Friday, March 28, 2014

The Verdict (1946)

The Verdict, made by Warner Brothers in 1946, was Don Siegel’s first feature film as director. It was based on Israel Zangwill’s classic 1891 locked-room mystery The Big Bow Mystery. Although some have classified The Verdict as film noir its claims to that status are  rather dubious, although it does have some rather dark moments. It’s one of the many memorable movies that Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre made together during the 1940s, and this time they share star billing.

The movie is set in London in the 1890s. Superintendent Grodman (Sydney Greenstreet) gets a nasty surprise right at the beginning of the film when he discovers that a man who was hanged a few hours earlier at Newgate Prison was in fact innocent. Grodman’s case against the man was based on circumstantial evidence although at the time the case seemed convincing enough. It was certainly enough to persuade a jury to convict. 

Grodman’s distinguished career is now in ruins. He is forced into retirement and to rub salt into the wound his arch-rival, Chief Inspector Buckley (George Coulouris), gets his job.

Grodman has certainly not forgotten the case. He continues to investigate the matter as a private citizen, with some help from his friend Victor Emmric (Peter Lorre), a rather dissolute but engaging artist.

The murder victim had been Hannah Kendall and when her nephew is murdered it seems obvious enough that the crimes are linked, although the exact nature of the linkage remains uncertain. Discovering the link proves to be beyond the meagre powers of the newly promoted Superintendent Buckley. Grodman however is confident that he can solve both crimes.

This is not just a locked-room mystery but also a psychological murder mystery, an aspect of crime in which Grodman has a particular expertise.

There are plenty of red herrings although the ultimate solution is really the only possible one. Screenwriter Peter Milne made quite a few changes in Zangwill’s story but his script is still satisfying as both locked-room puzzle and psychology mystery.

The setting provides the opportunity for the movie to indulge rather lavishly in the fogs for which London was famous (famous in detective stories at least). The gaslight and fog atmosphere works well. The movie comes across as a gothic mystery with a hint of film noir.

This was Don Siegel’s first feature but he already seems very assured.

Sydney Greenstreet gives one of his best performances as the indefatigable Grodman. Peter Lorre is in full-on Peter Lorre mode and his performance is as always delightfully offbeat. Both great actors who were even better when working together - they played off each other so well. The slightly unlikely friendship between Grodman and Emmric is one the movie’s great strengths. They’re both ambiguous and complex characters, and both actors were extremely good at portraying ambiguity and complexity in nicely subtle ways.

In 1946 Greenstreet and Lorre were at the height of their popularity and had by this time made the transition to full-fledged stardom. Warner Brothers considered them (quite rightly) to be capable of carrying an A-picture.

Joan Lorring has fun as a music hall singer who may (or may not) hold the key to the solution.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD offers a fairly good transfer, without extras. 

The Verdict is one of those movies that should appeal to just about all fans of classic movies. If you enjoy murder mysteries, if you enjoy gothic movies, if you enjoy film noir - this one has all bases covered. Add to that Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre at their top of their form and you have a surefire winner. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Saint in New York (1938)

The Saint in New York was the first of RKO’s very successful series of crime movies featuring Leslie Charteris’s dashing crime-fighter Simon Templar.

South African actor Louis Hayward plays Simon Templar in this first movie, after which George Sanders took over the role. Hayward would play the role again fifteen years later in Hammer’s The Saint’s Return (AKA The Saint’s Girl Friday).

In 1938 Hayward was perfect for the role. He was about the right age (not quite thirty) for The Saint of the 1930s and he had just about everything the role required. He was in fact a much better choice than George Sanders. Leslie Charteris thought Sanders was completely the wrong actor to play his hero, and he had a point. Sanders had the necessary smoothness and sublime self-confidence, and he had the right touch of moral ambiguity to play a hero who hasn’t always been technically on the right side of the law. Sanders however was just a little too languid and lacked the sense of physical menace needed for the role. He also did not quite manage to convey the sense of cockiness and recklessness that the Simon Templar of Charteris’s early stories had. Hayward has these qualities in abundance. He also has that very slight edge of craziness that makes the character complete. 

