This week I stayed close to the noir genre — apart from a fantastically fun live tweet of Night of the Living Dead (1968) on Friday with the #TGIRiff crew.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938): With its amazing cast of Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, and Humphrey Bogart, I was ready to love this film about a doctor who becomes the leader of a crime gang in order to study its medical components and impact on the criminals themselves. Sadly, it fell rather flat for me. The acting is fine, but the characters are rather one dimensional where they (especially the doctor) should not be. Robinson aims for calm and classy and nearly makes it; Claire Trevor plays the tough but not particularly interesting criminal Jo Keller; and Bogart is entirely one-dimensional as the ambitious and dangerous “Rocks” Valentine. All three leads have been so much better in so much else. As consolation prizes, enjoy ex-prizefighter Maxie Rosenbloom as Max, Ward Bond as Tug, and Vladimir Sokoloff as Popus. NOT RECOMMENDED unless, like me, you want to see everything that Robinson and Trevor have done.
Shield for Murder (1954): Speaking of one dimensional characterizations, there’s action but little else in Shield for Murder, which interested me because it features Edmond O’Brien as lead and co-director. O’Brien plays Barney Nolan, an out-of-control cop who finally goes all bad and murders a criminal for the $25K he’s carrying — and that’s how the film begins! Of course 1950s morality means he can’t get away with this, and the picture emphasizes how bad cops cause real trouble for all cops. This is part of Shield for Murder‘s immersion in its era, perhaps the most interesting facet. Barney’s main objective is to live the “good life,” which is shown in the film to be about living in a nice house in the suburbs with a nice girl (in this case the dull Marla English). It was great to see young Claude Akins as a no-nonsense private dick and Carolyn Jones as a blonde floozy. But the cast can’t save this very B picture from being a pale imitation of Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). NOT RECOMMENDED, but not a terrible way spend 82 minutes some lazy evening.
Double Cross (1941): I was surprised to find this B film wasn’t made 5-10 years earlier than its 1941 release. It has none of the darkness or cynicism of noir or the hardboiled spark of The Maltese Falcon (released the same year); it’s just a lackluster rehash of the crime film staple in which a cop goes undercover with the mob to bring it down. For me, Double Cross is primarily noteworthy for featuring one of the least appealing femme fatales I’ve ever seen in Wynne Gibson. NOT RECOMMENDED.
Apologies for having only these three duds to discuss this week. I’ll aim higher next week!