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Federal agents get wind of a nefarious plot by enemy agents to smuggle
components of an atomic bomb into the United States. The enemy agents plan
to then assemble it and blow up a major American city. The feds try to hide
the fact that they have captured several of the smugglers in order to find
the meeting place and capture the ring leader.
This "B" grade thriller is of interest for its moderately interesting plot. John Ireland gives a good performance as a federal agent determined to catch the enemy agents. Everything else is pretty standard.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite a muddled script, the movie manages to generate some suspense.
It's really an exploitation flick aimed at America's Cold War fears of
the growing spread of nuclear weaponry. In 1953, the Soviets had the
A-bomb but lacked a delivery system to threaten America's shores. The
screenplay cleverly suggests a way of threatening those shores without
a long-range system. Instead, bomb parts are smuggled in for later
assembly. However, the script incredibly never suggests who is behind
the scheme or why. Perhaps they thought audiences would logically
suspect the Soviets since the Cold War was boiling, especially in
Korea. Nonetheless, the absence of who the planners are and why they're
doing it amounts to a big hole in the story.
There's a lot of globe trotting since Intelligence agent John Ireland is on the trail of the culprits who have international connections. It looks like crew members of an American sub are the chief suspects and Ireland is ready to pounce. At this point, however, more than half- way through, the movie does a startling turn-around. It's puzzling why the script would abruptly convert the cat-and- mouse into nothing more than a war game. My guess is to reassure audiences that our Intelligence defenses were adequate to defeat the nuclear dangers posed by such insidious schemes. However, ending the movie with nothing more than a war game would have disappointed viewers. Thus an improbable shadow scheme of real plotters is tacked on during the final few minutes. At that point, you may need a score card to keep up with the complications.
The movie is surprisingly well-produced. Fast-buck artist Sam Katzman was not known for attention to detail, but the international scenes are in fact well mounted. Low budget director Fred Sears films with some imagination, but crucially fails to exploit the suspense-charged final scene in the airplane. Too bad, because this is the big pay-off. With its key twists and turns from higher-ups, this little B-film surprisingly anticipates many of the big-budget spy thrillers of the 60's and 70's, where agents were routinely manipulated for "higher purposes". Of course, by that post-Vietnam period, the popular mood had become less trusting than the unquestioning atmosphere of 1953. Contrast, for example, this film's confident documentary style with 1975's super cynical Three Days of the Condor. All in all, this McCarthy era artifact remains a rather interesting little curiosity that retains some relevance given current fears of a terrorist sneak attack.
Nowadays, it's easy for folks to make fun of the Cold War era--and in
particular the paranoid 1950s. However, given the proliferation of
atomic weapons and a vow from Stalin to destroy the West, it's
understandable why so many films of the time were about Communist plots
or giant mutant creatures created through atomic fission. So when I see
"The 49th Man", I see its plot as a definite product of these scary
times--a time when it seemed very possible that the human race would
wipe itself out sooner or later. Because of this, the film is a lot
more tense than most films--even if the plot is a little far-fetched.
The film begins with a scary discovery--a portion of an atomic bomb is found amidst car wreckage! And, scientists examining it have determined that the weapon has been broken down into dozens are pieces--and each can be easily transported by an enemy agent (i.e., a Commie!). So, it's up to John Ireland (a great Noir actor) to track down the agents and get to the bottom of this plot against America.
Taut action and good acting carry the day here. While this is not a fancy big-budget film, it is entertaining and a great window into a very tense era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a diverting, entertaining, interesting, tense, and ultimately
still-relevant story of agents of the Soviet Union smuggling parts of
an atomic bomb into the US of A and planning to explode it in San
Francisco, the swine.
John Ireland is part of a counter espionage federal agency and is given the assignment of finding out who is smuggling all these A-bomb parts into the country. They're being brought in by ordinary people in suitcases, each suitcase containing one third of a bomb. There are forty-eight people all together -- or forty-eight bombs or forty-eight suitcases. I found myself confused from time to time.
Before you can enjoy watching this Cold War paranoia piece, you have to work your way through several layers of dreck. First, you need not simply suspend disbelief. You must first strap it down, cut it open, disembowel it, and stuff its abdominal cavity full of minced Habanero chili peppers. All sorts of improbabilities pop up, large and small.
Example of small thing. Two men are holding John Ireland prisoner in the back seat of a car. One man offers him a cigarette. Ireland accepts the cigarette, pulls out the red hot cigarette lighter from its socket, and jabs it into the man's hand. Then he leans over and strangles the man into unconsciousness, while the victim sits there passively and grimaces. The other captor merely watches the goings on. Ireland leaps from the car and escapes.
That's a small thing. Here's a big difference between the observed frequency and the expected frequency. Those forty-eight suitcases? (Or people or bombs?) They were all part of a war-game exercise run without Ireland's knowledge by the agency he's part of. When this is revealed -- after all the intrigue, danger, and pain -- it's like one of those endings in which the hero is about to die and then wakes up from the nightmare. Big joke.
The problem, though, is that it develops there was a forty-night suitcase -- or bomb or person. Real Russians were pulling a fast one on us while using our drill as a screen. But, you -- the discerning viewer ask -- you wonder how the Russians could possibly have known that such a super-secret exercise was taking place? Is that the question? Answer: You are justified in asking the question.
