Dane Clark is always interesting to watch. His perpetual hangdog expression and droll line readings clash with his fairly diminutive size, making for strange anti-heroes in the films he's in (Borzage's MOONRISE being one of the very best).
And he does his best in this straightforward, occasionally pedestrian thriller about the Feds on the trail of munitions thieves, who are selling their purloined goods to resistance fighters in an unnamed South American country. Along the way, it manages to be both pro and anti-populist revolution, and almost pro-gangster, making for interesting viewing. As a thriller, it works some of the time; the best scenes involve hoods trying to outwit other hoods, with an undercover Federal man (Clark) impersonating a gun runner who plays both sides against each other if there's a dollar in it. But the cinematography and staging tends toward the pedestrian, there's not enough crackle in the screenplay, and the casting of the pneumatic Lita Milan as a torch singer/gun-buying revolutionary is ludicrous (though she provides the finest scenery in the picture). The film is buoyed by a decent amount of location photography in San Pedro, CA where the film is set, and there's a few nice character touches (the gun runner's best friend is a marmot-like creature named Victor who accompanies him everywhere).
But THE TOUGHEST MAN ALIVE leaves you hungering for something a little meatier. HOUSE OF BAMBOO it isn't, but as a low-budget time filler, it works. And I did see a print projected, so it's not an entirely lost item, though I can't imagine there are good 35mm materials left on the title.
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