Saturday, August 23, 2014

Portland Exposé (1957)

Portland Exposé is a low-budget 1957 noir from the Allied Artists off-shoot of Monogram Pictures. It’s included in the first of VCI’s excellent Forgotten Noir boxed sets.

Portland Exposé deals with organised crime involving the Teamsters’ Union. This was a subject much in the news at the time and this notoriety was something that producer Lindsley Parsons hoped would help the movie at the box office. His instinct was correct and the movie, made on a budget of less than $200,000, performed quite well commercially.

George Madison (Edward Binns) runs the Woodland Tavern with his wife Clara (Virginia Gregg). George has been persuaded to install pinball machines in the tavern. He’s not too thrilled by the idea, believing that pinball machines are a step on the road that leads to gambling, vice and social disintegration. He now finds himself under pressure from Teamsters’ Union mobsters to install more machines, along with slot machines.

George is not the kind of guy who likes to be pushed around and he’s keen to fight back against the growing tide of intimidation and corruption in the city. He joins forces with a couple of crusading reporters and an honest union boss. The idea is for George to play along with the mobsters and infiltrate their organisation. While he’s doing this he’ll be recording everything on a miniaturised tape recorder that the two reporters are very proud of. It’s so tiny that it’s only about the size of a house brick so when you wear it under your suit it’s no more conspicuous than a house brick would be. You will not be surprised to find out that this tape recorder nearly gets George killed when the bad guys inevitably discover it.

George has however gathered quite a lot of evidence. Now he just needs to stay alive, but soon he has other problems when the creepiest of the bad guys (played by Frank Gorshin) tries to rape his daughter Ruth, and Ruth later gets menaced by a maniacal hoodlum with a bottle of acid.

By the standards of 1957 this is quite a violent movie, and quite a sleazy one as well. The mobsters are pushing narcotics and prostitution as well as gambling. This relatively harsh edge is one of this film’s two notable features, the other being the topicality of the subject matter that I referred to earlier. There’s also one memorable brief scene of a gang murder that is quite remarkable for its sadism, and for the maniacal laughter of the perpetrator.

Unfortunately, while the intentions were good the execution is not quite so hot. The dialogue is stilted and the acting is a bit on the wooden side. Frank Gorshin provides the acting highlights with a chilling performance as a particularly nasty thug with a taste for young girls. Joseph Marr is also excellent as a psycho heavy.

The movie was shot entirely on location in Portland, despite threats to the producers by armed goons from the Teamsters’ Union.

Director Harold D. Schuster helmed the rather good 1954 noir Loophole. Considering the limited budget and tight shooting schedule for Portland Exposé he does a fairly solid job.

Stylistically this is not a particularly noirish movie. There are a few night scenes but they don’t have the genuine noir feel.

VCI have done a fine job with the presentation of this movie. The transfer is good and is 16x9 enhanced and there’s an exceptionally informative audio commentary by Lindsley Parsons Jr who was assistant director. He’s the son of the movie’s producer and he provides some fascinating glimpses into the world of low-budget film-making.

Portland Exposé is by no means a great movie, it’s not even a very good movie, but its fairly unflinching (by the standards of the day) portrait of the effects of corruption and gangsterism make it worth a look, and give it a certain noir flavour. The Forgotten Noir boxed set can be very highly recommended, and if you buy the set there’s no reason not to give Portland Exposé a spin.

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