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An investigative reporter tells his assistant about a book called The Argyle Album, which contains a list of people who were traitors and war profiteers during World War II. When the reporter is murdered in the hospital, his assistant is framed for the killing and must elude the police and a gang of international criminals who are looking for the album to use for blackmail.Written by
As I was boxing up some old films for an upcoming move, I stumbled across THE ARGYLE SECRETS, a film I must have watched a decade ago. I didn't remember anything about it and even thought it starred Tom Conway (!!), but I must have been thinking of another film. So THE ARGYLE SECRETS seemed new to me, and I was VERY impressed by it. Yes, there are some similarities with THE MALTESE FALCON, but many detective/crime films were influenced by that classic. I have not heard the radio play on which this film is based, but taken on its own, this is--like many of the releases from the fascinating "Film Classics" company, an outfit that specialized in very low-budget but quirky and atmospheric crime and detective and late noir films--a moody and distinctive film that is surprisingly good. William Gargan (close your eyes while he is speaking and see if you don't think that his speech rhythms are reminiscent of George Raft) is always an excellent hard-boiled leading man, and here he plays a journalist who is entrusted with some vague information about something called The Argyle Album, which supposedly contains all kinds of incriminating information about WWII traitors and collaborators and profiteers. He is framed for the death of the man who gave him the information, and thus he is being pursued by both police and international crooks. There are a number of hair-raising sequences where he is about to be caught or killed (one scene where he sneaks into an apartment where a policeman--an almost unrecognizable Robert Kellard-- and his mother live, and the cop has a newspaper with Gargan's face on the cover, but insists on looking at the sports section first, but is always ABOUT TO look at the front page) is very cleverly done, and there is a very creative hallucination montage after Gargan is beaten up by the bad guys. There's also an undercurrent of suggested brutality in the film that is disquieting. Gargan beats a woman who asks him to so that she will have bruises on her and thus she can claim he escaped after choking her; Gargan strong-arms a woman into submission; and there's a scene with an acetylene blow torch that is quite effective and would be considered a classic if it had appeared in , say, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Writer-director Cyril Enfield was responsible for some excellent and creative mysteries in the late 40s and early 50s--THE SOUND OF FURY (aka TRY AND GET ME) is an amazing film with a strong liberal message, and THE LIMPING MAN is a wonderful mystery with a switch ending that has to be seen to be believed. Endfield is superb at creating a sense of dislocation, of disorder. A surprising credit for Assistant to the Producer is famous silent-film archivist and entrepreneur Raymond Rohauer. The film is produced by Sam X. Abarbanel, a writer and producer responsible for some of my favorite guilty pleasure such as the Spanish crime films THE NARCO MEN starring the late Tom Tryon, and THE SUMMERTIME KILLER with Chris Mitchum. Also, there are a number of juicy supporting performances--Ralph Byrd as the police inspector who isn't sure about Gargan and appears in the final scene of the film which is hilarious (and which I won't give away), and Jack Reitzen (who was in a LOT of grade-c crime films in the late 40s), doing a florid Southern accent and chewing the scenery. There are many distinctive little touches in this film--for instance, when Gargan is being interrogated by Ralph Byrd, we see a few shadows of men with hats hanging suspiciously outside the opaque windows of the office. When Gargan leaves the office and walks off screen, about five seconds later we see these shadows head in his direction. Maybe using shadows allowed the producer to use non-actors to play the roles and save money, but the effect works for whatever reason it may have been done. I will undoubtedly watch this film again soon and show it to some like-minded friends who appreciate low-budget, indie crime films of the post-World War II era. Check it out if you get a chance--it will be worth your time if you find the above description interesting.
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