In fact Hayward’s portrayal may be the definitive screen version of Simon Templar. He’s certainly the actor who is the closest to nailing the character as he existed in the books written up to that date. The character of the books changed quite a bit over the years, with Roger Moore being perfect as the later slightly more world-weary version of the character. But Hayward is certainly very very good indeed.

From the mid-1930s Leslie Charteris spent more and more time in the United States, the Anglo-Chinese writer eventually becoming an American citizen in the 40s. Realising that the American market was likely to be very lucrative Charteris transplanted his hero to American settings. The movie reflects the new transatlantic incarnation of the character.

New York is suffering badly from the depredations of organised crime. Inspector Henry Fernack (Jonathan Hale) knows who the ring-leaders are and he is more than capable of arresting them. The problem is to make the charges stick in court, an insurmountable problem given that his key witnesses keep disappearing. The police commissioner decides on a bold strategy - the New York Police Department will (unofficially of course) employ the services of Simon Templar as a vigilante. He proves to be more like a one-man army than a vigilante. Pretty soon the top mobsters are dropping like flies. By the time the bodies turn up Templar is nowhere to be found, which suits the NYPD just fine. 

The Saint has no trouble tracking down the mid-level racketeers but he’s not satisfied with that. He wants the the “Big Fellow” - the mysterious and anonymous gang boss who controls the whole operation. His best lead is Fay Edwards (Kay Sutton), a beautiful woman who seems to know an astonishing amount about the workings of organised crime in the city. What Templar has to decide is whether he can trust her or not. She is also not sure if he can trust him, but she does know she’s falling in love with him.

The movie captures the feel of the books surprisingly well. The Saint does not just operate outside the law, he often operates entirely contrary to it. He has little interest in legal niceties. He wants justice and if that requires him to act as judge, jury and executioner then that’s perfectly fine by him. If justice requires a few laws to be bent or even broken he’s not going to lose any sleep about it, as long as the bad guys get what’s coming to them.

Charles Kaufman and Mortimer Offner’s screenplay gives Simon Templar plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his prowess at rubbing out villains in colourful ways and in charming women, especially beautiful dangerous women like Fay. Director Ben Holmes doesn’t try anything too fancy but he keeps the action moving in a very satisfactory manner. 

While the content is a long way from film noir that visual style of the movie anticipates the noir cycle of the 40s with plenty of dark and shadows, and it has an edge of moral ambiguity that was unusual in American movies of the 30s but would become much more common in the 40s in the movies that would later be labelled as film noir. The overall tone of the movie is darker than one would expect from a 1930s Hollywood crime movie.

The Saint series would become a very significant money-spinner for RKO and this movie launches the series in fine style.

Odeon’s British all-region DVD release is barebones. It offers an acceptable if not fantastic  print. The good news is that it seems to be uncut.

Fans of Hollywood crime B-movies will love this one and fans of the stories will relish the opportunity to see Louis Hayward giving a terrific performance that really does justice to Leslie Charteris’s creation. Great entertainment. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Green Berets (1968)

The Green Berets was John Wayne’s Vietnam War movie, so as you might expect it’s very different from the later crop of movies on that subject. It’s an old-fashioned war movie, but that’s no bad thing.

This was a movie that Wayne very much wanted to do and it was made by his own production company, Batjac Productions. Wayne also gets a credit as co-director.

Wayne stars as Colonel Mike Kirby, commander of an elite Special Forces group (the US Army Special Forces were known as the Green Berets from their distinctive headgear). Kirby arrives in Vietnam to take command of a base camp under construction. Construction of the camp is proving to be rather difficult due to incessant Vietcong mortar attacks. In fact before the camp is finished it comes under full-scale attack, providing the opportunity for some fairly spectacular combat scenes.

