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Lee H. Katzin
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Reporter and girl friend hide out at carnival while seeking evidence
Richard Coogan plays Bill Martin, a reporter. He was told to go to the local carnival by his boss Marsh to get evidence on a vice racket, but then Marsh was shot and killed and now the police are seeking Martin who has been framed. His girl friend Janet (Rosemary Pettit) is running from heavy Clay Reeves (Harry Bannister) because she knows that Martin was framed, even though she doesn't know who killed him. Reeves is a corrupt big wig who controls police and judges. He takes payoffs from the carny owner, midget Blake (Charles Bolender), among others.
The hootchy-kootchy girls, six of them, are managed by Lil (Edith King) and the main cop at the carny combing it is Hank (Frank Albertson). Janet will hide out with them for awhile and join their dance. Reeves is bossing Hank around to find Martin but Hank has an independent streak and really would like to get something on Reeves, so far untouchable. Blake is looking to get what he can out of turning the tables on Reeves, because Lil has been filling him in on Reeves' activities.
Who actually killed Marsh? That's the mystery. At 4 minutes and 23 seconds in, Steve McQueen (uncredited) appears in the background as a man about to test his strength with the big mallet.
An added attraction to the movie is burlesque dancer Gigi (Renee de Milo). She does a complete dance, without disrobing, and she's quite good. Also adding is the music that accompanies both her and the dancing girls in their numbers. It's jazz and at times excellent jazz.
Now, the movie itself is low budget, and could almost have been done as a television production of that era. It works miracles within its constraints. For example, in a few scenes of dialog it uses the background sounds of the carny to excellent effect.
Using curtains, cheap dressing rooms, carny stages and backstages, plus cramped spaces underneath the stage and between the dressing rooms, the film succeeds in creating a thoroughly claustrophobic atmosphere. Also, this closeness allows the players at critical times to overhear adjacent action or appear unexpectedly. Bill and Janet are trapped within this small world. At one point, Bill eludes detection by boxing in a boxing match.
The lighting is noir all the way, start to finish. The establishing scenes show the carny attractions and people at night, using some actual footage. The film takes place at night and shadows come naturally. Near the start and finish, the film uses a mechanical or balloon type clown bobbing and weaving and laughing hysterically. This adds to the overall effect. At other times, we don't quite know where Bill and Janet are with curtains on one side and scaffolds on another. There is this disorientation effect. Sometimes we have a marked contrast between the midget Blake and the tall people. At other times, he hops on a desk or table and may even make them look up to him.
Add all this up and the result overcomes the film's negatives, which include some below-par acting and some murkiness in the plot and motivations of the players. There is none of the story-telling smoothness or production values of a major film or even a higher grade b-film here. Yet the impact is there.
Film noir fans will definitely like this movie. Most movies with plots like this made in the 30s and early 40s do not have a consistent noir pace, rhythm, atmosphere and feel. This one does. Everything about it contributes to lifting this film above its limitations, almost as if it were representing the noir aspects of more major films of its time.
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