Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Loan Shark (1952)

Loan Shark is a 1952 low-budget crime B-movie from Lippert Pictures that doesn’t exactly set the screen alight but it does deliver decent entertainment and film noir fans will find that it’s worth a look.

George Raft is probably best known for the parts he turned down than for the parts he actually played. He turned down lead roles in High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. He arguably did more to make Bogart a star than Bogart did! With a propensity for making such disastrous decisions it’s not surprising that by 1952 Raft’s career was on the downslide. Loan Shark is in fact, by the standards of the movies he was making in the 50s, pretty good.

Raft plays Joe Gargen who’s been doing time in the state penitentiary. He got into a fight with a guy in the bar, and since Joe had been a professional boxer he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the deadly weapon being his fists. Now Joe has turned up on the doorstep of his sister Martha (Helen Westcott). Martha’s friend Ann Nelson (Dorothy Hart) is the secretary of the boss at the nearby tyre factory and she’s offered to try to get Joe a job at the plant. When it turns out that the boss is actually looking for somebody to do some undercover work Joe declines. He just wants to be a regular guy doing a regular job. 

The tyre plant is having trouble with loan sharks. Or rather their employees are having trouble with loan sharks, and it’s affecting the morale of the workers. The president of the company is the kind of guy who believes he has a responsibility to look after his workers and he wants this loan shark racket stamped out. Joe isn’t interested in joining a crusade until the loan shark racket affects his own family. Martha’s husband is one of the victims but he’d decided to fight back. Joe told him he was a fool and was asking for trouble and it turned out he was right. But Joe doesn’t like seeing his sister hurt so he changes his mind and takes the job. He’ll help the company take on the racketeers, but he’ll do it his way.

What Joe has to do is not just to find the loan sharks, which is easy. He has to find a way to get to the top men in the racket. He also has to find the loan sharks’ men on the inside in the tyre factory. These men have been encouraging other employees to become involved in gambling and then pointing them in the direction of the loan sharks when they start to lose. 

Pretty soon Joe has penetrated the racket. He’s now an insider, this being the only way to find the top man. This means Joe has to become a gangster himself, and as a result he finds himself hated by his former work mates as well as his sister. Even worse, it means he’s now hated by Ann, with whom romance had started to blossom quite promisingly. Of course Joe is also in real danger. The mobsters behind the loan racket aren’t likely to take kindly to amateur undercover men infiltrating their organisation.

Seymour Friedman had a fairly short career as a director, in both B-movies and television. The low budget on this film doesn’t offer much opportunity for doing anything fancy but he keeps the pacing taut and generally does a solid professional job. Cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc does a fine job, giving this movie a definite film noir feel. The excellent (and surprisingly brutal) opening sequence establishes the noir atmosphere very nicely.

George Raft isn’t everyone’s favourite actor. He’s often accused of being dull and wooden. Personally I like his hardbitten style and I find his performance here to be quite satisfactory. Joe is definitely a tough guy and Raft does the tough guy thing very convincingly.

He is however somewhat overshadowed here by a couple of very fine character actors who play the chief racketeers. Paul Stewart as Lou Donelli and John Hoyt as Vince Phillips  make superb mobsters and their performances are the highlight of the movie. Russell Johnson is better known as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island but he does well here as the crooked and slimy Charlie Thompson, proving himself to be better at playing crooks than he was at comedy. 

Dorothy Hart makes a decorative female lead although it’s not a part that offers  her much of an opportunity to display whatever acting abilities she may have possessed.

Loan Shark has been released by VCI on a two-movie disc paired with Arson Inc. This disc  is also included in their six-movie Forgotten Noir Collector’s Set. Loan Shark looks good although the sound is a little rough at times. Extras include an informative audio commentary track. VCI’s film noir releases always offer value for money and this is no exception.

Loan Shark isn’t a great movie but it’s a well-made B-feature with some good noir atmosphere, plenty of hardboiled dialogue and some good performances. On the whole it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

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