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In a Las Vegas casino, just-demobbed Marine (Richard Conte), buying a
for a case-hardened platinum blonde (Mary Beth Hughes), inadvertently
insults her; they have a public spat but kiss and make up, also publicly.
Next day he's picked up by the sheriff as the prime suspect in her death
strangulation. He overpowers his captors and sets out on the
Since an all-points bulletin has troopers checking the highways and the state border, he takes up with a couple of women with car trouble. There's a high-profile fashion photographer from New york (the redoubtable Joan Bennett, who helped shape the noir cycle in two early Fritz Lang films); with her is her callow young assistant (Wanda Hendrix). Despite their attempts to ditch him, he sticks with them, ultimately by force, on his journey to the California desert, where he grew up.
Highway Dragnet's title pretty much sums it up: It's a road-chase movie in the fast, flat 50s style, but with a good pulse and a perverse twist or two (alert viewers will pick up on a giveaway clue right after the dog becomes road kill). It also features the other kind of trouper in the person of Iris Adrian, doing what she did better than anybody else: the hash-slinger with a mouth on her.
But the pedestrian, late-noir style undercuts what might have been the film's final showpiece: a final reckoning in Conte's old homestead, under knee-deep water from the floods of the Salton Sea. This strange metaphorical setting gets taken for granted; this was a time when the evocative imagery of earlier film noir had ceded primacy to the literalness of plot.
Highway Dragnet (1954)
Wow is this an up and down production. Most of it is rather good, with a handful of supporting actors around the dependable leading role played by Richard Conte. And the plot is solid if a little familiar. Conte, a returned G.I. from Korea, is falsely accused of killing a girl in Las Vegas. And to save himself he has to resort to extreme measures, like escaping from the local cops and more or less kidnapping a couple of attractive women along the way.
One of the highlights is the range of location shooting. Foremost, briefly, is Las Vegas, circa 1954. It will blow your mind. It's worth watching the first fifteen minutes alone. Then there are lots of desert scenes leading to a grand finale at the Salton Sea, which was famously flooded. This is amazing stuff, buildings have submerged, and a wide open landscape with hardly a car or house.
And the interaction between Conte and the two women is good if somewhat predictable (one of them falls in love with him, the other wants to kill him). There is even the beginning of a photo shoot at a country motel, with a couple of Graflex cameras shown nicely. It all has a curious low budget tension.
But the tension is often resolved or delayed by a sudden bit of luck. Just when Conte is going to get caught, the phone rings, or that kind of thing. And then the ending, which I can't give away, but ugh. It had huge potential, and was going great overall, until this preposterous scene where a confession is shouted over the waves.
So, take the lumps with the cream here. It's a short, fast, enjoyable movie overall.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Richard Conte is fresh out of the military and is in an old Las Vegas casino bar. He sits next to a lushed up floozy who used to be a hotsy totsy fashion model but now she's drunk and saggy. She insults him, he retorts and walks away, she follows him and they have an angry kiss amid the slots.Next day and now Conte is being arrested for killing the floozy. Of course he didn't. He escapes and gets a ride in the desert from Joan Bennett who is dressed as if she's going to a cocktail party and her assistant Wanda Hendrix. Drama ensues. Roadblocks they sneak by, some they avoid. A stopover at a motel, crashing thru a roadblock, lost in the desert, drama, revelations and finally Conte and Hendrix hook up at his submerged home in the Salton Sea (it's a long story). Then we discover Bennett killed the floozy; some old business with her and her dead husband. Oh, well. Alls well that ends well and all ends well. Soggy Salton Sea finish. Not bad at all. Surprisingly watchable.
This is a very unusual and low-budget B/W adventure from producer Roger Corman, directed by skillful Nathan Juran; one whose creators do a neat variation on the old tale of people kidnapped by a fugitive heading to somewhere and needing their vehicle or themselves as hostages. I find the storyline is straightforward and classic noir. Scene: a casino in Las Vegas, a marine just back from service Marine (Richard Conte), buys a drink for platinum blonde (Mary Beth Hughes), and somehow insults her; so they have a public quarrel but then reconcile the problem. The following day, he is taken in by the sheriff an named the prime suspect in the girl's demise; she has been strangled. Using his military skills, he overpowers the officers holding him and sets out on the "lam". Troopers are checking the highways for him, hence the title, and also the state border; So he helps and hitches a ride with with a two women who have had car trouble. One is wealthy fashion photographer from New York, Joan Bennett; her young assistant, Wanda Hendrix, is the other. After a while the two try to rid themselves of him, but he stays with them--finally having to use force to have his way. He heads for the town where he grew up, for a climax, finding it under the waters of the Salton Sea. The film ends happily for Conte, but not before Bennett's dog has been killed, and he has been doubted severely and tested to the limit. The film is inexpensive-looking and has indifferent dialogue by but the story line is good, clean and memorable. Roger Corman devised the original story; four others had hands in the screenplay. There is original music by Edward Kay and some decent but hardly outstanding technical work. In the cast along with the principals are stalwart Reed Hadley, Frank Jenks, Iris Adrian, Harry Harvey,Tom Hubbard (one of the writers) and others all showing to advantage. I first saw this film nearly fifty years ago; and it is still memorable and satisfying; with more money and better dialogue, I believe these actors and the director could have made a fine narrative even better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An obviously drunken floozy (Mary Beth Hughes) is p.o.'d when drifter
Richard Conte sits down next to her and responds to her model picture
on the wall with a "used to be beautiful" response, tearing up on him
like Muhammed Ali on Joe Frazier. He silences her with a kiss, and the
next thing you know, he's being booked for her murder! Escaping from
the police, he hooks up a ride with matronly Joan Bennett and her
assistant Wanda Hendrix after helping them with their car, and before
you know it, they are all avoiding the police, as it turns out Bennett
knew the victim too, obviously not with much affection....