Before leaving the US Kirby had had a bit of a run-in with an anti-war newspaper reporter, George Beckworth (David Janssen). Beckworth tells Kirby the US has no business being in South East Asia. Kirby asks him if he’s ever been to South East Asia. When Beckworth replies in the negative Kirby just says, “Uh-huh” and walks away. Beckworth then decides to head for the war zone himself where he is confident he’ll find evidence to prove his case. The situation he actually finds there is not at all what he’d expected. He is shocked by the brutality of the Vietcong and by their atrocities against civilians. He later remarks to Kirby that if he tells the truth about what he’s seen he’ll probably lose his job, a telling (and depressingly accurate) reflection of the media’s treatment of the war.

One of the soldiers selected Kirby for his force is Sergeant Petersen (Jim Hutton), a man with a remarkable talent for securing desperately needed equipment. Petersen doesn’t go through official channels - he simply commandeers whatever is needed. Petersen finds himself adopted by a young Vietnamese orphan, a boy who has lost everything he ever cared about. Petersen’s fondness for the boy could have been merely an excuse for introducing an element of sentimentality but in fact it’s a key element of the movie. It personalises the conflict. The orphan boy is after all what the war is all about - trying to create a future for civilians whose lives have been devastated by Vietcong atrocities.

The latter part of the movie is almost like an episode of Mission: Impossible as the Green Berets carry out a daring plan to kidnap a top Vietcong commander. But since the Special Forces exist in order to carry out these kinds of unconventional operations it makes sense to include this element.

This is a movie that sent opponents of the war into a frenzy of self-righteous indignation and it has been widely dismissed as mere propaganda. In fact it’s no more propagandistic than the later widely praised anti-war movies. It’s obvious when reading most reviews of the film that its critics had already decided it was a bad movie before they had even seen it. It’s actually a pretty good war movie and it’s nowhere near as unrealistic as most of the anti-Vietnam War movies that these same critics go into raptures about.

The action sequences are well executed. The movie makes no attempt to gloss over the horrors of war and the violence is quite graphic by the standards of 1968.

John Wayne does a fine job as Kirby. Playing hardbitten heroes with a sensitive side is the sort of thing he always did well. The supporting cast is strong, with Aldo Ray standing out. George Takei of Star Trek fame is excellent as a tough South Vietnamese officer. David Janssen is good as the reporter who finds that the reality of war doesn’t match his prejudices. His role is perhaps the one unrealistic element in the movie - the idea of a journalist admitting to being mistaken stretches the limits of credibility to breaking point!

The Green Berets is a movie that wears its political incorrectness like a badge of honour. Unlike virtually every other Vietnam War movie it shows respect for brave man who were doing their duty, and it emphasis the patriotism of South Vietnamese fighting for their country’s freedom.

The Region 4 DVD provides an adequate anamorphic transfer.

Whether you agree with its politics or not The Green Berets is an effective and exciting war movie that also emphasises the human costs of war. It was a major box-office hit. As John Wayne pointed out at the time, the negative reviews it received  merely succeeded in making it an even bigger hit. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hell’s Half Acre (1954)

Hell’s Half Acre is a 1954 film noir from Republic Pictures, and it’s one of the few examples of film noir in a Hawaiian setting. In fact it’s probably the only film noir set in Hawaii. It’s not a bad little B-movie.

Chet Chester (Wendell Corey) is a well-known and popular figure in Honolulu. He owns the Hawaiian Retreat hotel. He’s prosperous and he has a girlfriend named Sally Lee (Nancy Gates). But Chet Chester is a man with a past. Actually he’s a man with two pasts, and they’re about to collide. 

In one past life Chet was Randy Williams, a young sailor who’d just married his sweetheart. After three days of marriage Randy had to leave to join his ship. His ship was the USS Arizona and it was December 1941. Randy Williams was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. At least that’s what US Navy records say, but his body was never found. Now someone from that life is looking for him.

