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|Index||15 reviews in total|
HIGHWAY 301 is a tautly directed and very well-acted B-level gangster
picture from the days when double features were the mainstay of local movie
houses. It might be interesting to know which bigger-budget movie it once
accompanied, but as it stands, HIGHWAY 301 is one gripping
After stentorian drones from no less than three state governors, Edmon Ryan, who plays Sgt. Truscott, continues to narrate the film. It's a superfluous feature of the film, mostly telling us what we are seeing, but at least Ryan has an actor's flair for reading. And none of that matters once the film's first scene kicks into gear: a brazen bank robbery involving a lot of extras and plenty of action. The film then goes on to introduce the main players. Unlike lesser B-pictures, these introductions are done mainly through showing the characters in action, nearly always a surefire method. We see Steve Cochran as George Legenza, leader of the criminal gang, barking orders to his subordinates. Never has Cochran been so callous, so hard-boiled in his projection of character. The look he gives those who transgress against him is downright chilling. Also impressive is the very young Robert Webber, who would go on to play opposite the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, as the ill-fated driver for the thugs. Females in this 1950 film are mainly subservient, with the occasional exception of the never-disappointing and still beautiful Virginia Grey. Her radio soap opera-obsessed gun moll gets to spout a few good cracks in retort to Cochran's jibes. And look for John McGuire (the hero, in 1940, of STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR) as a police lieutenant.
This film has several extremely tense, enthralling sequences. It's shot in moody black and white, and the underrated William Lava's score punches up the action at every opportunity. After languishing in obscurity for decades, HIGHWAY 301 richly deserves restoration and video distribution.
HIGHWAY 301 is a rip-roaring Warner Brothers return to their
hard-hitting early 1930s gangster cycle complete with a "Crime Does Not
Pay" prologue delivered by the governors of the three states the events
take place in. Filmed in a semi-documentary style with sporadic
voice-over narration, the tale is based on "cold, hard fact" and is
surprisingly sadistic -which could be the reason why I never saw it on
TV growing up. Like many good crime melodramas, H301 opens with a bank
robbery and follows the gang and their molls as they live life on the
run and I was reminded of 1967's BONNIE & CLYDE in its depiction of a
"family" of outlaws contending with pressures from within as they're
relentlessly pursued by the long arm of the law. The brutally handsome
Steve Cochran dominates his surroundings as the flint-eyed, heartless,
"take-no-prisoners" leader of the "Tri-State Gang" who can calmly kill
at the drop of a fedora and Robert Webber and newcomer Gaby Andre
(whatever happened to her?) are believable as a young con and his naive
bride in over their heads. Familiar face Virginia Grey scores as a
radio-addicted dame who knows the score and the reliable Eddie Norris
and Richard Egan are also on hand in small roles. The director, Andrew
Stone, wrote the never-a-dull-moment script and, in addition to the
solid direction and "A" production values only a major studio can
provide, the violence directed at women and the high body count made
this fast-paced police procedural a slick "shocker" for its day and it
still packs a punch. Warners also made WHITE HEAT, KISS TOMORROW
GOODBYE (both with James Cagney), and THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (again with
bad boy Cochran) around the same time. Highly recommended for fans of
this type of film -and you know who you are.
"Several good suspense sequences, some good comic observation, and many pleasing visual moments of the wet-streets-at-night category." -"Punch"
The heart sinks when Highway 301 opens as the governors of three states bore us blind with pompous crime-does-not-pay speeches, one after the other. (It was 1950, and before we had a good time we had to be morally reassured.) Luckily, things pick up quickly in this modest but very well done look at life on the lam. A gang of bank-and-payroll robbers is terrorizing North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland; its leader (Steve Cochran) is especially vicious, and seems to take particular delight in bumping off women who cross him. One of them (Virginia Grey) gets bumped off much too early, as her sassy mouth is one of the best things in the movie. Another is the French-Canadian girlfriend (Gaby Andre) of another gangster, who only slowly comes to realize that she's fallen in with a den a theives ("duh?"). The tensest sequence in the movie occurs when Cochran is stalking her, by night, in the streets of Richmond, Virginia. The concluding scene, in a hospital, is almost as good. Again, by no means a vital installment in the noir canon, but quite professional and engaging.
