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An altruistic department-store owner hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store.
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Scott Brady is framed and needs help from Peggy Dow and Bruce Bennett
When will a film noir devotee examine William Castle's directing in detail and elevate his standing in film noir history and, sans noir, directing history in general? His role as producer is nothing to sneeze at either.
Compared to today's average quality of story-telling, which is what a movie is all about, Castle's work stands very tall.
This praise is elicited by watching "Undertow" (1949) again last night. This used to be on VHS and now is on a tcm vault copy looking excellent. It's a treasure. It's so easy for casual reviewers to dismiss a movie like this as a minor noir or not a classic or not a major film or simply a b-film or plot-driven or some other attitude like these. But this "smaller" film and others like it are gems, and they stand out well after 65 years and stand out against today's average products. Not every gem has to be a major film.
Castle introduces many touches that make this film so good, and at least some of these do pop up in the reviews of others who are more reluctant to come right out and say that Castle was a fine director. People cannot seem to forgive him for his promotional gimmicks.
The on location photography (Reno and Chicago) is copious and mixed skillfully with some process shots. The script is a tight 72 minutes and presents a satisfying story of making Brady the fall guy. The Chicago setting brings in a big black guy as a critical character, and that's done very well. Chicago has a large black population and the role that this man (Daniel Ferniel) has is realistic. He's very loyal to his white mob boss who has been murdered. He's not needlessly or psychopathically violent. He shows really gentle emotions at one point, but he's still determined to punish his boss's murderer. He feels deeply about it. This is no typical Hollywood black servant type, even if his job is a menial one. This story element is extremely successful.
The film is well-photographed and meaningfully relates to Brady's being trapped. He's in the open and free starting in Reno, but after meeting John Russell, they enter a casino managed by Russell and it seems to function as a potential trap as compared with his dream of settling at a lodge in the Sierras. In Chicago, his freedom doesn't ever get off the ground. He's met at the airplane by several detectives, including an old friend Bruce Bennett. Later, Brady is being tailed by police and makes an escape via the stairways on the Chicago elevated train. He walks along Wabash Avenue while being tailed, in the open but not free of those spying on him. When he is framed, he's blindfolded and led down a long corridor. Later police pursue him at night through a confined factory or mill of some sort with machinery and a conveyor belt going. He runs down a narrowly railed passage. When he meets the woman he wants to marry (Dorothy Hart) near the Aquarium in the distance, they talk furtively in a below ground passage.
There is cohesion in this film, an integral approach to the story. The way in which the story is told by Castle in film complements the story's content and vice versa.
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