|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||19 reviews in total|
In Shield for Murder (a movie he co-directed with Howard Koch), Edmond
O'Brien plays a Los Angeles cop `gone sour.' Bloated and sweaty, he's a
sneak preview of another bad apple Orson Welles in Touch of Evil. In a
pre-title sequence, he guns down a drug runner in cold blood, relieves the
corpse of an envelope crammed with $25-thou, then yells `Stop or I'll shoot'
for the benefit of eavesdroppers before firing twice into the air. When his
partner (John Agar) arrives, there's only a few hundred dollars left on the
body, and it looks like a justifiable police action though O'Brien's shock
tactics have already drawn the unwelcome attention of his new captain (Emile
O'Brien wants the money to buy into the American Dream to put a down-payment on a tract house, furnished (oddly enough) right down to the table settings. It's a bungalow to share with his girl, Marla English, as well as a handy place to bury his cash in its yard. But a couple of things go wrong. First off, a local crime boss wants back the loot O'Brien ripped off and dispatches a couple of goons to retrieve it. Then, though there were no eye-witnesses to the murder, there was in fact an eavesdropper an old blind man whose acute hearing picked up a sequence of shots that don't add up to the official story. When this good citizen decides to tell the police what he heard, O'Brien decides to pay him a nocturnal visit....
Based on a novel by William McGivern (who also wrote the books from which The Big Heat, Rogue Cop and Odds Against Tomorrow were drawn), Shield For Murder embodies some of the shifts in tone and emphasis the noir cycle was showing as it wound down. Its emphasis is less on individuals caught up in circumstance than on widespread public corruption; its tone is less suggestive than ostentatiously violent. The movie ratchets up to a couple of brutal set-pieces.
In one, O'Brien, knocking back doubles at the bar in a spaghetti cellar, is picked up by a floozie (Carolyn Jones, in what looks like Barbara Stanwyck's wig from Double Indemnity). `You know what's the matter with mirrors in bars?' she asks him. `Men always make hard faces in them.' While she eats, he continues to drink. When the goons track him down there, O'Brien savagely pistol-whips one of them (Claude Akins) to the horror of the other patrons who had come to devour their pasta in peace. Later, there's an attempted pay-off (and a double-cross) in a public locker-room and swimming-pool that ends in carnage. It's easy to dismiss Shield For Murder it has a seedy B-picture look and a literalness that typified most of the crime films of the Eisenhower administration. But it's grimly effective almost explosive.
I cannot say that this is one of the better films noir, but it's a good example of the way this kind of film was drifting in the early fifties: away from the studios; toward independent production; more cars, fewer subways; a vaguely documentary air, ala Jack Webb, rather than the more elegant stylization we associate with the forties; more outdoor scenes, fewer cramped rooms; and overall a movement away from the Gothic and toward a more contemporary, which is to say paranoid mood. Having said this, it ain't a bad picture. Edmond O'Brien (who also had a hand behind the camera) plays a basically decent and fair cop who gives in to temptation and steals some money from a bad guy. He pays dearly for his transgression. O'Brien is edgier and tougher than usual; the rest of the cast is okay. This is an extremely watchable film. It involves you more than most police thrillers. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
One of those B movies of the fifties, while not great, that is always enjoyable. O'Brien plays detective who is sick of struggling and wants some big dough quick and easy. He murders a stoolie who has $25,000 on him. His longtime partner and friend, Agar, doesn't want to believe his friend could commit such a heinous crime, but all evidence points in that direction. Agar is good as frustrated detective. The funniest scene in the film is Akins pursuing O'Brien through school corridors with his head all bandaged up from blows O'Brien inflicted earlier. Marla English is almost Elizabeth Taylorian in her looks as girlfriend of O'Brien, although I'm not sure what his appeal is.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Detective Barney Nolan (Edmond O'Brien) drags a two-bit bookie into an
alley, shoots him in the back, robs him, and later claims it was done
in the line of duty. His young partner, Mark Brewster (John Agar),
believes him unquestioningly but their superior is a little more
realistic, seeing as Nolan shot and killed a couple of Mexicans two
years earlier. Believing that "a cop is given a gun and the authority
to use it and one's no good without the other", the Captain closes the
case but things heat up when gangster "Packy" Reed lets it be known
that the bookie was carrying $25,000 of the mob's money and they want
it back. A deaf-mute witness to the crime comes forward but when he,
too, winds up dead, Brewster begins to have doubts about his
partner/mentor and starts to fall for Nolan's girl, Patty Winters
In the late 1940's, Los Angeles was one of the most corrupt cities in America. In 1949, Governor Earl Warren appointed a California Crime Commission to investigate and one of the witnesses was Sgt. Charles Stoker, an honest cop. Some of the problems were depicted in Fritz Lang's roman-a-clef of the "Black Dahlia" case, THE BIG HEAT(1953) and was given a happy ending that didn't occur in real life. Hounded off the force, Stoker would go on to write "Thicker 'N Thieves" and "L.A. Rogue Cop" in the early 1950's. The public's interest in police corruption reached its peak around this time and three movies were made from the books of William P. McGivern (who also seems to have used Stoker as inspiration): Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT, SHIELD FOR MURDER and Robert Taylor's ROGUE COP.
