House Of Numbers, 1957

Crime drama and Jack Palance go together like, well, cells and inmates. This starts off quick, with Palance (as both Arnie and his twin brother Bill), and Barbara Lang (as jailbird Arnie’s wife Ruth) preparing a cunning escape plan. It goes without saying that Lang could pass for Marilyn Monroe’s twin. She even looks great ironing; Palance, true to his form, manages to look dangerous just standing and talking, his face half-shadowed by the night. There’s more noirish shadow-play as Bill breaks into the prison; the music sort of amplifies the tension.

Shooting on location, with actual prisoners, no less, definitely establishes authenticity. The guard Nova (Harold J. Stone), whom Bill meets on the outside, becomes both an asset and an antagonist–as Bill has to listen to the guy’s musings about ‘his’ Arnie’s “hot” wife. That sets up a weird double-game in which Nova spends his spare time leering at Ruth. He’s really a loose cannon–breaking into Bill’s place, and, having figured out the scam, succumbing to blackmail. That sets up an opportunity for messing with Ruth. Stupidly, though, he tails Bill instead, and gets the tables turned. He has to talk his way out of this jam; but then apparently goes back on his word.

Meanwhile, Ruth has a more sincere admirer–Bill. Since Bill and Ruth agree to turn in Arnie, there’s a future for them; they clearly have a better relationship by this point than what’s left of Ruth’s and Arnie’s marriage. The ending is kind of abrupt, and it’s hard to figure that Arnie would basically give himself up. I suppose, having scared off Ruth, he sees no other future for himself.

This is pretty solid stuff: well-paced and acted, with good atmosphere. As elaborate as the prison escape layout is, it does seem a bit too easy to pull off, though. Worth watching for Palance’s and Lang’s performances. 7/10.

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