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In the Hollywood of late '40s and early '50s, Richard Basehart found
of work in the noir cycle but never made a major mark, the mark of a
Mitchum or Glenn Ford or even a Dick Powell. His good looks were
all-American bland - lackluster - and his acting rarely leapt to dangerous
voltages. Probably more at home on stage than on the pitiless screen, he
leaves one of his fullest performances in a shunted-aside noir, Outside
Just 30 but with 15 years in stir behind him (he'd caused the death of an abusive guard when he was just a kid in reform school), he secures an unexpected release from prison. An old lifer grumbles about life outside: `Everybody's got the jitters. A buck ain't worth a buck anymore.' But mo st of all he warns about the `dames,' of whom Basehart knows absolutely nothing. He'll soon find out.
In his first night in Philadelphia, a B-girl feeds him his first taste of liquor and tries to filch his wallet; later, washing dishes, he foils a stickup and, fed up with Brotherly Love, heads for the clean country of Jewel Lake, landing a job as a lab technician at a TB sanitarium. His first patient (John Hoyt) turns out to be an ex-con he knows who's just pulled a fatal armored-car robbery. When Basehart fails to blow the whistle, the dying Hoyt trusts him enough to mule payoff money to his avaricious wife (Signe Hasso).
The straight-arrow Basehart normally wouldn't dirty his hands, but the blonde and mercenary charms of nurse Marilyn Maxwell lead him to rethink his monkish life (`I just found out what money can buy,' he tells her, forking over a platinum bracelet in his new roadster). Still, his stirring conscience beckons him to fess up about his past to good-gal Dorothy Hart. But Hoyt has the means to hold him to his bargain, while his wife and her ruthless accomplices have their own plans for him....
Crane Wilbur, who started way back in the silent era, wrote several noirs and directed a few of them, mostly about prison life (Canon City, The Story of Molly X). Here, he directs his story with some nicely observed vignettes about the dislocation awaiting released felons but, as it advances, less than persuasive plotting. But, in addition to the convincing work he coaxes from Basehart, he assembles a solid cast, with Maxwell and Hasso rivaling one another in duplicity and Hart more appealing than the saintly simp she might have been.
Harry Morgan also appears, as a thug who elicits information by sliding scalpels under fingernails. Interestingly a veteran of even more noirs than Basehart, Morgan played the heavy the year before, too, in Red Light, but couldn't hold a candle to his partner in crime, Raymond Burr. Here, he takes his place amid a balanced cast with intersecting motives that result in a movie that, while satisfying, falls well short of spectacular. Still, it merits more viewers.
OUTSIDE THE WALL is a solid B crime movie that delivers everything the
genre promises. It's not truly a Film Noir, since it only hints at the
dark workings of Fate behind the scenes. The movie might make a nice
comparison with TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY, released the next year. In
both films, an ex-con, newly released, runs into trouble despite their
pretty naive aspirations and innocuous personalities.
Probably the main distinguishing characteristic of OUTSIDE THE WALL is the use of Philadelphia locations. It's always fascinating to see a large city back in the middle of the last century. We are usually shown L.A. or N.Y., the Pennsylvania metropolis makes a welcome change.
At the top of the cast list is Richard Basehart. Pretty much an asset in any film, Basehart carries the lead perfectly. His boyish good looks serve the character, a still-young man who never had a chance to experience the world before he was thrown into prison. When he's let out, Basehart meets a stream of women, most of them unworthy of his attentions. Marliyn Maxwell is also well-cast as a brittle, materialistic nurse whom Basehart encounters in his first legitimate job. Her influence leads him to rejoin the criminal life, and plenty of trouble ensues. Among the rest of the cast are Noir favorites, Joseph Pevney, the incredibly prolific John Hoyt and Harry Morgan (who here plays a crime boss with gusto), . Dolores Hart plays Basehart's possible love interest, while Signe Hasso is almost wasted as a money-hungry gangster's wife.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Richard Basehart was an extraordinary actor, who never received the
accolades his talent deserved. There may be many reasons for it, but I
guess one of them is the kind of roles he played in his early carrier.
These roles are so hard to classify as the actual movies in which these
roles appear. Take this movie for instance; it's easy to take it as a
film noir, it isn't. I'm not sure if there is a gender in which it can
In this, Mr. Basehart plays a young man who has been released from prison to 1950 Philadelphia, after purging a sentence for accidentally killing a guard at a reformatory school at age 14. He is alone, friendless and has no experience dealing with the outside world as an adult, and certainly he has no experience with the "dames". But having no experience doesn't mean he is naïve or innocent; he has received lessons from thieves, kidnappers and killers though our boy is an inherent straight soul.
Larry (the young man's name) soon gets tired of the crime filled, mean streets of Philadelphia, and he is also disenchanted of women (the first woman he finds in a bar tries to get away with his wallet), so he moves outside town to try to find a quieter place. He ends up in a sleepy town called Jewel Lake, where he lands a job as lab assistant in a TB clinic. Larry thinks he will finally have a problem free life when he meets sexy blond chief nurse Charlotte, who is more an ambitious working girl willing to use her sex charms to climb than pure femme fatale. Larry is attracted to sexy Charlotte and though she is not indifferent, she is expecting to hook someone with money, lots of money.
Larry also meets sweet nurse Ann, who is a much nicer working girl and also seems attracted to him (I can't blame any of the ladies making passes at Larry; Mr. Basehart looks absolutely hot in this movie) but he also encounters fellow ex-convict Stoker, who is a patient but has stole no less than one millon dollars, and this encounter and his desire to get Charlotte as his girl set troubles in motion! I won't spoil the end of the movie for you; it's hard to get, it has its flaws, but it's worth to watch. Enjoy it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All credits except the title itself and the Universal emblem are on the end of the film, so when it starts off, this movie looks like a semi-documentary prison yarn, lensed on actual locations. However, the plot soon reverts to a typical innocent man involved with robbers yarn. It's saved from mediocrity by the interesting cast: I'm always glad to see Dorothy Hart even when, as here, the photographer reserves his choicest lighting and angles for someone else -- in this case, Marilyn Maxwell who delivers her usual vampy interpretation of a mercenary blonde. Also in the cast: Signe Hasso, looking somewhat older than the 34 years alleged by Universal's publicity department. She was actually 39. Joe Besser has a small role as a short order chef. John Hoyt forsakes his usual appearance as well as his customary deep voice, and is very effective. Henry "Harry" Morgan is really powerful as a sadistic gangster. Alas, the main problem with this movie is the script. It just doesn't ring true. For example, if our heroine is so mercenary, how come she hasn't made a play for some of the sanatorium's wealthy patients? And why does she bother giving the come-on to Richard Basehart when she knows for a fact that he doesn't have a plugged nickel? Presumably to satisfy her vanity, but the script doesn't make this clear. Also, there was no need to rescue Stoker, as Basehart had already given the storage clerk the tip-off. Crane Wilbur's direction is routine, but, as noted above, location photography helps.
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