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PORTLAND EXPOSE is another one of those films from the 1950's that
purports to expose the crime, vice, sin and corruption of some major city.
Think of all the films with a major city in the title followed by :
"expose", "story", "syndicate", and "confidential". Perhaps someone with a
lot of time on their hands should put together a list. Then again, perhaps
In this film Edward Binns plays a honest tavern owner who is forced to go into partnership with the mob. At first he goes along, but decides to fight the mob when one of the mobsters tries to rape his daughter.
PORTLAND EXPOSE a conventionally made low-budget crime thriller from the fifties. Like many films of this genre, the ads claimed it is based on a true story. The film is a bit rougher than some other films from the period. In one scene Binns' daughters boyfriend suggest they go to a hotel for a night of...well you know, because he thinks she is loose because he knows that her fathers tavern has been used by the mob as a pickup place for hookers. Then mob thug Frank Gorshin tries to rape her. Its also mentioned that Gorshins character did time for a sexual offense involving children. Pretty rough stuff for a 1957 low budget crime thriller.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As some of the other commentators have pointed out, in the 1950s there
flourished a film genre that purported to tell a true story of crime,
corruption and violence in an American city. In many ways these films
anticipated such dramatic documentary TV shows like City Confidential.
The point of interest in this film, Portland Expose, is how the
conjunction of gangsters and corrupt union members helped to milk money
out of legitimate businesses in Portland, Oregon in the 1950s. While I
suspect the story of the tavern owner who went to work for the mobsters
to get information on them for the authorities is fictional, I gather
the strong-arm tactics of the mobsters were not.
As for the film itself, it is a competent, low-budget affair. With a little trimming here and there, it could stand as an TV episode of a true crime show. Frank Gorshin, who went on to fame as a master voice impersonator as well as showbiz immortality as the Riddler on the campy Batman show of the mid-1960s, is quite good as a creepy hood who gets his just desserts at the hands of a freight train. One chilling moment is the expression of glee on his erstwhile partner's face as he watches the train run over Frank Gorshin's character's body. Edward Binns, who appeared as a character actor on dozens of TV shows in the 60s, is good as the tavern owner who gets the goods on the hoods at great risk to himself and his family.
My only serious problem with the film is that the audience doesn't get to see enough of Portland, OR as it was in 1957. The way the film was shot, most of it could have been taking place anywhere. But, given its limitations of budget, I guess I shouldn't complain too much.
Bit late for a vintage noir, by definition, and whilst not deeply caste in dark shadows throughout, makes up for this a little on the sleaze front. Competently made and presented as 'based on a true story' this is quite interesting for its detail on organised crime and its involvement at very modest levels with the help of 'rotten apple' police and corrupt union official plus assistance 'all the way to the top'. There are in fact some surprisingly sleazy moments, including a well shot and fairly vigorous attempted rape. There is also a super body disposal scene involving a train at night with the flashing lights of the carriages lighting up the killer's obvious delight. The central character is, however, just a little too much of a 'goodie two shoes' for my liking and the film does slow to a crawl at times when we have to consider the family implications. Worth a watch.
This is a tough look at the difference between unions and criminally
controlled protection. Portland is a peculiar setting for a film noir.
It works well, though: The opening narrative begins like a travelogue
and gradually shifts into comments on the city's corruption.
The cast is excellent. It's not always the most beautiful looking group. The ingénue, who is pretty, wears her hair slicked back with what looks like Brylcreme. Virginia Gregg, the notable radio actress playing her mother, looks a little old for the role and tired.
It's a twisted movie, though. Catch this: Frank Gorshin, of all people, plays a hit man who is also a pedophile! That's a new one on me -- though child molestation does figure in that great classic of weirdness, film noir, and beauty "The Naked Kiss" a few years later.
The bit players add a lot. There's a scene, just a throwaway, in which a blonde playing a slot machine yells "Jackpot!" and goes into paroxysms of glee as the camera moves away and dumps her.