SHIELD FOR MURDER is an unpretentious programmer that leaves messages to Western Union, putting the focus on action and violence instead. What social commentary there is comes from an old newspaperman who's seen it all and offers the opinion that it isn't bad cops that frustrate society but the "tin wall of silence" that goes up whenever there's an investigation. Detective Nolan is a vicious bad egg but, strangely enough, also has a softer side; he lets a young shoplifter go free the way he did his protégé, Brewster, years before. Nolan says of working so long in the kind of environment he does, "some of it is bound to rub off" and things eventually spiral out of control and a dragnet ("Operation Tin God") is formed to bring the rogue cop down. The everyday brutality and strong-arm tactics that went into police work back in the day are also shown in a relatively matter-of-fact manner. Many faces from the Golden Age of Television pop up including Claude Akins as an underworld enforcer and Carolyn Jones as a bar fly who witnesses Nolan's sadism. Jones was also a B-girl in THE BIG HEAT. This was the "official" film debut of 50s cult movie star Marla English, "the poor man's Elizabeth Taylor", and she acquits herself well as Nolan's frightened girlfriend. Co-directed by star Edmond O'Brien (with producer Howard W. Koch), SHIELD FOR MURDER is a fast-paced crime drama that builds to an exciting climax and would play great with THE BIG HEAT in a "good cop/bad cop" double feature that doubles as a Carolyn Jones two-fer. Well worth checking out.
Trivia: The shadow of a boom mike is clearly visible in the alley during the opening sequence. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film begins with perhaps the worst instance where a boom
microphone is obviously in the shot. As Edmond O'Brien is walking from
left to right across the screen, you can very, very clearly see the
microphone's shadow. It's so clear and obvious you wonder how the film
ever got released this way. It's funny but also rather sloppy. The same
can be said for showing a revolver with a silencer--you can't silence a
standard revolver as it's not a closed system--there are too many gaps
from which the sound can escape. These mistakes are probably there
because this is a low-budget film and didn't have the care needed for a
more prestigious project. It could also be that co-director and star
Edmond O'Brien simply was out of his element as a director. Despite
these limitations, the film IS worth seeing and I enjoyed it very much.
That's because the script was taut and well-written. Additionally, the
acting was fine---quite realistic and gritty.
The film begins with a police detective (O'Brien) killing a bag man for the mob. In other words, this man was carrying a huge amount of illegal gambling money. However, this killing was NOT a mistake---O'Brien had decided to cash in on some seemingly easy money--killing the guy and claiming it was accidental. While this seems a bit suspicious, the story seemed plausible enough and it appeared as if he'll get away with murder and $25,000. However, there turned out to be a witness and soon O'Brien has killed again to hide his crime. And, like eating potato chips, O'Brien can't just stop there, as his plan is unraveling and the only way to keep it together is to kill again and possibly again.
In addition to O'Brien, John Agar plays a younger cop who is O'Brien's friend. He is torn, as he strongly believes in O'Brien--but over time, it becomes more and more clear that O'Brien has gone bad. This is an interesting character and gave some depth to the film--and proves that despite conventional wisdom, Agar was a pretty good actor--he just chose to appear in a lot of rotten films in the 1950s and 60s (after his divorce from Shirley Temple).
Overall, the film gets very high marks for its realism. In particular, it's very, very brutal for a Film Noir picture--one scene in particular made me cringe. It also gets high marks for the plot as well as O'Brien's excellent acting. It's actually surprising today that Edmond O'Brien is pretty much forgotten, as this Oscar-winning actor and supporting actor was great in tough-guy roles as he was far from the usual Hollywood "pretty boy"--an ugly and brick-like guy who could really act.
So, despite a few technical problems, this is a better than average cop film that holds up very well today. For fans of Noir, like myself, it's a must-see--as is any O'Brien Noir film!
There are some similarities here with a great B-level film made close to 40
years later "Miami Blues". Both focus on desperate, lawless men with soft
spots for a pretty, child-like woman, who abuse the power of a police badge
in a violent, supremely ill-advised attempt to settle into a comfortable,
anonymous existence in the "paradise" of America's suburbs. And as with
"Blues", the last 30 minutes are as frantic and exciting and darkly comic as
anything you will see.
The film isn't perfect. There are weak links in the cast: Marla English is unremarkable as the trusting girlfriend, Herb Butterfield doesn't register as a pesky reporter (and John Agar's nagging conscience), and I found snarling Emile Meyer to be a disproportionately cynical police captain consumed with disgust for mankind. But Edmond O'Brien is suitably sweaty and hard-boiled as the corrupt cop (though damn, he is one puffy and bloated leading man), Agar is fine as his conflicted protegee (just before Agar moved into his mostly bad sci-fi phase) and Carolyn Jones spices things up big-time as a spaghetti loving floozy.
