Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Plunder Road (1957)
The focus is entirely on the heist and the getaway. We see everything from the point of view of the gang, our only clues to the course of the police investigations coming when the bandits encounter a road-block or pick up snippets of information from a police scanner.
The heist itself is a train robbery, in fact the most ambitious train robbery ever, the plan being to lift ten million dollars’ worth of gold bullion on the way to the San Francisco Depository from the US Mint. The plan is intricate, requiring split second timing, and dangerous, involving the use of nitro-glycerine which must somehow be kept from exploding prematurely while being transported in a truck over rough roads in torrential rain. The explosives expert of the gang, Skeets Jonas (Elisha Cook Jr), has devised a complex piece of apparatus to prevent the bandits from being blown sky-high before the robbery.
One interesting feature of the movie is that we learn very little about the five members of the gang. We know that this is the first job ever pulled off by the gang’s leader, Eddie (Gene Raymond). We learn that Skeets has been in and out of prison all his life, and that one of the other gang members had been a race car driver. But we know very little about what makes these men tick.
Director Hubert Cornfield had a brief and undistinguished career but he handles this movie like a pro. Steven Ritch, who plays the ex-race car driver Frankie, wrote the very tight and effective screenplay.
While it’s only marginally noir it’s worth pointing out that the robbery scenes which take place at night and in driving rain do have a definite noir feel.
This is one of those “perfect crime” movies, and while the crime is certainly well planned and executed the prisons are full of guys who thought they had devised similarly perfect crimes. Even the best plans are vulnerable to human error and to plain dumb bad luck.
The acting is generally good with (not surprisingly) Elisha Cook Jr giving the standout performance.
Plunder Road is a thoroughly enjoyable action suspense crime thriller with a few hints of noir. An obscure movie than can nevertheless be highly recommended.