Sunday, April 12, 2020
Naked Alibi (1954)
Al Willis (Gene Barry) is a baker and a very respectable church-going family man who gets himself arrested after a few too many drinks. The cops try to pin a robbery rap on him. He gets sore and takes a swing at Lieutenant Parks and makes a few wild drunken threats so the cops give Al a working over. Then they realise that they have zero evidence so they let him go.
That would be the end of story, except that the following night Lieutenant Parks is gunned down. Based on his wild threats Chief of Detectives Conroy (Sterling Hayden) is convinced that Al Willis is the killer, despite a complete absence of evidence.
What’s interesting is that we really don’t know what’s going on with Conroy in the early part of the film. Is he corrupt? Is he really a thug (apparently he’s been the subject of numerous complaints)? Is he crazy? Is he cracking up? Or is he a dedicated if perhaps slightly over-zealous cop? He’s definitely not a conventional nice guy but at this stage we can’t be sure if he’s going to turn out to be the villain or the hero.
Conroy is totally obsessed and although facing the possible ruin of his career he continues remorselessly to pursue Al Willis, following to a small (and very disreputable) town on the Mexican border.
At this point the film changes gears. We find out a lot more about what really drives these two men. More importantly, Gloria Grahame makes her entrance. And it’s quite an entrance. The first we see of her is a view of her bottom on a barstool, wiggling in a remarkable enticing manner. She gets our attention, and she holds it for the rest of the movie.
Director Jerry Hopper started his career as an editor, always good training for a future director. His pacing is relentless. This is a movie that never stops to draw breath. Hopper’s career as a film director was eclipsed by his later much more successful career in television. Lawrence Roman’s screenplay is very solid with some interesting twists. Within the limitations of a B-movie budget there’s enough noir visual style to satisfy any reasonable person (the cinematographer was the great Russell Metty).
Sterling Hayden and Gene Barry are both excellent. Barry is particularly good. He really pulls out all the stops. As good as they are they’re both overshadowed by Gloria Grahame. She truly sizzles (aided by a very sexy wardrobe) but she was an actress who could ooze sex whilst still delivering a nicely nuanced performance, in this case as a troubled young woman trapped in a situation she doesn’t fully comprehend.
Why is the movie called Naked Alibi? Because it’s a cool title and it has the word naked in it. That’s the sort of movie this is. It’s an unashamedly lurid potboiler of a B-picture and if that’s what you like then this is a very very good example of the type. It’s also surprisingly subtle and complex (helped the superb acting of the three leads) with a bit of an edge to it and it’s immensely enjoyable, so this is a superior B-movie. An absolute must-see for Gloria Grahame fans. Very highly recommended.
Kino Lorber’s DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer (the movie is in widescreen and black-and-white). There’s an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger. I’ve never heard of her but she knows her noir stuff and she’s enthusiastic and she clearly loves this film.