Danny Haley's bookie operation is shut down, so he and his pals need money; when Danny meets Arthur Winant, a sucker from out of town, he decoys him into a series of poker games where eventually Winant loses $5000 that isn't his...then hangs himself. But it seems Winant had a shadowy, protective elder brother who believes in personal revenge. And each of the card players in turn feels a faceless doom inexorably closing in. Dark streets and sexy torch-singer Fran lend ambience. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Good Crime Noir on Verge of Being Great; Good Cast and Direction
This film is crime noir since Danny Haley, its lead played admirably by Charlton Heston, in his first major Hollywood starring role is running an illegal bookie joint. The film, as no one else seems to have noticed, is about a man who because his British wife left him after the war and he is disillusioned by the military-industrial complex's fostering of postwar injustice, has taken up "hustling" instead of trying to play by the Establishment's rules. All throughout the movie, people keep blaming Danny for untrue things, his crime being in giving up on an increasingly corrupt postmodernist national government--i.e. neither being an altruistic Democrat nor an overworking Republican. In the film, Danny's place is raided by honest police officer Dean Jagger. The raid leaves Danny with no source of income. A stranger, Don DeFore, strikes up a conversation in Danny's hangout; he ends up in a poker game with Danny's bookie friends Soldier (Harry Morgan), Barney (Ed Begley Sr.) and Augie (Jack Webb). DeFore loses 5000 dollars in a crooked game, pays with a cashier's check and hangs himself in his hotel room that night--some of the money was not his...But, soon after, Barney is found hanged, and the rope was just put around his neck to make the crime look like a suicide. The jumpy, coward Augie and Danny figure that they are going to be the next targets, since they learn Arthur has a psychopathic brother, Sidney. They fly to Los Angeles to seek out the man's widow and get a photo of the brother. Soldier did not participate in the card game. He goes to work in a Vegas casino run by his old-time boxing friend Swede (Walter Sande). This intriguing setup is then turned toward Danny's life-altering meeting with Arthur's gorgeous widow (Viveca Lindfors). He has avoided making a commitment to Lizbeth Scott, a lounge singer who is very much in love with him. But seeing how determined the honest Lindfors is to make a life for her son, he decides to try to get enough money in Vegas to pay the widow back and pair with Scott. The kicker in the deal is the crazed Sidney is still hunting him and Augie as well. Cinematography is luminous B/W by Victor Milner, and the art direction by Franz Bachelin and Hans Dreier complements the great William Dieterle's direction effectively by my lights. Franz Waxman provided serviceable music, Sam Comer and Emile Kuri did complex set decorations; and the female participants looked lovely partly thanks to Edith Head's costumes.Larry Marcus' story "No Escape" has been adapted here by Ketti Frings, with John Meredyth Lucas. The script's episodic elements prevent this movie from being recognized for the fascinating character study it is. It is about what happens to those who for whatever reason stop trying to fight for life in the world of normative values, whoever the opponent, and who enter the world of the collective--crime--for whatever reason. In this story about Danny, the man who escapes the "dark city" he had thought to hide from life in, Charlton Heston is very good for his age. Jack Webb, a powerful radio actor, here turns in what I regard as his best screen performance ever as the nasty and cowardly Augie., Ed Begley Sr. was one of Hopllywood's best dramatic actors, infusing a small part in this feature with his usual dynamic intelligence; and Harry Morgan as the brassy "Soldier" is charismatic and effective. Viveca Lindfors is very well cast I suggest as the suffering but courageous wife; Don Defore was very good at playing a man shallower than he appeared, and here he has a lot to work with. This film is the first since Ayn Rand's "Love Letters" to reunite DeFore and Lizbeth Scott. Scott had limitations in drama although she was adept at comedy, and here she looks lovely as the singer, Fran. Others in the cast who showed to advantage included Dean Jagger, Walter Sande, Walter Burke, and many lesser known persons. Mike Mazurki was miscast as DeFore crazed brother but does his powerful best as usual. This is a very seminal-transitional film, I claim, from a period when noir films, crime or otherwise, had been set in the underworld, to the period where the breakdown of U.S. society had begun to affect law-abiding folk. It is also one of the post-war angst films wherein the war to "make the world safe for democracy" had been revealed as leading to difficulties for returning servicemen. It just misses being very good indeed.
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