Let’s park ourselves on the sofa for tonight’s entertainment, shall we?
Sweet! Another cop-gone-bad early ’50s crimefest, with tough talkin’ fedora wearin’ men and dangerous dames.
Our cop gone bad finds a dark alley, shoots a numbers runner in the back and lifts the twenty five grand he carried. And then he starts the big cover up, claiming the guy ran on him and a shot went bad.
You can tell the bad cop by the Bill Belichick scowl and ciggie… none other than Edmond O’Brien, stalwart character actor found across genres. His former protegé, now Det, Sgt, is John Agar, who’d go on to appear in tons of westerns and some notably awful scifi like Attack of the Puppet People.
So why did O’Brien murder for money? Well, to afford his 1950s dreams of domestic suburban bliss, you dummy! Can’t do that on a cop’s salary, ya chucklehead. Watch him take his good-girl squeeze to the model house in the new neighborhood.
A swell modern living room.
Yes, a fully furnished model! None of this real estate-staging BS for these two. A place where you can dream that every dinner party has the candelabra for that Liberace feel.
The innocent girlfriend is Marla English in her first credited role. She’d do a few more minor films in the ’50s before getting married for real and leaving the biz behind. I’d like to think she got an actual living room like that.
But outside…. our crooked cop is hiding the dough.
And it goes from there.
A deaf mute witness turns up and gets Agar suspicious. And then he turns up dead. O’Brien gets angrier, sweatier and more nervous as the net closes around him. I mean, REALLY sweaty. And the bookie hasn’t forgotten his stolen money, either, sending two sleazy detectives after it via pressuring O’Brien and his girlfriend…
And here began a record “Hey, it’s THAT guy!” moments as more and more familiar faces turned up in minor roles. You might recognize Claude Akins on the right as one of the sleazy private DICKS as they were called. Akins would have a long career on TV, appearing in tons of westerns as both good and bad guys, also playing cops and sheriffs. You’ll also remember him as the would-be voice of sanity in the classic “Monsters on Maple Street” Twilight Zone.
Things only get better from there. An assistant DA shows up to ask our cop some tough questions.
William Schallert, who was in EVERYTHING EVER PRODUCED, it seems, somewhere. He was Patty Duke’s dad, hell, he was everyone’s sitcom dad somewhere, or the go-to guy to play some doctor, professor, lawyer, pharmacist, whatever…. although how can you forget his memorable role as the thorn in Shatner’s side? Although the tribbles liked him… well, as Kirk said, there’s no accounting for taste…
Later on when O’Brien’s girlfriend calls the station to check on him, a familiar face answers the phone.
He’s just a plainclothes cop now, but just you wait… he’ll be chief of police one day…
You could blink and miss the gambler the cops just busted.
Yeah, THAT guy…. on the left. How about now?
Good ol’ Dr. Steve Hardy from General Hospital, John Berardino. He was an original cast member of the soap, and played on it for 33 years. He started out a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Browns before some injuries forced him to quit ball and try acting.
But not before he won a world series alongside Satchell Paige, Bob Feller and the 1948 Cleveland Indians.
He’s the only World Series champ on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But back to our movie… as the net closes in around O’Brien, he stops at a local watering hole for some bourbons, some searching for a Plan B and forgetfulness. And just like in every movie like this, the local blond floozie starts hitting on him.
You probably recognize her better with black hair.
At least she found marital bliss one day. Thank you, Thing!
And wait… I’ve seen that bartender before….
In fact, I’ve seen him in some very interesting places….
Ah, Vito Scotti! He should have had a contest with William Schallert over how many different TV shows they can turn up in. Schallert’s the go-to choice for boring white guy parts. Vito Scotti is Giovanni-on-the-spot for every over-the-top ethnic Italian role…. or maybe a gypsy on Andy Griffith, or maybe a cringeworthy Japanese soldier on Gilligan’s Island or a cringeworthy Japanese ambassador’s aide on Rifleman or… Good God, just look at the amount of work this guy did.
He was good buddies with Peter Falk, and turned up on multiple episodes of Columbo.
He was a gourmet cook as well, hosting Hollywood parties that plied people with the fruits (and vegetables) of his culinary skills. After all, he baked a wedding cake for Don Corleone.
So let Enzo the baker stay in America and marry his daughter, will ya? Don Corleone understands everything.
O’Brien goes on the lam once Agar gets enough evidence to charge him. He digs out his old uniform to disguise himself as an anonymous beat cop and tries to buy his way out of trouble. In the meantime, he has to hole up at a criminal safe house run by the guy on the right…
Yeah, when I think MASTER CRIMINAL, I think of Richard Deacon. Mainstay of TV comedies, game show panels and a 1970s microwave cookbook, you know him mostly as Mel Cooley from Dick Van Dyke.
O’Brien has to run from the cops AND the sleazy detective pair while he tries to dig up his hidden money to buy his way to Argentina… and it actually all plays out pretty well in a wonderful violent and blatantly obvious but still cool symbolic closing sequence. As entertained I was by spotting way, way too many familiar TV faces, this B-movie crime job was also a solid movie. O’Brien is mostly just angry and volatile throughout, and I’ve seen him express a lot more acting range in stuff like D.O.A or 1984 or The Barefoot Contessa or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Kinda surprised his performance here, a good one, is so one-note though, especially when this came up at the very end.
Well! He’s not a bad director, although I’m not sure how he divided up the work with Howard Koch. Koch directed a few more movies, but mostly made his Hollywood career in producing – and he was the producing force behind mainstream hits like The Odd Couple, but was also responsible for getting stuff like The President’s Analyst and Airplane to the big screen. So he’s THE MAN!
O’Brien would only direct one more feature in his career, one that he would not act in, 1961’s Man-Trap. I’ve added it to my to-see list once I track it down somewhere. It’s another crime story, and once again (I peeked at imdb) the cast teems with Hey, it’s THAT guy/gal! moments. I mean…. it stars Captain Pike, and also features Colonel Hogan! Thus becoming must-see item territory!
Eddie Muller had some great commentary on this one as well when it turned up on TCM’s Noir Alley. (Sorry about the video quality on this, someone literally filmed their TV). But check it out, glad to see he also noticed the sweat:
And I recommend Shield For Murder as a nice little 1950s crime movie. You can even watch it all for free right here via youtube! Enjoy!