In another past life Chet was a racketeer during World War 2. He made a lot of money but after the war he decided to become a respectable citizen. He paid off his two partners and hoped that he would never see them again. Now someone from that past life is also looking for him.

This collision of past lives will lead to murder. In fact several murders. It’s not easy to escape the past and it’s even harder when you have two pasts to escape from.

Much of the action takes place in Honolulu’s red-light district, known locally as Hell’s Half Acre. Such a setting is ideal for a film noir, with just the right amounts of seediness and sordid glamour. 

Wendell Corey makes a good noir protagonist. He has the right kind of defeated air about him. Even before things start to go wrong he looks defeated. He has the noir fatalism right from the start. When he tells Sally that he can easily get out of the mess he’s starting to get into the audience can’t help wondering if he really believes it or if he knows that the noir nightmare world has already claimed him.

There’s no femme fatale in this story, although Marie Windsor’s presence in the cast as the girlfriend of a small-time hoodlum adds to the movie’s noir credentials. The female lead is Evelyn Keyes (no stranger to film noir) as Donna Williams and she does a solid job.

Elsa Lanchester provides some comic relief as a cab driver who befriends Donna. Fortunately she doesn’t overdo things and the comic relief does not wreck the movie. Leonard Strong as the sleazy informant Ippy who tries to play everybody off against each other steals every scene he’s in. Keye Luke is quite convincing as the Honolulu police chief, Chief Dan. Dan keeps trying to arrest Chet but he actually has quite a bit of sympathy for him. Dan is a good cop in a quiet unassuming way. He hasn’t allowed the job to embitter him.

Philip Ahn brings a certain simmering menace to his role as the movie’s chief villain. Robert Costa is so sinister as Slim Novak that it’s a pity he gets so little screen time.

John H. Auer directed a lot of B-pictures for Republic. He does a competent job here and uses the Honolulu setting effectively. The movie was actually shot in Honolulu, which helps.

Of course the sleaze factor is played down, perhaps a bit too much. Taxi dancers were apparently the 1954 idea of the ultimate in sleaze and sin. Hell’s Half Acre doesn’t really come across as a very dangerous place. It’s more of a Sunday School teacher’s idea of a den of iniquity.

Steve Fisher’s script is effective, as you’d expect, although it would have worked better if the movie had been prepared to be a bit more down and dirty.

The Olive Films DVD is exactly what we expect from this company, a good transfer with no extras.

The movie’s main selling point is its novelty value, a film noir in a tropical paradise. Somehow a tropical setting always seems to work well when you populate it with desperate and defeated characters. This is strictly a minor noir but it’s entertaining enough. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dick Barton, Special Agent (1948)

Hammer Films made some great movies in their day, and a few that were not so great. If you’ve ever speculated on the subject of Hammer’s worst ever movie I think I can now supply a definitive answer. Dick Barton, Special Agent must surely be the worst movie the company ever made. In fact it’s one of the worst movies ever made by any company, in any country, at any time.

Hammer Films had begun in the 1930s but had declared bankruptcy in 1937. In 1946, after his war service, James Carreras revived the company. The intention was to use the company to make “quota quickies” so at this point a word on that subject might be in order. In the late 1920s the British Parliament had passed an Act (which remained in force until 1960) to force British cinemas to screen a designated quota of British films. The idea was that this would stimulate the growth of a thriving British film industry. In fact the legislation resulted in the emergence of the notorious “quota quickies” - movies made on incredibly low budgets that would allow cinemas to fulfill the requirements of the Act. Since cinemas would have to screen these movies to stay within the law these movies could be profitable, even if very few people went to see them, as long as they could be produced on sufficiently minuscule budgets. No matter how bad they were they were guaranteed of exhibition.