I saw this very exciting and fast paced gangster movie over 50 years ago and remember it fondly to this very day. I even remember the theater I saw it in on a Saturday matinée. It kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end and the action never lets up. It's a classic Steve Cochran performance. A real bad apple with no redeeming qualities. Andrew L. Stone directed which is really no surprise because he specialized in action and suspense films which don't allow the viewer to take a deep breath such as the Last Voyage, Cry Terror and Blueprint for Murder. This is the kind of cops and robbers film that they don't make any more.
Highway 301 is written and directed by Andrew L. Stone. It stars Steve
Cochran, Virginia Grey, Gaby André and Edmond Ryan. Music is by William
Lava and photography by Carl Guthrie. Story is based on a real gang of
robbers known as The Tri-State Gang, who terrorised and thieved in
North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Plot chronicles their activities
and the pursuit of them by the authorities.
It opens with a trio of state governors cringe worthily pumping up the hard sell, for what we know is going to be a "crime doesn't not pay" message movie. I half expected the Star Spangled Banner to come booming out the speakers and an FBI version of Uncle Sam to flash on the screen telling us to come join the Crime Stoppers! Thankfully, once the cringe stops the film kicks in with a ruthless bank robbery and never looks back from that moment.
Led by cold blooded George Legenza (Cochran), this gang don't wear masks, they are ruthless but not beyond error, and tagging along are molls who are either oblivious to the gang's activities - fully complicit - or ignorant. It's a pressure cooker dynamic and as we soon find out, women are not going to be treated well here at all, if they are in the way or a threat to safety, they will cop it. Highway 301 is a violent film with some cold characterisations, and there may even be a subtle homosexual relationship between two of the gang members.
Andrew Stone's direction is tight and in tune with the jagged edges of his characters, with barely a filler shot used in the whole running time, while his scene structure for dramatic impacts work very well. Refreshingly there are no cheat cut-aways either. His cast are on form, with Cochran looming large with an intense and thoroughly dislikable portrayal leading the way, while Guthrie photographs with shadows prominent and a couple of night time street scenes that are visually noirish. Unfortunately Stone's screenplay hasn't the time to put depth into the principal players, the gang are bad and greedy, the women scratching around for purpose or brains, but that's all we know. It's the one flaw in an otherwise great crime movie. 8/10
The criminal exploits of a small group of gangsters working in the Maryland/Virginia/North Carolina area. The docudrama subgenre of noir tends to produce few masterpieces and a lot of mediocrities. This one is closer to mediocrity, but has a few worthwhile assets. The intro, with "crime does not pay" lectures by the governors of the three states, sets the self-righteous, judgemental tone for the film's narration and messages. The story follows a standard formula, with early successes by the gang followed by the net of the law gradually closing around them and forcing their hand. The characterizations are fun but one-note. Steve Cochran in the lead has an edgy brutality but not much else. However, the action sequences are well done, and there is one nail-biting, suspenseful scene as one of the gangster's gals tries to escape. The photography is quite nice as well, at least during the gloomy night scenes.
A gang of well-dressed armed robbers, unimaginatively dubbed the Tri-State Outfit by police, go on a crime spree across three states. The opening bit with the real governors of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina giving speeches about law & order will have you rolling your eyes. But stay with this one because it does get better. Steve Cochran is great as the cold-blooded leader of the gang. Robert Webber, Wally Cassell, and Richard Egan are among the other familiar faces in the cast. Lovely actresses Virginia Grey, Gaby André, and Aline Towne pretty things up as molls. Grey's character is a radio junkie, which leads to some funny moments. I liked the location scenery and the cars, fashions, and architecture of the period. It's a well-paced B crime picture with lots of grit and some atmosphere. Cheesy at times and never anything deep but it is solid entertainment. Were it not for the corny "crime does not pay" messages, this one would probably be more well-known and liked.
