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A Dutch company's owner bankrupts his own company, burns the incriminating ledgers and plans to run to Paris with the company payroll but he is caught in the act by his accountant who challenges his actions, leading to a reversal of roles.
Gangster and cop killer Jack Martin is on the run from the law, and hides out in a small town. Low on funds, he engineers a clever bank robbery that yields him a big bundle. Now he has not only the cops and the FBI after him, but also the local crime boss, who's outraged that an outsider can pull off a heist like that in his territory and not cut him in on it. Written by
Walter Matthau and his newlywed wife, co-star Carol Grace, were so broke by the time this film was made (mainly due to Matthau's gambling debts) that the couple had to pawn most of their wedding gifts just to afford to pay rent. They were so desperate financially that Matthau accepted the role of director and star for only $2,500. He later commented to the effect that it was the worst movie ever made, then adding, "Let me put it this way. It was the worst film I ever made. It was a poor script by a hack writer and a famous cardiovascular surgeon who produced the film with his brother who was a textile manufacturer from Philadelphia." He said the film "premiered at Loew's in Newark, and was so bad it never crossed the Hudson." See more »
The Itch for Scratch
Music by Leonard Barr
Lyrics by Ronald Bloomberg
Sung by Ted Stanford See more »
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, this rarely seen film was available on a schedule with other Walter Matthau vehicles. Mr. Matthau was both the star and the director ( his only effort ).
It has all the elements of a great crime drama. It has a minimalist style that reflects the very limited shooting budget. Perhaps that was not the intention when it was created, but it provides something which great American movies often have -- an authentic background for the authentic characters created ....
It also seems evident that in his later career, Mr. Matthau had become something many actors aspire to being -- a movie star -- but in this strange and somewhat haunting crime story, he's immersed in the part of the ne'er-do-well hoodlum. He's not a very nice fellow, but he's got a certain charm and "panache" on screen. Perhaps this is the result of his being responsible for the whole effort, or perhaps he really enjoyed the rather villainous and amoral character of Jack Martin. Whatever the viewer decides about that question, this movie entertains in a thoughtful way, giving the viewer a definite feeling of "being there".
It's true that there are some elements of the plot which seem to be, now, rather hackneyed. That's the reason it did not receive a vote of eight or nine. But from beginning to the end, the minimalist style allows the plot to envelop the characters and to support them.
Criminals have their own code, it is true. This is not a story about a good guy gone bad, in my opinion. He's a rake and an opportunist, this Jack Martin. Matthau is superb in this role. Carol Grace adds a lot to the haunting feeling that permeates this film, partly because it isn't so easy to see what her character's motivations are as the plot goes on. She portrays a woman of deep longings overshadowed by a deeper loneliness. That alone says a lot about the era, the tail end of the Eisenhower years, and the big cars and big landscapes which abound only add to that sense of 'something missing.' Perhaps TCM will be kind enough to run it again in a more favorable time slot for all the fans of great but austere crime drama. It's a winner in that regard. It doesn't fit the usual concepts of "film noir," I suppose, but it is about what crime does to those who choose to follow its ways. Matthau was not, perhaps, reaching for greatness in this effort but he found it anyway. Seven out of ten for his acting and seven out of ten for his directing.
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