Dick Powell shines for a couple of bona fide auteurs
As a tribute to the recently deceased Blake Edwards I watched this ancient, and forgotten, TV episode, part of the FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE anthology series of the '50s. It's an excellent screenplay (that's the credit) for the small screen, which series star Dick Powell knocks out of the park.
It's a precursor of Edwards' hit show MR. LUCKY, itself adapted from the classic Cary Grant/Laraine Day '40s film written by Milton Holmes. Powell plays Willie Dante, owner of the Gotham nightspot Dante's Inferno, where gambling in the backroom is de rigeur. The character was revived in the '60s with Howard Duff in the role.
Aided by a very clever and witty Edwards script, which is still delightful 58 years later (ouch!), Powell is a real smoothie, handling his mild insult dialog with aplomb in a manner reminiscent of the off-handed readings of Bing Crosby in his heyday. He is coping with a Runyon-esque lovable heavy Vic played by Jack Elam -utterly delightful and limning a truly memorable character.
Elam wins $100,000 at the craps table in Dante's back room, literally breaking the bank. He takes considerable offense when Dante closes down the table, interrupting what was perhaps the only enjoyable and successful night of gambling for the small-time gangster, and really blows up when one of Dante's cracks seems to be insulting his mother! But when Vic discovers the payout is in counterfeit bills, there has to be a reckoning. Dante figures out who the real culprits are and all is put to right in the matter of a brisk 24-minute episode. Along for the ride as a regular is hapless police Lt. Waldo, played invevitably by Regis Toomey.
Right at the beginning of his directing career, the great Robert Aldrich handles the material with a sure hand. Both he and the vastly underrated Edwards are due for reappraisal by new generations of so-called film buffs whose tastes admittedly skew away from these mainstream auteurs. I've seen all the movies of both Aldrich & Edwards and in Edwards' case the various early screenplays for director Richard Quine (see DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD) and others are also highly recommended. As writer-director, Edwards' wonderful MR. CORY, showcasing Tony Curtis, is a perfect place to start.
As for Aldrich, the clowns handling the commentary and historical stuff on the recent DVD issue of James Hadley Chase's NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948 British version) go out of their way to insult Aldrich in nasty fashion, with idiotic remarks about his 1971 version THE GRISSOM GANG. I saw that film in first run and it featured a brilliant performance (noted by critics at the time) by Irene Dailey as Ma Grissom, a role literally thrown away in the vastly overrated 1948 original made by "Sinjun" L. Clowes.
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