And the portly older gal imported to Portland to oversee the b-girl business is fabulous. We meet her as she gets off a plane and totters along in her high heels, fur stole wrapped defiantly around her. Her description of her "girls" is priceless: It prefigures the introduction Melanie Griffith provides herself in "Body Double" decades later.
Make no mistake: This is a serious movie. It was obviously done on the cheap. But it's done with great style.
Portland Express (1957)
Overall, this is often a stilted affair, and it begins and ends with a canned voice-over about Portland, the Oregon city at the center of this unlikely crime scenario. And for people looking for noir, this is not noir at all, though it does have a kind of throwback to some gangster thugs, and there is a good twenty minutes of night stuff that has a noir look.
Portland Express is more about American innocence, and the surprise anachronism of these mobsters in fedoras pressuring a cute roadhouse into using their pinball machines. Which leads to bigger pressures.
The lead man is a small time movie and later t.v. character, Edward Binns, a solid but unexciting actor, sort of perfect for this solid but unexciting town (back then--now I hear it's solid and exciting). And his daughter is a complete unknown who acts her heart out, and really feels like a teenager on the cusp of womanhood in a realistic way. This matters because she becomes central to the plot, including in a harrowing and almost abusive rape scene (it pushes the violence very hard for a movie of this simplicity). But it's a turning point for Binns, the father, and for the plot, as this likable, ordinary family man goes undercover to get the bad guys.
Naturally, we root for him, and see the dismantling of the syndicate. It gets increasingly dark and desperate over time, and a bit unlikely, but you'll still want to watch to the end, when the cavalry arrives--a group of ordinary men in plaid shirts who rush in to save the day. It's not as hilarious as it sounds. There is a quality of really beautiful, ordinary middle-America here that resonates, and that helps show this is really a 1950s movie. It's widescreen black and white, and a genuine slice of its period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Who knew the dangers of the pinball machine racket? Often in these
kinds of movies the hero makes one tiny slip-up that leads him down a
path of ruin -- all the poor guy in this movie did was agree to put a
pinball machine in his little country bed and breakfast near Portland
Oregon. But soon a mob of acid-wielding goons show up, accompanied by
pedophilic maniac Frank Gorshin, and force him to turn his place into a
full on juke joint. Grown men and women in mixed company leer at the
bouncing pinballs and drinks are mixed fast and furious. It all looks
like the soda fountain in "Reefer Madness." Eventually we're treated to
a party scene where the woman who's supposed to be the best "madame" in
the USA serves fruit punch for the guests. It's just that type of
Virginia Gregg's rough features serve her well when she shows maternal concern -- she represents all that is good and sacred in the American Way. Carolyn Craig has strong features as well, and I liked the way she kissed off the yokel he tried to tell her they were "going out in the country" because she had "been around." The ensuing confrontation with Gorshin's hood is definitely a pretty raw depiction of sexual hunger. It's a very effective sequence of events, even if highly predictable. I believe what George (Ed Binns) says when he says "this is one thing that I'm gonna see through, all the way." I guess the interesting thing about the sequence of events is that the girl is exposed to dangerous and aggressive sexuality in both instances, but as it turns out (the boy is contrite and writes a heartfelt letter) one of them was only harmless enthusiasm while of course the other was psychopathic mania. So hard for a good 50s girl to tell the difference! Another sinister aspect of the movie is the union/labor involvement with the pinball racket. I don't know if the movie was made by ultra-conservatives who were trying to smear labor by associating it with the criminal element but that's what it sure looks like to me. Of course just like "corrupt cop" movies they make sure to include at least one good honest labor guy, Al Gray (Francis De Sales). The scene with the labor meeting has some really odd dialog.... "Al Gray will conduct the séance....." On the whole it's not a very memorable movie but I liked the performances and it's a good take on the theme of a little guy who tackles the big criminals. Not a true "noir" movie as some apparently have claimed, at least not in my opinion.
