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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE The Hard Way 1953
This is an episode from "Four Star Playhouse". This anthology series ran for 130 episodes between 1952 and 1956. The series was produced by, Dick Powell, David Niven, Ida Lupino and Charles Boyer. It was a popular series that drew many well-known Hollywood types as guest stars. This is the 29th episode of the series.
This one is a nifty Blake Edwards penned episode with up and coming director Robert Aldrich at the controls.
Dick Powell plays Willie Dante, a club owner with a back-room that caters to the gambling crowd. Tonight, local gangster, Jack Elam, is having a good run at the craps table. Powell is forced to close down the table when Elam hits $100, 000 in winnings. Powell cannot cover more losses than that. Elam is shall we say, less than amused with this decision. He tells Powell he will regret it. Powell has his cashier pay off Elam.
Later that evening, after closing, Powell is having drinks with perky blonde, Elisabeth Fraser. This happy event is brought to a sudden halt when Elam and his henchman, Leonard Bremen show up. Elam tells the broad to beat it then delivers a solid punch to Powell. He then tosses a bundle of cash at Powell. The punch was for paying him off in counterfeit bills. Elam intends to take Powell out for a swim with a concrete swimsuit.
Of course Powell is just as surprised by this as Elam was. He quickly talks Elam into getting to the bottom of the problem. He explains that he would never be so stupid as to pay the gangster in funny money. It had to be the cashier doing a switch. They take a ride over to the man's apartment for a "friendly" chat.
This however does not quite turn out as planned. The man is dead and the friendly neighbourhood Police detective, Regis Toomey is there. He quickly collars the trio for a chat of his own.
Of course the trio can prove they were nowhere near at the time of the murder and are released.
Powell decides there could only be one other person involved, the pit boss on the craps table, Robert Osterloh. The boys now head for Osterloh's place. They do not notice that they are being tailed by Detective Toomey and a couple of harness cops.
Needless to say Osterloh is the man they seek. He yanks a gun and prepares to dispatch Powell, Elam and Berman. He is however distracted by Detective Toomey when he starts pounding on the door. Powell, sees his chance, and puts Osterloh down with a solid punch. The cops break in and put the grab on everyone. Powell and company are soon out while Osterloh is booked for murder.
It seems that Osterloh had been slipping Elam loaded dice during the game. This allowed Elam to run up a sizable pot. Elam never knew about the dice switch. Then Osterloh and the cashier switched the real loot for the funny cash. Osterloh it turns out felt a one way split was the way to go and killed his partner.
This is a pretty good episode, with plenty of snappy lines and fine work from the entire cast and crew.
This was only the 10th directing job of future big screen helmsman, Robert Aldrich. His film work included, KISS ME DEADLY, VERA CRUZ, ATTACK, HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, THE LONGEST YARD, ULZANA'S RAID and THE CHOIRBOYS.
Actor, writer, producer and director Blake Edwards would score big-time with the series, PETER GUNN and THE PINK PANTHER films.
The director of photography on the episode was George Diskant. Diskant is well known to film noir fans. He was the cinematographer on, PORT OF NEW YORK, RIFFRAFF, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, THE RACKET, BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, BEWARE MY LOVELY, NARROW MARGIN and DESPERATE.
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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