After getting out of prison, Johnny Clay masterminds a complex race-track heist, but his scheme is complicated by the intervention of the wife of a teller (George Peatty) in on the scheme, the boyfriend of the wife, airport regulations, and a small dog. Written by
Andrew Hyatt <email@example.com>
When Nikki tries to drive away after shooting the horse, he supposedly sustains a flat tire from running over the horse shoe discarded by the parking attendant. The tire is already flat before he starts the car. See more »
At exactly 3:45 on that Saturday afternoon in the last week of September, Marvin Unger was, perhaps, the only one among the hundred thousand people at the track who felt no thrill at the running of the fifth race. He was totally disinterested in horse racing and held a lifelong contempt for gambling. Nevertheless, he had a $5 win bet on every horse in the fifth race. He knew, of course, that this rather unique system of betting would more than likely result in a loss, but he didn't...
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A crime classic, and a monument for actor Elisha Cook, Jr.
The story of a meticulously-planned race track hold-up is a stunner in every minute you watch it, and the film's progressive use of a partly documentary style has often been acclaimed as uniquely supporting the dramatic goings-on. It definitely put a modern touch to the somewhat out-of-fashion film noir in 1956, but still greatly relied on its basic rules.
A fine new note was the neat distinction between the gang's members' motives, ranging from repaying underworld debts (De Corsia) and hope of offering a better life for his ill wife (Sawyer) to the vain ambition of pleasing his vamp wife by doing something special (Cook).
Despite the film's qualities, Kubrick's treatment of the women's rôles seems more than old-fashioned today. Women here are either the homely and sweet type (Coleen Gray) or the Bette-Davis-eyed and cherchez-la-femme type (Marie Windsor). Both are accordingly taller or smaller than their respective partners by a head.
I should like to mention one of my favourite pans: that's when the bald philosopher-catcher walks up to Joe Sawyer's bar. Lucien Ballard's camera follows him all across the crowded tote hall, a take which must have been very difficult to organize and shoot. Later, the scene is repeated with Sterling Hayden.
This motion picture is also a monument for the great histrionic art of Elisha Cook, Jr., in a stand-out performance as the born loser. (German dubbing gives him the apt voice of Stan Laurel's speaker Walter Bluhm.) This little man never just did his job in unnumerable supporting rôles but has rendered effective homage to the tragic figure on the silver screen more than any other (non-comical) character actor I can think of. Regardless of his versatility in lots of different films, his impersonations of a likeable man who is doomed to fail make him unforgettable: take his lethal parts in "Phantom Lady" (1944), "Shane" (1953) or the likes, the audience's sympathy was always with this fine actor.
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