|Index||7 reviews in total|
BUNCO SQUAD concerns the efforts of a young policeman to protect a rich widow from a gang of fake spiritualists. This well made B programmer boasts good production values and a brisk pace. Chief among the competent cast is Ricardo Cortez doing his usual best as slick villain, and a small supporting role by Dante the Magician. Attractive locations and such details as 1940's streamlined cars make this film a nice small surprise.
I almost always enjoy "B" movies of the crime genre. They rarely run more than 65 minutes and don't waste time trying to develop detailed and boring character development. This fast paced film had everything from fast car crashes to gunplay. And, BTW, in all of his films, did Ricardo Cortez ever play any type of role other than a criminal? Gunner
You've got to hand it to post-war RKO-- they really knew how to turn out fast, efficient little crime dramas. Nothing special here, except a good look at LA locations circa 1950 and Detroit's all-time ugliest carthe "inverted bathtub" Nash sedan. Ricardo Cortez makes an excellent smoothie conning gullible women out of their fortunes. However, the phony medium set-up comes across as something of a stretch, but does lend needed atmosphere. Also, having cutie Joan Dixon play an actress allows for some clever "movie within a movie" set-ups; at the same time, the very last line sounds like an inspiration of the moment that was allowed to stand. Note too that usual bad guy Doug Fowley gets to work the other side of the law, and in a crime drama, no less. Still and all, I wish the screenplay had gotten more imaginative by using tricks from magician Dante to foil the crooks, instead of two guys in black beating up a crook in the dark, which may make an interesting visual effect, but makes no plot sense. Anyhow it's a good, fast hour of programming that shows again how well RKO could fill up a double-bill at the local theatre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The bunco squad deals with confidence tricksters and fraudsters. In
this movie they are trying to bring down a big time phoney fortune
telling racket. Robert Sterling was just finding his feet in better
films ("Two Faced Woman" (1941) and "Johnny Eager" (1942)) when the war
intervened and by the time he returned he was never able to regain his
footing. Perhaps he was too much like William Lundigan. After a couple
of roles in films like "Bunco Squad" he turned to television where he
was in great demand. "Bunco Squad" was also one of Ricardo Cortez's
last appearances. He had a fantastic career going back to the silents,
where he was the only actor whose name appeared above Garbo's in a
film. He never gave a bad performance.
Anthony Wells (Ricardo Cortez, doing what he does best!!!) is trying to get friendly with a rich widow, Mrs. Royce (Elisabeth Risdon), who is still grieving for her son Phillip, who was killed in the war. He tries through her secretary Barbara Madison (Marguerite Churchill) who is unaware of his connections. When she tries to warn the police - her car is in a mysterious accident and she is killed.
He brings in all his phoney fortune telling friends and they get to work on Mrs. Royce's friends and servants who fill them in on Phillip's young life. When Mrs Royce visits Princess Liane (Bernadene Hayes) she is able to tell Mrs Royce little stories about her son that the widow thought were known only to her. When persons unknown, tamper with Det. Steve Johnson's brakes, he sends his long suffering girlfriend, Grace Bradshaw, undercover. She is an actress and her assignment is to pose as a phoney medium to lure the other "fakes" into a trap. Grace was played by the lovely Joan Dixon, in her first film appearance - unfortunately, she didn't make many more!!!
I quite liked this movie - it is all about phoney fortune tellers - not the usual cops and robbers story. Dante the Great was a genuine magician who made an appearance as himself, in order to instruct Grace in the art of being a medium!!!
Dull lead Robert Sterling plays the dully named detective "Steve Johnson." He's in the title squad investigating a phony medium racket lead by Cortez, who is trying to bilk a believing widow out of her fortune. Dixon is actress fiancé of Johnson enlisted to act as a medium to help trap the phonies. Lots of brakelines get cut in this film (three times!) to try and kill off Johnson and others. Chase finale features the cliché car-crashing-over-the-cliff, but the stock footage of the crash features a totally different car from the one the villain drives. A short film, but routine and flat. It looks like something out of a fifties TV cop drama. The cast tries but is defeated by a script that gives them little characterization.
I watched an excellent print of "Bunco Squad" (1950) last night, and
liked it. Robert Sterling is a bunco squad detective whose job is to
put some kind of a lid on the efforts of fake mediums, numerologists,
crystal ball gazers, and those promising communication with the spirits
of the dead. On the side, he romances Joan Dixon, a movie starlet.
Eventually he finds a role for her as a police-devised medium, in order
to wean Elisabeth Risdon away from the "Rama Society" whose aim is that
she change her will and leave them $2 million. Douglas Fowley is
Sterling's sidekick. The Rama Society is a scheme devised and led by
Ricardo Cortez. We see in a lot of detail how the swindle is
established so as to gain Risdon's confidence. The initial trick is to
obtain information about her lost son, Phillip, and to feed it to her
in small doses as communication with him. Cortez has assembled a gang
of spiritualists, including Bernadene Hayes as "Princess Liane". John
Kellogg has several functions, including deadly methods. Marguerite
Churchill is Risdon's secretary who cannot persuade the elderly woman
that she's dealing with fakes. Dante the Magician helps Sterling
establish Dixon as a medium.
The story is told very efficiently and without pretense. It's well-acted. The location shooting and old cars add to the variety of con artists to impart a feeling of kookiness of the Los Angeles of that time. The plotting is very effective by weaving its various threads together so well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To the extent that this movie is apt at all, it fits Los Angeles better
than any other American city of the period. There was a certain
craziness about the place. There still is. It has hot dog stands in the
shape of hot dogs. It has motels with names like The Taj Mahal in the
shape of the Taj Mahal only painted day-glo purple. And I don't want to
think too hard about the Madonna Inn, which seems to be made entirely
of plastic spaghetti, lest my synapses fuse.
In the 1930s and 40s it was a land of spiritualism and cults, of which Amy Semple McPherson's Four Square Gospel was perhaps the best known. This movie is like a stretched-out episode of "Dragnet," with all-good police officers in pursuit of all-bad phony spiritualists who rig séances in order to bilk a rich, gullible old lady out of her fortune. Sadly it lacks the reassuring ritual quality of Dragnet's style of dialog and movement.
In this Zoroastrian world of black and white, Packards and Nashes career around curves in accelerated motion, the phones ring every ten minutes with important news, actresses are dragooned into plots to undo the evil-doers, and people speak in stereotypical lines that sound like they came directly from a screenplay.
Nobody is a good actor. You know what would have pepped this up? Just ONE performer with a modicum of talent -- say, Marie Windsor, as the fake medium. And -- oh, hell -- throw in Mantan Moreland for laughs.
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