Saturday, April 27, 2013
The Hoodlum (1951)
Vincent Lubeck (Lawrence Tierney) is no good. He’s been in and doubt of reform school and prison since he was sixteen. Now he’s served five years for armed robbery and is eligible for parole. The warden knows Vincent is no good and recommends that he not be granted parole but he is overruled by the bleeding hearts on the Parole Board, influenced by a sob story from his mother. They believe that the purpose of prison is to reform prisoners. The warden knows this is dangerous nonsense but is overruled and Vincent is paroled. The members of the Parole Board won’t have to pay the price for their lousy judgment - the Lubeck family and the rest of society will pay that price, as they always do.
Vincent’s brother Johnny (played by Lawrence Tierney’s real-life brother Edward) gives Vincent a job at his gas station. Vincent is not grateful and is already planning his next robbery - the bank across the street from Johnny’s gas station.
Vincent has big plans. He intends to rob the armoured car that picks up the money from the bank. He has it all worked out. The plan is foolproof, even to the extent of using a funeral to expedite the robbers’ getaway. Like most foolproof schemes dreamed up by two-bit hoodlums like Vincent the robbery goes badly wrong, and Vincent is soon on the run with nowhere left to hide.
Vincent is a man with no redeeming qualities. It’s a credit to Lawrence Tierney that he can keep us interested in the fate of such an unpleasant character. It’s a powerful and rivetting performance. Vincent is no film noir hero driven to desperation by the wiles of a femme fatale or caught in the net of fate. He has made his own choices. Both he and his brother Johnny were brought up in poverty but Johnny has worked hard and now has a successful business. It might be only a gas station but Johnny is still rightfully proud that he is earning a good living and an honest one. There was never anything to stop Vincent from doing the same, but Vincent was always too busy feeling sorry for himself and being angry at the world which he obviously believes owes him a living. As his mother admits, Vincent has always been at war with the whole world.
Edward Tierney has the thankless role of the good hard-working brother and he handles it fairly well. Allene Roberts is effective as Rosa, a woman destroyed by her passion for a bad man. In this case it is Vincent who plays the role usually reserved for the femme fatale, using his bad boy glamour to ensnare Rosa.
European director Max Nosseck does an efficient job. His career never took off, even after he scored a surprise hit for Monogram with Dillinger in 1945, also with Lawrence Tierney as the star. Dillinger became one of the most successful releases in Monogram’s history.
With a running time of just 61 minutes this movie is unlikely to wear out its welcome. The movie’s visual style puts it into the noir camp even though there’s little in the content to justify calling this a film noir. It’s a gritty little crime B-movie and it succeeds quite well on its own terms.
The mood of the film is unrelentingly bleak. It is bookended by a memorable sequence in the city dump that establishes the movie’s lack of hope, and this darkness certainly gives it some claim to be considered a noir. Vincent began his life in a house so close to the dump that the smell was always there, and at the end of the he’s back there again. That smell really is destined to follow him throughout his life, and to provide him with a never-ending alibi for failure.
Image Entertainment’s region-free DVD release offers an unrestored but acceptable print. There are no extras but at the very low price being asked you wouldn’t expect any.
The Hoodlum is a tough uncompromising movie that is as spiteful as its lead character. An excellent example of the B-movies of its era. Recommended.