Monday, September 15, 2014

Arson Inc. (1949)

Arson Inc. is a 1949 Lippert Pictures release included in the first of VCI’s Forgotten Noir Collector’s Sets. Of course it isn’t film noir but it is a decent crime B-picture.

Film-makers at this time were trying to add some variety to their crime movies by focusing on investigative agencies other than the police. This trend produced several movies about Treasury Department agents and even a thriller about a post office investigator (Appointment with Danger). As its title would suggest Arson Inc. deals with the work of Fire Department investigators.

Joe Martin (Robert Lowery) is a fireman who is offered the chance to join the Los Angeles Fire Department’s arson squad. A recent warehouse fire had raised suspicions of foul play and those suspicions cost an investigator his life. The name of an insurance underwriter named Fender seems to keep cropping up whenever there’s a suspicious fire. Joe Martin’s job is to find out a little more about Mr Fender’s activities.

Joe strikes up a friendship with Pete Purdy (Edward Brophy), a genial middle-aged man who works for Fender. Pete is a friendly sort of guy who tells Joe he always wanted to be a fireman. He failed the physical but now he takes a keen amateur interest in fires and fire-fighting. That’s the sort of information that can be guaranteed to attract the attention of a Fire Department investigator.

In order to give Joe a chance to get close to Fender the Fire Department arranges to have Joe fired. If Fender is running an arson racket then a disgruntled former fireman is just the sort of guy he’d be looking for to join his organisation. It doesn’t take too long for Joe to penetrate the organisation.

In his spare time Joe is developing a romance with Jane Jennings (Anne Gwynne), a school teacher who was doing some baby-sitting for one of Fender’s clients.

Fender is planning another warehouse fire insurance scam and Joe and Pete are to do the dirty work. That’s fine by Pete - anything that involves lighting fires is fine by Pete.

The 63-minute running time means that Maurice Tombragel’s screenplay has to be tightly focused. There’s no time for unnecessary sub-plots and Tombragel keeps things simple. Director William Berke had plenty of experience making B-movies and he keeps the focus tight.

Robert Lowery makes a very satisfactory hero. He’s likeable and he avoids tough guy posturing. He’s a fireman not a cop and the rough stuff is not in his line. So, with surprising realism, he is not portrayed as an action hero type.

Jane really doesn’t play much part in the plot other than to provide a love interest for the hero but Anne Gwynne does that quite successfully and she’s engaging enough.

The supporting players are capable by B-movie standards with Edward Brophy being particularly good as Purdy, the fire-bug who gets very excited whenever he sees a naked flame (lighting a cigarette takes him a long time since he has to stop to admire the flame of the match).

This movie is typical of the productions of Lippert Pictures. There is very little time wasted on comic relief and that’s a major bonus. Their movies were unambitious but efficient B-features.

Since it deals with arson the movie provides a reasonably exciting ending with a fire.

VCI have provided a good serviceable transfer (as they have for all the movies in this set). They have even thrown in a few extras.

Arson Inc. is a solid little crime thriller. It’s a B-movie through and through but it’s entertaining. Recommended.

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