couldn't decide if it wanted to be a serious crime drama or a comedy--as it had BOTH in the film! That's because veteran low-budget comedian Sid Melton ("Alf Monroe" from GREEN ACRES) is one of the gang members--though anyone with half a brain would question this. He's very small, makes wise-cracks and one-liners CONSTANTLY and seems about as threatening as a cheeze puff!! Why they stuck this guy in what should have been a hard-bitten crime drama is beyond me--and this makes the film just another B-picture.
Tough Assignment (1949)
Did They Hurt You? That's the General Idea, Sweetheart
Oh, I know I shouldn't expect much from some of these second-rate crime films. But the dialog is so forced from scene one, and there are little clumsy things like a car turning into a driveway behind some trees and a moment later the evil car following them knowing exactly where they went even though we can tell they couldn't have seen. Or the man grabbing the film from the woman in her kitchen darkroom and we can tell it's already got pictures on it before it's been developed. Or the action happening at night and it's daylight out the window (around 42 minutes in if you don't believe me).
But wait, this is pretty cool--an amateur female photographer accidentally getting a picture of some criminals (eat your heart out Mr. Antonioni). In this early vision of suburbia, it gets rough fast, so by six minutes into it, the slightly bumbling reporter/husband is knocked out by some thugs and his wife has been assaulted in her own kitchen closet. Such is Don and Margie Reilly's first few moments as the lead couple, played by Don Barry and Marjorie Steele. This is no noir film, but just the insertion of big city mobster thugs entering the sweet safety of this little ranch with a lawn is great. And then, in the next few scenes, it gradually turns into a kind of western, with cowboys of a modern sort, and cattle rustling.
So is this a throwaway? Not really, besides being a little fun, something interesting happens in a film about crime that isn't highly stylized or slick. On the one hand we know it's clumsy, and we know it's a mediocre movie. But on the other hand, once we accept the falseness, we know we are within a more real world...the thugs seem like more normal thugs and therefore are more likely thugs. A "bootleg meat" racket could really operate like this, and some very ordinary people (you, me) could get hurt on the fringes, just as the Reilly's are in danger of being hurt.
Now, I'm being a little Pollyanna, for sure. The comic element is just awkward and, well, lighthearted, in the most condemning sense. And Sid Melton? Ugh. He's so unfunny he ruins the lighter touch of some of the other lines. He does have a few B-movie laughs. "Girls make the most fickle women there is." Not that any of it works if you take it seriously, really. The parts of the film that succeed are the more conventional bad guy stuff, and the sweet interactions of our little known lead couple. And right before the end, there is a terrific montage of newspaper headlines and double exposed close-ups of the thugs. The very end? Another putdown for women--her camera is taken away from her and we are supposed to laugh.
A nifty little-budget modern western. Barry and girl friend infiltrate a gang of cattle rustlers, using trucks instead of horses. Melton is good as comic relief. Made when Barry was trying to make the transition from western star to dramatics.
Cowboy star Don Barry does not entirely forsake the wide open spaces as
he plays a newlywed reporter who has a story fall into his lap as his
wife Margia Steele takes a picture accidentally of some thugs leaving a
butcher shop after roughing up the owner. They invade home and hearth
of Barry and Steele to get the telltale photograph before it's
It'a a one in a million shot that Barry just happens to be a reporter, but even newlywed domestic bliss doesn't deter him from his reporter's instincts. They go undercover to the ranch where the source of the rustling is.
That's what it is, plain and simple, cattle rustling like you've seen in hundreds of B westerns. But here it has a modern twist. The gang has several branches, the rustlers who use a ranch as a front for the cattle they steal. A slaughterhouse which we never see, but obviously has to be there. Finally on the city's mean streets, thugs are strong arming butcher's to take their uninspected meat just like in the days of Prohibition.
The movie moves quickly, but the story isn't well plotted out. And for comic purposes they have Sid Melton as a not too bright crook on the cattle ranch end with his 'girl' Iris Adrian who is two timing him with Marc Lawrence. Barry and Steele play Melton like a piccolo.
Though their places in the film are rather forced, I'm glad Adrian and Melton are there. They lend a bit of humor to an otherwise tedious noir film.
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