Not entirely surprisingly the “quota quickies” soon gained a very poor reputation. If Dick Barton, Special Agent, a quote quickie made by Hammer in 1948, is at all typical of the breed then that poor reputation was richly deserved.

Special Agent Dick Barton (Don Stannard) is on the track of smugglers operating out of an English seaside town. To help him in his investigation he has brought along his two side-kicks, Snowey and Jock. Jock is Scottish, so naturally he brings his bagpipes with him, because Scotsmen don’t go anywhere without their bagpipes. That’s an early indication of the kind of excruciatingly obvious, laboured and unfunny comedy that infests this movie from beginning to end.

Unfortunately the smugglers are already aware that Barton is on their trail and they make their first attempt to kill him before he even arrives. Dick gets his first break in the case when he and his friends are about to tuck into a meal of lobsters, only to find that the lobsters are full of jewellery and other smuggled items. So that’s how the smuggling gang operates!

What our hero doesn’t yet know is that he is dealing with more than just an ordinary smuggling racket. This particularly gang is actually run by ex-Nazis who still think they can win the war even if it has been over for several years. The Nazi mad scientist behind the operation has devised a fiendish plan to wipe out the entire population of Britain!

That’s all you need to know about the plot, because that’s all there is to it. Of the film’s 70 minute running time approximately 50 minutes comprises padding and atrocious comic relief. 

For some unexplained reason at one point the bad guys capture Dick Barton and put him in a suit of armour. You might think this will be the lead-up to some plot point or the setup for some gag, but in fact there appears to be no reason for it whatsoever.

The basic idea could well have made for a reasonably entertaining spy spoof. Although Dick Barton, Special Agent is played mostly for laughs it fails to work as a spoof for the simple reason that it fails to generate any laughs at all. It also fails to generate anything remotely resembling excitement so it ends up not working on any level at all.

Australian-born director Alfred J. Goulding had had some success directing comedy two-reelers in Hollywood. He may have been quite competent in that area but his gift for directing slapstick does not help him in this movie. 

The awful script is another problem but the biggest problem is the acting. Don Stannard is wooden but at least he isn’t overly irritating. That’s more than can be said about his “comic” side-kicks Snowey (George Ford) and Jock (Jack Shaw). 

The bad guys who turn out to be Nazi mad scientists could have been entertaining but the acting is so lame it all just falls flat.

The film was based on a radio series that had enjoyed some popularity. Surprisingly, in view of its utter and complete awfulness, Dick Barton, Special Agent was successful enough to spawn two sequels.

Icon Home Entertainment have released all three Dick Barton movies on a single disc. The sequels have a better reputation than the first film so perhaps the set will turn out not to be a dead loss. The transfer for the first film is adequate.

Dick Barton, Special Agent is a movie to be avoided at all costs.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Man Who Finally Died (1963)

The Man Who Finally Died is a fine example of the excellent thrillers the British film industry seemed to be about to turn out at will from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. This one is a spy thriller made in 1963 although the spy theme does not become apparent until quite late in the movie.

The story is very much in the tradition of the spy thrillers of Eric Ambler, with a very ordinary man suddenly becoming caught up in events that are beyond his comprehension and control. Joe Newman (Stanley Baker) is an English jazz pianist who has come to Germany in response to a letter from his father. This is decidedly odd, since his father died twenty years before. Or so he had always believed.

Joe Newman has not always been Joe Newman. He was born Joachim Deutsch. His mother had taken him to England when the war broke out. He has grown up as an Englishman although he has always known that he was German-born. His father, a soldier in the German army, had been killed in action.

Now it transpires that his father, Kurt Deutsch, had in fact been captured by the Russians. He spent years in a Russian prison camp, finally escaping a couple of years ago. But when Newman arrives in Germany he is told that he is too late, his father died two days earlier.

He is somewhat surprised to find that his father has left a young widow. Kurt Deutsch and his young wife Lisa had been living in the home of Dr Peter von Brecht (Peter Cushing), a wealthy philanthropic doctor who is in charge of a displaced persons camp.