This is an enjoyable film noir with some implausibilities, but that does not stop it from being fun. You can't forget Hughes in her brief bit at the beginning, obviously suffering from one too many (and that includes men), and sadly, she is gone far too fast. I would have liked some flashbacks of her earlier story, especially once it came known that she had encounters with the women Conte ends up with. He is always a great anti-hero in films like this, someone you like but still don't fully trust. Bennett is still gorgeous with that smooth martini voice and the memory of her in early film noir like "Woman in the Window" is not forgotten. Her seemingly secure lady here has more than meets the eye to her. It's obvious that the romance is meant between Conte and Hendrix, but there's fire in Joan that hasn't quite sizzled as the years have gone by.
There's a fun cameo by "tough gal" Iris Adrian as a waitress who has had enough (tossing a menu at Conte's table as if she was a card dealer in Las Vegas) plus mostly gritty outdoor photography that keeps this a "day noir" as opposed to most of them which were "night noir". Passionate animal lovers beware, however, that there is a scene with a small dog that they may find disturbing. All in all, however, this isn't bad considering this was late in the film noir genre and that it was made by Allied Artists, the studio that took over Monogram just a few years before.
Interesting chase drama. That opening bar scene with Conte and Hughes
is a tacky gem. Too bad Hughes disappears much too soon. And where else
can you find two of Hollywood's best cheap blondes, Hughes and Iris
Adrian, in the same film. Too bad they don't have a scene together to
see who can out-cheap the other.
Anyhow, Conte's escaping across the desert from Las Vegas cops for a murder he didn't commit. Along the way he dragoons two women, Bennett and Hendix, as sometimes helpers, sometimes hostages. The movie's real star, however, is a four-wheel hunk of junk that's a real trouper. That it can roll at all amounts to a Detroit miracle. But why someone would drive it off-road into the desert is a genuine puzzle. And that's a problem with the movie as a whole. It starts off well, but becomes a mounting stretch over time, especially movie star Bennett in her flowing white gown that never gets any dirtier despite a trip across the elements. Good thing Conte's there to carry the show. Too bad he didn't give Hendrix some acting lessons.
Credit some producer, maybe Roger Corman in his first gig, for filming doggedly on location. Those desert and Salton Sea stagings really help hold the flick together. Plus, someone had an eye on trends of the day. The title "Highway Dragnet" combines parts from two of the most successful TV crime series of the time, Namely "Dragnet" and "Highway Patrol". Then add cop Reed Hadley from "Racket Squad", and you've got a cross-section of early 50's thick- ear, which I'm sure didn't hurt attendance.
All in all, it's a pretty good little flick. Then too it's the only film, A or B, that I've seen where the happy couple repairs at movie's end to a run-down house half under water! So Hollywood can come up with new wrinkles, after all.
The budget on this noir film is as thin as dental floss and the story
was rushed into a limited time frame. But Highway Dragnet does have its
moments as Richard Conte newly discharged Korean War veteran has
himself in a beautiful jackpot over the beautiful Mary Beth Hughes.
Not the quick moments with her. But the fact Conte is accused of killing her after having a quick fling. In fact Mary Beth's small role at the beginning of Highway Dragnet is the best thing in the movie.
Conte's arrested by Las Vegas cop Reed Hadley but he escapes from him and now there's a big manhunt on for him. Conte happens to hook up with magazine photographer Joan Bennett and model Wanda Hendrix. That turns out to be a dubious occurrence.
The plot is a thin one and about halfway through you know exactly what the real story is. Still there's a modicum of suspense.
And any film with Mary Beth Hughes and Iris Adrian playing a truck-stop hash slinger is worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
****SPOILERS**** Richard Conte is recently honorably discharged US
Marine Jim Henry who's on the run from the police and state troopers,
in both Nevada & California, for a murder that he didn't commit. It's
this floozy that Jim got friendly in a Vages casino the drunk and
abusive Terry Smith, Mary Beth Hughes, who he's suspected of murdering
by strangling her with a dog collar. Could the woman have been involved
in an S&M session that went horribly wrong? Well anyway with no witness
to his being innocent of this horrible crime with his only witness to
his innocence being an old Marine buddy working undercover, thus not
using his real name, for the government it's no surprise that Jim flew
the coop ending up a fugitive from the law.