I understand that this movie was made by a couple of schlockmeisters, but, as I said, it's entertaining nonsense. And it doesn't seem nearly as cheap as some of the sci-fi B movies of the period. The helicopters are real, not models. The airplanes are real. The submarine is real. And if the actors don't shoot out the lights, well -- what do you want, egg in your beer? John Ireland is curiously reassuring. His squinty eyes are too close together, barely kept apart by the bridge of his nose. And he's not well directed. When he's having an earnest conversation with a colleague, he seems to be arguing with some heat, not explaining something to a friend. The writing is a bit clumsy at times as well, but fortunately Ireland is given only one rah-rah speech about "you and your kind", without using that exact phrase.
The ending is a happy one, though hard to believe for too many reasons to list here. But I do wish it were as difficult to smuggle the makings of a bomb into this country as the film tries to persuade us it is. I live half an hour from the Mexican border. I believe I could smuggle forty-eight or forty-nine bomb parts across that border without being caught. It doesn't take 49 bombs. It just takes one. The USSR is no more, but the threat will always be there.
None of the other reviewers seem to realize that this movie was
"remade", using a somewhat different premise, but very similar in many
aspects of the plot, including the last minute, down-to-the-wire
ending. It was called "The Fourth Protocol", released in 1987, starring
Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan.
Of course "The Fourth Protocol" had much bigger stars, bigger budget, better writers and better production values, and was certainly more believable. But we are comparing it with an early 50s B movie. It seems to me that the makers of the later movie must surely have seen this early one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE 49th MAN 1953 This Cold War thriller was put out by the B unit at
Columbia Pictures. The film stars, John Ireland, Richard Denning,
Suzanne Dalbert, Mike Connors, Robert Foulk, Richard Avonde and Peter
John Ireland is a Federal agent who by accident gets mixed up in a plot to bring atomic bombs into the USA. The parts are broken down into several pieces for assembly at the target city. Richard Denning is the bigwig in charge of hunting down the devices. He drafts Ireland in to aid in the hunt.
The Feds are tracking down various pieces all over the States. This is starting to get serious as the number of possible bombs increases. Now the Feds find out that some Uranium has been smuggled into the country, on board a US Navy submarine of all things.
Ireland is sent undercover to France with the submarine on a return visit. They are to check out the last port of call for the sub in southern France. The plot thickens as several suspects are added to the pot. These include, Suzanne Dalbert and Peter Marshall. Also in the mix are several navy types, Mike Connors and Robert Foulk.
Ireland however has gotten the wrong men with the NavyOfficers. The whole atomic bomb thing turns out to be a test to see if the US borders were secure from such a threat.
Needless to say that would be too simple. It turns out the Reds had tumbled to the test. They have snuck a real atomic bomb into the States. Ireland and the Feds finally realize what the Reds are planning and are soon after them. It is a cat and mouse game being played out as the pursuit heats up. The Reds are killing everyone who might rat them out.
The Feds manage to do the old nick of time stunt and capture the bomb before it explodes. They fly the device to an A-Bomb test site and boot the thing out the door minutes before it goes off. The Reds are foiled, this time! The film's story, by Ivan Tors is a bit weak kneed in parts, but as a low end thriller, it has its moments.
Direction was by B film specialist, Fred C Sears, who keeps the pace moving. Sears cranked out about 50 films in his 1949 till 1958 Hollywood career. Sears' films include, WORLD WITHOUT END, UTAH BLAINE, RUMBLE ON THE DOCKS, THE 49th MAN, CELL 2455 DEATH ROW and CHICAGO SYNDICATE.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The hysteria and paranoia are palpable in this well made and quite enjoyable suspenser about a plot to smuggle atomic bombs into the United States. John Ireland stars as an FBI man on the trail of the conspirators, who, fittingly enough, seem to be based in France and San Francisco. Time is of the essence, as fanatics willing to die for their cause are working overtime to bring bomb components into the country, where they will be assembled and, presumably, exploded. Sound familiar? Produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Fred Sears, The 49th Man compares favorably with the equally over the top The Whip Hand, a Howard Hughes-produced screed about the threat of commie biological weapons. Good fun, even if you don't think there's a terrorist on every street corner.
Cold War paranoia reaches its heights in The 49th Man, an obvious bow
to the British film, The 49th Parallel in title. Would that this film
be half as good.
A kid tooling down a New Mexico highway crashes his hotrod in the desert and gets killed. There's a strange looking object in a lead case which the local sheriff brings to the attention of local FBI guy John Ireland who in turn brings it to Los Alamos on a hunch. I guess it was handy to have Los Alamos around. Anyway it turns out to be part of an atomic bomb.
With the assignment from his superior Richard Denning, Ireland goes on a manhunt which takes him across the USA and to Montreal and Marseilles. The depth of this Red conspiracy reaches into the United States Navy and beyond. But the FBI in peace and war does its thing.
Oddly enough with the development of nuclear technology and the well documented problems today of protecting our borders, The 49th Man does have a curious relevance for today. Still it is a prime example of McCarthyist paranoia at its heights.
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