Hot Summer Nights, 1957. 7/10

A late noir, and a rustic one at that. While honeymooning in the Ozarks Bill and Irene Partain (Leslie Nielsen and Colleen Miller) stumble upon a violent bank robbery. Bill, a reporter, seeks out the gang that’s behind the crime; finding a ring headed by local good old boy Tom Ellis (Robert J. Wilkes).

There’s also plenty of sketchy characters Oren (Jay C. Flippen), Kermit (James Best), Rosey (Sonny Chorre), and Elly (Paul Richards). Plus Deputy Lou Follett (Edward Andrews), Tom’s wife Ruth (Marianne Stewart), and mob girl Hazel (Leslie Parrish).

We start with an abduction of sorts, a hood taking an older guy ‘for a ride.’ In town, the hoods back their station wagon into an alley. Some sort of break-in is in the works. Ok, they’re going to torch a back door to soften it up, then pry it open. Yep, it’s a bank; and the old guy’s there because he knows the safe combination.

The banker activates an alarm. So, the hoods, after dispatching him, are quickly off and running. Swatching cars, they continue, to Chatsburg. A motorcycle cop pulls into a gas station/general store. Same spot that Bill and Irene have stopped at. Both sets of folks discuss the Ellis gang’s caper.

Bill drives back to the cabin they’re staying at. Irene’s very much in love–with this big lug? He wants to split, sensing danger; he doesn’t explain, other than he reiterates that he’s out of a job. So, he’s antsy, preoccupied. They take the road to Chatsburg. In a juke joint, they look out of place. Strangely, he buys a round for the bar; what’s he really up to? Kermit introduces himself.

Some honeymoon. Bill asks Kermit about a Ruth Childers (she’s someone in the know about malefeasence in town). Kermit, and everyone else, thinks he’s too nosy, and beats him up. The deputy comes in, which stops it. Bill and Irene sit down with him. Predictably, he asks what they’re doing in town.

Bill explains that he’s looking for a story; in this “bitter town” (the deputy’s term). The lawman agrees to take him too see this Ruth. “Can’t breathe in this town” Bill says, accurately. I just can’t see why he won’t just go along with his wife’s plaintive wishes to “do what lovers do.” She’s probably wishing they’d waited a bit before marrying.

He’s just got this mania–aren’t there other stories to dig up? He’s got to leave his wife alone in a hotel on their honeymoon, while he plays detective with some hoodlums. Makes plenty of nonsense. Ok, he meets Ruth; oh, he remembers her, from her mysterious past.

So, she’s last seen him at the Kansas City jail. He wrote a story “that made me famous among my friends” she says. They just chat, like old flames. He mentions Tom. Bill figures that Tom’s ‘story’ is sensational, and will jump-start his career. She’ll think about it. Is he going to level with Irene?

She asks if Ruth will help him get his job back; what Irene really wants to hear is “say that you desire me.” Man, that pesky Kermit comes calling. He shows Bill some shell casings–from the banker’s killing. There’s a sort of deal; Kermit will take Bill to Ellis, and Irene should be ok.

Ok, we’re out in the sticks, waiting for an “Indian.” Now we get Kermit’s sob-story bio. He just beat up Bill the day before; now Bill has this brotherly concern for him. Anyway, there’s Rosey (the so-called “Indian”) in the big sedan we’ve seen before, as one of the getaway cars. They blindfold him so he can’t recall the hideout’s location.

He meets Tom and the gang, including Hazel. Tom and Elly have some grudge. Elly “panics.” Bill gives his pitch about his article. Seems incredible that a wanted man would agree to do an expose on himself and his guys. Tom starts to talk, about how “loved” he is locally.

Back in town, Irene is in the hotel lobby. The deputy chats her up. “I want you to know about this town…nobody is gonna take Tom Ellis away from them.” Right. Meanwhile, Tom asks Bill if he wants to see a killing. Bill says he’s born with a “kink”; sure enough. When Tom expands on that concept, gloating, Elly can’t stand it, and shoots him.

Well, Bill got to see a killing, all right. And, halfway in, we’ve lost our antagonist. That’s original. Kermit’s done too. “Convince me!” Bleats Elly, basically demanding to know why Bill shouldn’t also be killed. Oren takes charge, and starts to dictate an ad for the Kansas City paper: basically an offer of Bill’s life for $50k. That’s clever.

