Escape From Crime, 1942

Got to like a movie with characters named Slim, Red, Buff, Dude, and Screwball. In fact, the dialogue has all the ’40s lingo down–with its very apt staccato delivery; “Ya big lug” and “frying the pants off” being particular gems. Red O’Hara (Richard Travis) has to get “wise to himself” to fit back into society after getting out of “stir”. The premise is original in that it’s a random crime that both gets the protagonist back into his newspaper job and messes him up with hoods again. Photographing his friend’s execution is a uniquely macabre ‘set-up’.

Travis’s range is fairly wide–his Red is a regular guy, mixing with cops, criminals, and his wife and son with appropriate nuance. The little bit where he improvises a bunny puppet to entertain his son is pretty cool. His news photos make a great action-filled montage. Speaking of action–the execution deal itself is straight horror–with shadow-figures on the wall in the tomb-like room. What drives the plot isn’t just crime–it’s sensationalist journalism. Red was pressured to photograph the execution at the risk of losing his job; his boss just assumes that he can make Red do anything for money.

Until the very last scene, Red is manipulated by all sides, never able to let his guard down. His constant sparring with the cops Biff (Wade Boteler) and Rafferty (John Hamilton) highlights their willingness to believe in him without directly compromising themselves. That things do work out for Red seems almost as much a lucky break as the result of his genuine efforts to rehabilitate himself. That’s what gives Escape From Crime a touch of film noir–showing the power of fate; and life as a (sometimes deadly) game. Red puts on that he’s gone back to the dark side during the climactic shoot-out scene, but quickly turns the tables again to gain the advantage on Slim and Dude. Even the happy ending begins as a ruse, Red thinking he’s still in hot water with the warden over the execution photo.

The pacing is probably the best thing here; it keeps the interest level high and adds to the built-in sense of drama. I really don’t find anything much to complain about. Sure, the big shoot-out leaves us many bullet holes short of authenticity, but after the cops seem to miss everything, they start hitting everything. Works out o.k. Very entertaining overall, worth watching for the action alone. 8/10.

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