I had such an exciting ride with B noir Crime Wave (DeToth, 1953) the other night. And it wasn’t the film itself that made for the exciting twists and turns!  (Frankly, I have to stop being surprised when I discover noir links everywhere in Hollywood of the 1950s, but it keeps happening where I least expect it.)


Take Gene Nelson, for example, who plays the bad boy turned good in Crime Wave. What a great head of hair, I thought to myself when he first appears on screen. Handsome, and I like how he uses his body. He’s got charisma, too. Little did I know that this, Nelson’s only noir appearance, was dwarfed by his many appearances in era musicals. Moreover, I didn’t realize I already knew him well from repeated youthful screenings of Oklahoma (1955), in which he plays Will.

Oklahoma 2
Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie and Gene Nelson as Will in Oklahoma.

I’d already suffered more than a little shock when I found my affection for noir and learned that Gloria Grahame was not just some unknown who played Ado Annie without being able to hit the high note. And it wasn’t until the other day that I discovered Fred Zinnemann directed the film.

But back to Crime Wave. When Eddie Muller discussed the film for TCM’s “Noir Alley,” he spoke of the production history, including plans to give it a big budget and cast it with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, André DeToth‘s insistance on location shooting with less recognizable stars, and the resulting B flick with its basement budget and two-week shooting time. Muller also noted the first film appearance of Charles Bronson and praised noir favorite Sterling Hayden, who chews scenery (in my opinion) as well as toothpicks as a tough-as-nails, straight-arrow detective in Crime Wave. More noteworthy for me was that picture features a police station so poorly lit and miked that it makes Detour look like Double Indeminity. But none of that gripped me the way Gene Nelson did.

Low-budget detective office comes complete with wall calendar, rotary phone, and tousled Sterling Hayden. 

For those as ignorant as I, Nelson directed almost as many shows (movies/tv episodes) as he acted in, and his ability to act and sing was overshown in many a flimsy flick with his amazing athletic dancing ability. I am not a fan of 50s musicals, particularly the kind Nelson starred in, like Lullaby of Broadway (1951) opposite Doris Day or a trio of trite treats with Virginia Mayo, including Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951), She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952) and She’s Back on Broadway (1953). This said, THE MAN CAN DANCE:

Just watching this, of course, we find a song so sickening — in that 1950s WASP way that I know I won’t be able to sit through the rest of the flick. How I wish the powers that were recognized that Nelson could handle a serious role.

Ultimately, I’m glad I watched the picture. I didn’t think much of the throwback/throwaway plot, but I really enjoyed Gene Nelson’s performance.

What a man(e)!