It's while on the run in the Nevada Desert that Jim got hooked up with fashion photographer Mrs. Cummings, Joan Bennett, and her teenage model Susan Willis, Wanda Hendrix, who gave him a lift. Even though Susan was nuts about the handsome ex-marine Mrs. Cummings have reservations about him. And although the entire movie a determined Mrs. Cummings tried to not just turn him over to the police, she knew he was wanted for murder, but do her best to kill him, like in a car accident, herself.
It's not until the by now lovers Jim & Susan were tracked down by the police lead by Det. Let. Joe White Eagle, obviously a native American, played Reed Hadley that the whole truth came out in not only Jim's innocence but the reason Mrs. Cummings wanted to shut him up, by murdering him, permanently! The film's ending at Jim's place in his almost underwater home, with a swimming pool in each room, situated on the edge of the Salton Sea has the truth finally come out or surface to who killed the late Terry Smith and the reasons why. It was quite obviously from the start who Terry's murderer was in that all the evidence, from her killer's own mouth, pointed to him or her. As the film went on the killer in knowing that Jim by proving his innocence will expose him he did everything in his power to shut him up by murdering him. This not only tipped off Jim to who he was but also the police including Chief Det. Let. Joe White Eagle who Terry's murderer also tried to do in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoyed this piece of what my current neighbors would call basura. I
mean, it's done by the numbers. It's utterly stupid but exquisitely so.
Richard Conte is Jim Henry, just released from the USMC, decorated several times, so we know he's a good guy. He stops for a drink in a Las Vegas bar while hitch-hiking to meet a friend in California. He politely offers to buy a drunk for a frowzy blond sitting on the next stool. She initiates a fracas. The next morning she's found strangled with a strap. The police pin it on Conte and the papers dub him "The Strap Killer." Later, Conte muses, "Sure, I bought her a martini. Sixty-five cents worth of dynamite." (That's the closest we get to poetry.) But Conte escapes, and is reluctantly given a ride through the desert by two women, the professional photographer Joan Bennett and her model, young Wanda Hendrix. The women soon find out who Conte is supposed to be. The viewer with insight or experience will figure out the real murderer at about the half-way point.
The police spread a dragnet across points on the highway but Conte eludes them one way or another. You should see him smash through wooden barriers and demolish a couple of parked motorcycles. This is one tough swinging Jim.
Acting. Nobody wins the silver star here. Conte snaps out his lines in a brusque and commanding tone. His style, which hardly ever varied, doesn't clash with the character though. Joan Bennett, who was fine elsewhere, is here given a role that turns her into an irritating nuisance. Her New York accent sounds thoroughly specious and swank, with Albian overtones. "After" becomes "Ah-fter." Wanda Hendrix can't act.
The story is a kind of mechanical armature around which these three characters (four, if you count the sonorous Reed Hadley, the earnest cop) are molded. It's as if a couple of experienced writers of B features sat down and said, "Let's have the hero trying to escape from the police on a desert highway. How many different narrow escapes can we think of?" They did a good job. The close calls are uncountable. Somebody may look at Conte suspiciously and say, "Hey, didn't I just see your picture in the --", and the phone rings. Or the director cross cuts between police cars with their sirens ululating and Conte frantically trying to get gas at a station in the middle of nowhere. Only the owner is a lazy Mexican who has an old gas pump that is hand operated, and he ever-so-slowly pushes the handle back and forth while chatting amiably about how he and the ancient gas pump are "friends." It's all absurd and fun. Best thing about the movie is the location shooting, which nicely evokes the Mojave desert and, later, the climax at the Salton Sea. Maybe others might not like it as much as I do. It redintegrates memories of being a teen and being cooped up on a Coast Guard cutter that circled for weeks in mid-Pacific. Once in a while, an old movie would be shown at night, and this was one of them. We wept with joy. And Wanda Hendrix, actress or not, looked pretty good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Highway Dragnet" is a frustrating film. The actors do a pretty good job and the look of the film is quite nice. It's too bad, then, that the writing was so lousy. In fact, the film is filled with so many logical holes that it resembles cheese! Richard Conte plays a Korean War vet who has just returned home. He's decided to visit Las Vegas and ends up getting into a ton of trouble. That's because after having a loud altercation with a dame in a bar, she ends up dead and all the facts seem to point towards him. So what does he do? Yup, crime film cliché #5--he slugs the cops and disappears!! And, when he hitches a ride out of town, surprise of surprises, one of the ladies driving this car eventually ends up being the real murderer!!! What are the odds?! And, to make it worse, at the end of the film, this murderous woman shoots a detective at point blank range with a .45--and the guy is only SLIGHTLY wounded!!! He SHOULD have had a hole in him large enough to drive through, but miraculously he survives AND hears her make a confession to the original murder!!!! How convenient! Can any of this really happen in the real world? No way! But in this bizarre film, time and again, the impossible seems to occur--making it a very sloppily written movie. It's a shame, as Conte did a good job and he was a fine actor who was simply better than the material they gave him. You can do better than this with your viewing time.
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