Starts off looking sort of cheap and routine but it's one of those films that sneaks up and surprises you. Not bad at all. A little like Richard Gere's "Internal Affairs" too, come to think of it.
Edmond O'Brien has a "Shield for Murder" in this 1954 noir also
starring Marla English, John Agar, and Carolyn Jones. O'Brien plays a
bad cop - one review here said he was a good cop who gave into
temptation. Not so. He was a bad cop, who had been suspected of trouble
in the past but never caught.
In the beginning of the film, Barney (O'Brien), a detective, kills a bookie and steals the $25,000 that the victim is carrying. He claims that he killed in self defense, and his story is accepted. Then the fact that the bookie was carrying money, now missing, emerges. What Barney doesn't know at first is that there is a witness, a deaf and dumb man, who saw the whole thing.
Barney is a person of great interest to the bookie's boss, and also, a young man he helped bring up in the force (John Agar), his staunchist defender against criticism, is anxious to clear him. Barney, meanwhile, wants to purchase a dream house for him and his girlfriend (English) and get married. When he finds out about the witness, he needs to do some fast work.
O'Brien gives a very hard-edged performance. His character is completely unlikable. The very pretty Marla English unfortunately was unable to act. In one scene, however, Barney goes into a bar and meets a platinum blonde, who turns out to be actress Carolyn Jones, normally known for her stylish short black haircut.
Pretty brutal for the '50s. O'Brien elevates the material. Interesting noir, co-directed by Howard Koch and O'Brien.
Unfortunately roles for talented middle-aged actors like Edmond O'Brien
and Ida Lupino were drying-up in the mid-1950's, with TV replacing the
old black-and-white B-movie. Lupino carried on with a successful career
behind the camera, and it appears O'Brien was exploring that option
too, by co-directing this independent production. The results however
are pretty uneven. O'Brien gets to sweat his usual bucket-load, playing
a cop corrupted by the allure of a tract house in burgeoning suburbia.
(Now there's a departure!-- in fact, one of the curious attractions is
a tour through the well-appointed tract home of the period, something
that glitzy Hollywood never had much time for.) There's also some
well-staged scenes-- the shoot-out around the public pool is both
unusual and well-executed, while the beating in the bar reaches a
jarringly brutal pitch that registers on the stricken faces of the
patrons and O'Brien's contorted brow.
However, the pacing fails to generate the excitement or intensity a thriller like this needs. Plus the performance level really drops off with English and Agar. Their conversation around the pool, in fact, amounts to a seminar in bad acting. Too bad, O'Brien didn't have the budget to surround himself with a calibre of actors equal to his own. In passing-- the guy playing the deaf-mute really jarred me. He looks so unlike the usual bit-player and is so well cast that the scene in his room with O'Brien comes across as more than just a little poignant. Also, more than just a hint of kink emerges with Carolyn Jones' well-played barfly nympho. She's clearly on her way up the casting ladder. Anyway, there's probably enough compensation here to make up for Agar and English and the listless scenes in the station house, particularly for those curiosity seekers wondering about Better Homes and Gardens 1950's style.
The poor police detectives that populated the film noirs of the early 1950s. Their suits were rumpled and they lived on whatever pittance the departments paid them. Edmond O'Brien pretty much owns the stereotype in Shield For Murder, which he also co-directed, a film that takes "hard-hitting" to new heights of violence, most notably in a scene where he pistol-whips the holy crap out Claude Aikens, who plays an enforcer for the local underground crime boss. O'Brien's character had either gradually gotten fed up with his lousy pay or was always on the take, but either way, his murder of a numbers runner and "liberation" of the $25,000 he was carrying, opens this film onto a unique level of tawdry bleakness only made possible by the lesser studios, like the one from which this highly recommended film emerged. Ostensibly, what drives O'Brien's character is a desire to provide the kind of life his girlfriend (Marla English) deserves, a nicely appointed and totally furnished tract house in the suburbs. John Agar, O'Brien's honest partner on the detective division, seems to gradually move in on Marla, coinciding with O'Brien's descent into violent desperation, capped off by a few drinks in a spaghetti bar where he meets incredible looking Carolyn Jones. Everything builds up, well-paced to the end.
Previously, Edmond O'Brien had made a name for himself in crime dramas
like D.O.A. and 711 Ocean Drive. In those pictures, he plays a man of
justice, sometimes put in compromising positions and dealing with
ironic situations. This time, he is decidedly on the wrong side of the
Mostly, the plot of Shield for Murder can be described as a good-cop-turns-bad-cop story, with O'Brien playing a crooked detective whose increasing corruption becomes more and more obvious with each additional crime he commits. Yet the drama is played fairly realistically and remains believable throughout the film's entire running time. Viewer interest is achieved by including assorted oddball characters and with a spectacular chase during the final minutes, where O'Brien is embroiled in a tense shoot-out at a men's athletic club.
The supporting cast is more than adequate-- including a memorable turn by Carolyn Jones as the girl at the diner. And while the climactic ending is predictable, it's fun watching O'Brien's character get the usual what's-coming-to-him after causing so much trouble.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|