Most of the comments praising and criticizing "Highway 301" in earlier
reviews are accurate. I'll add my two cents.
The IMDb plot summary that describes Cochran's character as "psychotic" is wrong. There is not a single instance of any psychosis in the man. He's often cold, callous, calculating, confident and vicious, but he's not having any delusions.
The movie is entertaining. It has quite a few night sequences filmed in film noir fashion, and there is a reasonable degree of suspense. The story itself is, however, a gangster story told with some police narration. The picture is nowhere near being a "White Heat", a "High Sierra" or a "I Died a Thousand Times". On the other hand, its point of view, which is mainly to depict the gang and their lives in an unromanticized and often brutal way, lends a noir character to the film that makes it very different from a 1930s gangster film. The central figure in the film is Steve Cochran and he's vicious when someone stands in his way or threatens to unravel his gang and lead to his apprehension.
A criminal gang gains a cross-state reputation for big-time robberies.
Looks like Warner Bros. was trying to repeat the success of White Heat (1949) from the year before. This movie's got plenty of action, plus snarling bad guy Cochran, and a capable cast even if stuck in one-dimensional roles. All in all, it's a decent slice of thick-ear, but a long way from a classic like Heat. Trouble here is that the staging goes from location style realism in the first half to studio bound noir in the second, a rather awkward adjustment. On one hand, I suspect the first half was to underline the prologue of the three state governors. On the other, noir is clearly artifice and calls attention to mood as well as story.
Then too, French import Andre's role grafts on like a studio effort at career promotion. She does okay, but the role is like an add-on. And dare I say it, but the climax is way overdrawn, as if they're intent on milking the situation dry. After all, impact doesn't have to depend on length. None of this is to deny the many moments of real suspense that dot the movie as a whole. I especially like the cat and mouse between cop Ryan and gang girl Grey. It's a peach of acting and scripting.
It's also probably worth noting that the epilogue is harshly law and order, at a time when Hollywood's social direction was largely reformist, e.g. Caged (1950), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1953). Anyway, if you don't mind your gunfire and melodramatics slathered on, this is a movie to catch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will always have fond memories of Steve Cochran's portrayal of the
scheming but doomed "Big Ed" in Raoul Walsh's classic "White Heat".
Cochran gets to play the brutal lead gangster in "Highway 301". I wonder how much Cochran absorbed watching Cagney play the criminally insane "Cody Jarrett". Cochrane has a brutally handsome sinister face, but not much else. To be fair to Cochran, the script is hardly of the caliber of "White Heat". Steve is one mean son of a gun here -- he seems to get a real kick out of murdering women and bank guards. But whereas Cagney's performance in "White Heat" is a fleshed-out fully alive personality, Cochran's Legenza is a cardboard villain whose sadism is never explained.
There are some good moments. Director Stone crafts a scene that is worthy of Hitchcock (and no doubt inspired by the Master) when Gaby Andre's character uses a piece of paper and a hairpin to unwedge a key, drop it onto the paper and slide it over to her side of the door. It doesn't sound like much on paper -- but the editing is well done and the scene becomes that overused term "Hitchcockian".
Cochran's death is fairly hideous, a brutal affair involving a freight train, but the scene only reminds me of how great Cagney was on "top of the world'.
If you can get past the slow opening with three fine governors from the states bordering "Highway 301" (this film is supposedly based on a true story) pontificating about what a wonderful film you are about to see, you are in for a rough brutal ride.
Actually, thinking of Cochran, he was fairly effective as "Big Ed" in "White Heat". Even though we have seen his character in a love affair with Cody's wife Verna, there is still a curious admiration for this young gangster when he declares to Verna that he must take a stand against Cody Jarrett. As I said, had the script been better, Cochran could have done something more interesting on "Highway 301".
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