Joe starts to have doubts about the story he has been told. There are several things that don’t add up. Why was his father, a Protestant, buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery? Joe has several other niggling doubts and starts to do some digging. The more he digs the more sceptical he becomes. He believes that there has been some kind of plot, but for what possible reason? His meeting with an insurance investigator reinforces his suspicions. Perhaps Joe’s father is not really dead?

There certainly has been a conspiracy but Joe Newman is on the right track, and at the same time on the wrong track. He is right in thinking that things are not what they seem to be but the real truth will only be revealed after several further major plot twists.

Stanley Baker was always a fine actor and he does well here as a strong-willed man who will not let things lie. Joe is a decent guy but when he thinks he’s being lied to he becomes  very stubborn. He is not by nature an action hero but he is caught up in dangerous games and will be forced to play that role. 

Peter Cushing is in fine form as the charming Dr Peter von Brecht, a man who is a little too good to be true. Cushing gives him a sinister edge but keeps it subtle. Eric Portman as Inspector Hofmeister proves capable of matching Joe Newman’s stubbornness. He does not like amateurs telling him how to do his job. Mai Zetterling provides good support as Lisa Deutsch. Georgina Ward got her first film role as a girl from the displaced persons camp caught up in in events she doesn’t understand. Ward subsequently appeared mostly in television role until her career petered out in the early 70s. Nigel Green’s role is unfortunately a minor one but it’s always fun to see him.

Director Quentin Lawrence made only a couple of movies but had a prolific career as a television director. His approach is efficient if not particularly inspired. He does handle the climactic action scene on the train very capably (and you really can’t go wrong ending a thriller on a train). 

On of the movie’s strength is its atmosphere. The war hangs over the film like a dark shadow. Joe’s great fear is that his father may have been involved in something very unpleasant but he is determined to uncover the truth no mater how unpalatable it may be. The German setting evokes both the Second World War and the Cold War and the sense of postwar disillusionment and the lingering sense of guilt, the idea that heroes might not be as heroic as hoped and that instead of creating a clean new world the war had left a legacy of moral ambiguity. There’s a sense throughout the movie that the secrets of past may come back to haunt us.

The Man Who Finally Died has been released on DVD in Region 2 by Network DVD in an excellent 16x9 enhanced transfer.

The complex performances of Stanley Baker and Peter Cushing make this something more than just a routine thriller. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cry Vengeance (1954)

Cry Vengeance is a 1954 Allied Artists crime thriller with more than a hint of film noir. Allied Artists had been Monogram Pictures but with the change of name came a change of approach. They started making what they called B-plus pictures - movies with bigger budgets and higher production values than the usual run of B-pictures, and generally of surprisingly high quality. Cry Vengeance is a good one.

Mark Stevens had pursued a moderately successful acting career in the 40s but with stardom eluding him he thought he might find more success behind the camera. Cry Vengeance was his first effort as director and he stars as well.

The movie opens in the small Alaskan town of Ketchikan. Two guys, guys the townspeople had assumed were just regular guys, get some bad news. Vic Barron is about to be released from San Quentin. Barron had been a cop but he’d been framed on bribery charges and sent to prison for three years. But the mobsters who had been out to get Vic Barron weren’t satisfied with just framing him. They tried to kill him by putting a bomb in his car. Vic escaped, although with his face badly scarred. His wife and daughter weren’t so lucky. They were killed. As you might expect, when Vic Barron leaves San Quentin he has one thought on his mind - finding the mobsters who killed his family.

You might be wondering what this has to do with those two very ordinary guys in Alaska. Those two guys are in fact racketeers Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy) and Johnny Blue-Eyes (Mort MIlls). They’re the men who murdered Vic Barron’s family. At least that’s what Vic Barron believes. The truth is that even though they were certainly mobsters they were not the ones who killed Vic’s wife and daughter. The real story was much more complicated.