What doesn’t make sense is how they expect to get away with it. Meanwhile, Irene has probably read the entire pulp novel rack at the hotel. She wants to find Ruth, so she can find Bill. Of course no one will help her–will the deputy? The bartender does tell her where the deputy lives.

Meanwhile, Rosey’s busy dumping the bodies. Hey, check this out! One of the stiff’s arms can move. Oren mails the ad to the city. At the hideout, Elly keeps pumping Bill on the timing of the ad’s appearance. In KC, the editor knows he has to play along (they can only narrow down the postmark to one of a half dozen towns).

No one will help Irene; but, she gets a call from the paper’s editor. He tells her that Bill’s being held for ransom. He disclaims responsibility but he “will do what I can.” Very pitifully, she begs the people at the hotel for info on Ruth. Finally, one elderly lady tells her.

Oren returns to the hideout. Elly, of course, is nervous. Bill thinks “Just between you and me, I won’t get out of this thing alive. Neither will you.” Oren agrees. Bill tries to bargain with him, but Oren knows he’s got nothing to offer. Oren and are all worked up. Across town, Irene gets in Ruth’s face; y’know, that killing Bill isn’t such a good idea. Inopportunely, Kermit stumbles in, bloody “he killed Mr. Ellis, and he killed me…” That does make an impression on Ruth–Irene leaves.

Stumbling back to the hotel, she tells the clerk about Kermit’s sudden reemergence. She tries to call Bill’s (former) paper, but can’t get through. Quickly studying the want-ads, she sees that the paper is “trying to arrange financing;” i.e., the ransom money isn’t available yet, but might be. She gets a ride with the truck driver who delivers the paper.

She pumps him about Ellis, but he’s wary. I suppose she figures that the driver will lead her to Bill (obviously, the hoods get the paper). Meanwhile, back at the hideout, Elly is still going ape. But it looks like their ship is coming in.

Irene has accurately reduced the hideout’s location–to the tell-tale guy waiting in middle of the night for the iconic paper. She hustles over to the deputy’s place with the info–he promises to get help. Oren is calculating how the random money can be safely delivered. Now Irene, the deputy, and back-up are poised outside.

Well, Bill manages to turn the tables; Oren, bemused, tells him “knife? gun? what difference does it make! You don’t have the guts to kill a man.” Maybe so, but he doesn’t have to; bursting through a doorway, with Oren as Bill’s shield, the old wise hood is shot by Elly.

Bill escapes, but he’s shot in the leg; Elly is blown away by arriving cops. To tie things up, there’s a sort of Tom Ellis funeral procession/celebration on main street, very Faulknerian. The deputy sees the (finally) happy couple off. The end.

We got two major surprises in this: Tom getting knocked off, which pretty much kicks the action up a notch or two; and Kermit seemingly coming back from the dead. Both actions are plausible and highly effective–and, thanks to loose-cannon Elly–stem from the same violent scene. These are some really interesting hoods.

None of them are alike; Tom and Orel are smart and smooth, Rosey is the ‘muscle,’ inarticulate, but effective, and then, there’s Elly, who seems a complete psychopath. The women are interesting too: Hazel we really don’t get to know, but that’s kind of the point–shes a hanger-on; Ruth, though not a bad person, is resigned to some dismal fate. And, Irene, although duped by the obsessive Bill, is nonetheless loyal and sincere.

Unfortunately, the Bill/Irene relationship doesn’t really make any sense. We know nothing about them beforehand; usually that’s a good ploy, as nothing is more distracting than a long build-up sequence. The problem, hinted at earlier, is that Bill has almost no redeeming qualities. If he’s so determined to get his career back on track–why not postpone the honeymoon until he can relax?

He acts as tough as the hoods. All of this makes me think he should’ve been undercover (on assignment from the paper) to get the goods on Tom’s gang. He could fall for Ruth or something (they’re already acquainted anyway). Irene and Bill could simply be engaged; keep her on the sidelines until the ace reporter cleans up the mess.

It’s absurd to think that any spouse (especially a newlywed!) would be left in a jerkwater hotel while her unemployed husband chases around after local gangsters. That would be like the guys in Deliverance bringing their wives along so they can take pictures of the mayhem.

Either Nielsen is miscast or the script skewers his role to death. As noted, the other problem is the concept that a bunch of criminals would willingly tell their story–before they’re caught.

There’s plenty of interesting characters here (Bill excepted), a great atmosphere, and some cool twists, but the premise is too full of holes for the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief. 7/10

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