"Memorize this name: Alfred Gray. Do not make a note of it."
This film begins with a rather unnecessary and stuffy prologue.
Fortunately, despite this weak introduction, the film turns out to be a
very, very tough film indeed--with thugs who are child molesters or
threaten to throw acid in people's faces. This is NOT your typical
1950s Film Noir movie, but a hard as nails look at organized crime in a
rather unexpected locale--Portland, Oregon.
You'll probably notice Virginia Gregg in the female lead. She was seen in 1001 "Dragnet" episodes. Edward Binns, a fine character actor whose name you probably won't recognize plays Gregg's husband--a man who is being forced by the local mob to play ball. Frank Gorshin, in a small but memorable role, plays the rapist who is so vile even the gang is disgusted by him.
As for the plot, it's a very familiar one--having been seen in such earlier films as LOAN SHARK and APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER. An honest guy is sick of the mob, so he agrees to join them in order to get evidence to prosecute them. In this case, Binns pretends to be a rather worldly and not too honest man who is interested in moving up in the organization. However, despite being familiar, the film is handled well and is more than just another time-passer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Portland Expose- solid exploitation B flick -ripped from the headlines and all.We follow a very straight arrow citizen- an owner of a tavern that goes from solid straight shooter to undercover mob tough guy- in 72 minutes we are shown this thru him doing some collections and talking tough to the mob dudes.Ed Binns is decent as the lead.Look for a young Frank Gorshin in the movie's most notorious scene where he tries to rape the underage daughter of the protagonist.What makes the DVD worth the purchase is the commentary by Lindsley Parsons,Jr.- it is a little dry- but very informative about the making of B pictures and the system they had to pump out these movies.Since the movie was exposing the teamsters- they decided to work outside the union for this picture and where actually threatened by the mobsters.The voice-over tends to muddle the picture and even provide some unintentional chuckles.Worth a rental for the commentary track. C+
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Portland, Oregon appears to be one of the most wholesome cities to raise a family and retire. But there is a shady underbelly; two gangs are fighting to place their pinball machines, juke boxes and slots in high traffic roadhouses and hotels. George Madison(Edward Binna)tries his best, but ends up knuckling under to a mob faction. With gambling machines in his roadhouse, Martin is making money hand over fist. But when a perverted "wise guy"(Frank Gorshin)tries to rape his daughter...Madison agrees to help law officials by wearing a wire in hopes of putting an end to Portland gambling. Nice film noir directed by Harold D. Schuster. Other players: Lawrence Dobkin, Rusty Lane, Carolyn Craig, Virginia Gregg and Joseph Marr.
Portland Expose casts Edward Binns as an honest tavern owner who gets
lured into the clutches of organized crime by of all things a pinball
machine that some guys with smashed noses urge him to put in his place
of business. It's a way of earnings additional cash, but that's there
way of starting and pretty soon it's slot machines and hookers.
Although the racketeers have several spots, Binns's tavern is of particular interest because it's near a lot of industrial plants and the gangs are looking to infiltrate labor unions. Binns goes along at first, but after his daughter Carolyn Craig is nearly raped by Frank Gorshin playing one of the hoods, Binns turns informant and starts wearing a wire to his meetings.
The next time you're in a bar hoisting a few, if you've seen Portland Expose you might look at the pinball, the computer games, and the Foozeball in a different light. Not much in the way of production values in Portland Expose, not really too much of Portland other than establishing shots. But the story moves well and performances to note are that of Virginia Gregg as Binns's concerned wife, Lea Pennman as a west coast Polly Adler, and Jeanne Carmen as a cheerfully amoral hooker who really makes her scenes count.
The film also has a coda ending with reference to the then current McClellan committee investigating labor racketeering. The counsel to that committee was one Robert F. Kennedy and their main target was the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa. Not a bad noir at the end of the noir cycle.
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