Vic however has spent three years in a prison cell thinking about vengeance and he has no doubts in his mind that Morelli and Johnny Blue-Eyes were responsible, with Morelli being the man mainly responsible.

Vic arrives in Ketchikan and he doesn’t take long to find the men he’s after. He doesn’t kill Morelli straight way though - he wants to make him sweat. Another thing Vic doesn’t yet know is that Roxey Davis (Skip Homeier) is also in Ketchikan. Roxey is a hoodlum, and a particularly nasty one. He’s been sent to Ketchikan to take care of the Vic Barron-Tino Morelli situation. Roxey is accompanied by his drunken girlfriend Lily (Joan Vohs), who knows more about the whole situation than is good for her.

Vic is now in a position to get what he wants - vengeance. But will it be worth the cost? And is it what he really wants? He can have his vengeance, but only at the price of becoming the same sort of monster as the men he’s come to kill. 

This movie inevitably gets compared to The Big Heat and the superficial resemblances are certainly striking - the car bomb that kills the cop hero’s family, the psychotic sadistic hoodlum, the psychotic sadistic hoodlum’s boozy girlfriend who will get a shot at redemption. The message of the two movies is also similar - both are concerned with the effects that violent crime has on people. However there are enough differences to make Cry Vengeance more than just a knock-off of The Big Heat. The hero follows a very different trajectory. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) in The Big Heat is just as driven, but he’s driven by an icy determination to see the job through and catch the bad guys. He suffers, but he’s never in danger of self-destructing or losing control. Vic Barron is driven merely by blind hate and he’s not just in imminent danger of self-immolation, he’s also in serious danger of becoming the very kind of monster that he hates.

One nice touch is that our two mobster friends hiding out in Alaska, Tino Morelli and Johnny Blue-Eyes, have been playing the roles of regular decent guys for so long that they have actually become regular decent guys. They just want to forget the past. They have realised that being ordinary decent citizens in a nice little town is actually a pretty good way to live your life. They don’t even want to hurt Vic Barron. They just want him to believe them that they didn’t kill his wife and kid and for him to leave them alone. They’ve forgotten how to hate.

And that is exactly what Peggy (Martha Hyer) spends the whole film trying to persuade Vic Barron to do. Peggy owns the saloon in Ketchikan and she takes a shine to Vic the first time she sees him. She knows the truth about him - that he was once a very decent guy and that the decent guy is still there, buried under all the hate.

The usual criticism of this movie is that it starts out as film noir but fails to follow through on the noirness. Which is rather absurd since no-one in America in 1954 was consciously making film noir. They were just making films. Cry Vengeance might not be full-blooded film noir but that’s not what it is trying to be. It’s trying to be an exciting crime thriller combined with a story about not letting an obsession with revenge destroy you, and on its own terms it succeeds extremely well.

While Mark Stevens is no Fritz Lang it has to be said that as director he doesn’t really put a foot wrong. The movie is well-paced. The contrast between the idyllic life of Ketchikan and the hatred consuming Vic Barron from within works very effectively (and justifies Allied Artists’ bold decision to stretch the budget enough to allow for some actual location shooting in Alaska). The crucial scene in which Vic sees the monster he is in danger of becoming is handled skillfully and sensitively and without excessive sentimentality. The climactic action sequence is effective.

As actor Stevens does well also. One of the most notable features of this movie is that nobody in the cast is just going through the motions. They’re all doing their best, they’ve clearly put some thought into their performances, and they’re all very effective. Martha Hyers makes Peggy sweet without being insipid. Joan Vohs handles her big scenes well. And Skip Homeier pulls out all the stops making Roxey a very convincingly crazy vicious hoodlum.

Olive Films have, as usual, offered us a very good anamorphic DVD transfer.

Cry Vengeance is a well-crafted thoughtful crime thriller with sufficient noir elements to please noir fans. Highly recommended.