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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
At an isolated, seaside greasy-spoon cafe live George, the sarcastic owner; Slob, the potentially violent cook; and Kotty, the sexy waitress all the men lust after. Plus an occasional customer, including "Professor Sam", Kotty's boyfriend from a nearby research facility. And something's going on under the potentially explosive surface emotions...nuclear secrets being smuggled out of the country. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The shack out on Highway 101 just north of San Diego is an oceanside greasy-spoon hung with nautical bric-a-brac like a Red Lobster franchise. It's also the regional headquarters for an subversive spy ring and the claustrophobic setting for one of the oddest fish spawned during the Red Scare paranoia of the post-war years.
Keenan Wynn owns the joint, with short-order cook Lee Marvin and waitress Terry Moore as his live-in help, an arrangement as uncomfortable for Moore as it is convenient for Marvin, who can't keep his hands or lips off her. Regulars include Frank Lovejoy (as an unspecified 'professor' romancing Moore), salesman Whit Bissell, an old fisherman making 'deliveries' right off the boat, and a couple of drivers for theAcme Poultry Company who come in for coffee and cherry pie. In this entrepôt big wads of cash get traded for tiny slivers of microfilm. And operatives losing their nerve or asking too many questions get dead.
Few of those movies which the studios felt constrained to issue in testimony to their rock-solid Americanism were much good (and audiences shunned them like week-old mackerel). But they shared an utter lack of humor and a suffocating tone of moral urgency. This one is more perplexing. The prevailing tone remains light, at times veering toward farce, to an extent that the very real possibility presents itself that the whole thing is a very sly put-on.
One morning when Wynn and Marvin, stripped to their waists, engage in some weight-lifting, Wynn insists that his chest muscles be referred to as 'pecs.' Marvin retorts 'I'm very happy with my pecs,' whereupon they call in Moore to judge which of them has the better legs. In another scene, Moore, lighted through the holes of a hanging colander, looks like she contracted some exotic contagion. But then the movie shifts abruptly into cloak-and-dagger episodes right out of B-movies of the international intrigue genre. Towards the end, the heart sinks as it becomes clear that the movie means us to take it seriously. But serious about what? Never is the word 'Communist' uttered.
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