Under the Gun (1951) Poster


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The surprising Ted Tetzlaff directs Conte, Totter in offbeat prison-farm noir
bmacv9 February 2003
Those persistent rumors about Ida Lupino's being bald as a bean may have been fueled in part by Under The Gun, in which Audrey Totter appears to be wearing Lupino's old hair. Totter's a diva in a `Miama' nightclub in whom mobster Richard Conte takes both a professional and personal interest. En route by car back to New York, Conte takes care of some unfinished business by murdering a man but is arrested and stands trial. Despite herself, Totter finds she cannot commit perjury (`You just weren't worth the lies,' she later tells Conte). So he pulls a 20-year sentence at a prison farm in the deep South, where the concept of parole is unknown.

And the most interesting and accomplished part of Under The Gun - most of the movie, in fact - takes place at the prison farm. Conte thinks he can escape by bribing a hated `trusty' (Royal Dano), an inmate who earns special privileges by standing watch with a shotgun when the men go on work details. But Conte's buddy in the next bunk (Sam Jaffe) explains the finer points of the penal code in Dixie: If a trusty kills a prisoner trying to escape, he earns early release.

Conte, however, is as Machiavellian as he is ruthless. He coaxes a simple-minded inmate to make a break for it; Dano kills the gullible fool and secures release. Trigger-happy Conte becomes the next trusty, itching for his bid for freedom. Impatient, he makes Jaffe a grisly offer: If he tries to escape under Conte's gun, Conte will make a payoff to Jaffe's wife and children....

Ted Tetzlaff, the director, handles the ironies and ambiguities in the plot adroitly. A former cinematographer, he worked in and around the noir cycle, sometimes routinely (as in A Dangerous Profession and Gambling House), but in a couple of tries quite amazingly: Riffraff and The Window. Under The Gun lies somewhere in the middle, hobbled by a lame ending. But at least Totter, as the target for Conte's revenge, shows up again for the close. Even as a brunette, she's always worth watching.
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Under the Gun (1951)
Martin Teller3 January 2012
Richard Conte is a big city gangster who ends up in a southern prison work farm. He tries to scheme and manipulate his way out, driven by thoughts of revenge. It's a solid piece of work, flows nicely, has some clever ideas and good photography. Conte is in fine form, supported by an array of wonderful character actors, including Sam Jaffe, John McIntyre, Richard Taber and one of the first appearances by the great Royal Dano. Audrey Totter gets second billing, but for most of the running time she's out of the picture. Can't think of much else to say at the moment... just a really engaging flick.

Under the Gun - 8/10
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