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In this little B, crime seems to pay if you get caught!
This was on TCM for the first time in years the other day, and at first I was surprised at how much it seemed like a documentary - specifically one of the "Crime Does Not Pay" shorts MGM did. Actually, it started out that way and Louis Mayer liked it so much he asked that it be expanded into a feature film. Tom Neal stars as Joe Cameron, made an unemployable vagrant by a wounded hand that made him unfit for manual labor and with him not knowing a trade, on the road he went, often picked up by the police for not having a dollar. Hungry, he orders a big meal at a diner that he knows he can't pay for and is bailed out of his troubles by gun moll Kitty Carson (Rita Johnson). This is how he winds up entangled with Reno Madigan's gang, with the job of driving for them whenever they pull jobs.
At first they live it up, but they are eventually captured. But not before Reno and Joe hide 33K in stolen loot but do not tell the others about it. The rest of the film is about how the federal prison system treats each one of the gang - even operating on Joe's hand and teaching him a trade. The lesson seems to be that the feds know who is redeemable and who isn't, and if you're not it's off to "The Rock" - Alcatraz. Before their capture, Joe and Kitty seem to have an understated romance going, and during their imprisonment they are allowed to write letters where this romance seems to blossom. But against them when they get out is their record, local papers looking for sensational stories, and then there is still Reno inside prison expecting Joe to help spring him with the 33K they hid. And Reno has friends on the outside.
I doubt that the federal prison system was ever that good, and even if it was, I doubt a prison psychiatrist could just talk a seemingly crazy man out of believing he had women in his pockets and cure him with talk alone.
imdb currently rates this as a 6/10, but knowing its roots as a short/documentary, I'd give it a 7/10. The leads give real depth to their rather rushed performances, and it is an interesting tale.
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