Bodyguard, 1948. 7/10

Lawrence Tierney stars as a fired cop who gets job as a bodyguard. His employer, who runs a meat-packing business, gets a bad case of the heebie-jeebies once an inspector has been killed. And, in true noir-style, our protagonist can’t just walk away from his past; his old boss gets killed, and he’s framed for the murder. Luckily, he’s got an ally at police HQ.

The cops are Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton) and Captain Wayne (Charles Cane). Mike’s (Tierney’s) employers are the Dysens: Gene and Freddie (Elizabeth Risdon and Phillip Rees). Then there’s Mike’s girlfriend/police contact/mole Doris (Priscilla Lane). And we’ve got the Fentons, Connie and Steve (Steve Brodie and June Clayworth). Steve works at the Dysen’s plant, Connie is their housemaid.

We start at police headquarters; Mike talks to a bunch of teenagers, but the real deal is that Borden has summoned him. Well, Mike’s been “going off half-cocked.” Exceeding his authority, etc. So, with the Captain’s blessing, Mike’s fired. Well, he was just suspended–until he punches out the Lieutenant.

So, later on, he and Doris are at the ballgame, when a stranger comes up with a proposition. It’s Gene Dysen’s nephew, Freddie, trying to recruit him as a bodyguard; Gene’s life is in danger. Well, Mike doesn’t bite right off. At Doris’s home, he and Doris get cozy, when they gets an envelope slipped under the door.

It’s Dysen’s retainer; this time Mike’s interested. Well, not entirely, just yet. He meets with Gene and Freddie–they discuss the situation. Mike’s full of quips. She insists that the “threats” she’s had are just “harmless pranks.” Just then someone fires a couple of shots into the room where they’d met. Mike sizes up the situation, and finally agrees to take the job.

He’s at first suspicious of Connie, who’s skulking about at all hours. Then, Gene is hustled off in her limo. Destination: the plant. Mike follows, but he gets sapped from behind. When he comes to, his car’s on the tracks, with Borden’s body inside. Bailing out of the car just before an incoming train demolishes it, he makes it to Doris.

Knowing both that he’s the obvious suspect for Borden’s murder, and that Borden was up to something devious enough to get killed for it, Mike hits on the idea of having Doris help out. She fills him in on the police angle by taking notes and then cutting records of the latest dope at an arcade booth. Returning to Dysen’s, Mike pumps Freddie for info on the long night; Freddie dissembles, seemingly oblivious. Mike goes back to the plant, looking for Gene. The foreman, Steve Fenton, wonders about him, but fetches Connie. Gene proves elusive. Mike’s amped up, as he knows the police will be on the lookout for him.

Mike fetches Doris’s new-fangled record–he gets the whole business on Borden’s cases. Meanwhile, his borrowed car arouses suspicion as it’s drifted in front of a hydrant. The record (that is Doris) narrates the story of the meat inspector’s demise (he’d been basically sawed in half). Anyway, the car disappears, so he takes a taxi (that’s the second car he’s lost). When he gets back to the Dysen’s they know he’s wanted.

He questions Gene about being at the warehouse where Borden popped up the night before. Doris answers when he calls homicide; they speak in some code (he probably needs her to cut a new record). Anyway, he goes to talk to the brother of the dead inspector, Adam Stone (Erville Anderson). Looking through the victim’s stuff, he doesn’t seem to find anything.

Doris picks him up, but Stone’s brother recognizes Mike from a newspaper photo, and calls the cops. Doris stole some files; Mike has a revelation. The dead guy had a model ship hobby; for which he would’ve needed great eyesight–the opposite of what was in the files on him. He goes to Stone’s optometrist to get the straight dope on the eyesight thing. This time he avoids an ambush from “this mug who’s trying to sap me.”

Relentlessly, he continues on to the lens company to see if they have the goods on Stone’s lens prescription. He has to break in. He gets into the file cabinet, and finds what he wants. There’s a watchman, though. Some banter ensues; Mike gets the better of the old guy. He calls Wayne at headquarters boldly saying “meet me at the Dysen home and I’ll have the Borden case in the bag for you.”

Meanwhile, Doris skulks around the plant. Freddie and Fenton are inside, obviously up to something. She sneaks in, and hides. Fenton’s working on some meat. At the Dysen’s home, Mike pops in. He has the dope on Stone; the guy must’ve been pushed into the machine that killed him because he had perfect eyesight, and therefore easily would’ve sensed proximity to the dangerous saw. The company records had been altered to make it appear to be an accident.

Fenton, it seems, has a history–he’s an ex-con. Having wormed his way into the Dysen’s, he’s running a scam. He’d been tampering with the meat, falsifying the weight. That made Stone, the inspector, ripe for an ‘accident.’ Borden had Fenton on the hook for blackmail (thus covering up Stone’s murder, but, also, in effect, making him a target). Mike was the fall guy for Borden, set up by Freddie.

Captain Wayne arrives; but Mike, of course, eludes him. Playing out the latest episode of a running gag, Mike makes off with the handy police car. Back at the plant, Freddie pulls out a gun, and approaches an alarmed Fenton. “You killed Stone,” claims Freddie, “and Borden too…” Boom! Freddie plugs him.

Doris is still hiding. Mike arrives in the stolen cop car just as she’s flushed out into the open. Out of ammo, Freddie is jumped by Mike. Machinery is humming…will someone get sliced and diced? No, the cops arrive in force, and take both Mike and Freddie in (they also magically make night into day). All is well, as the happy couple skips out, on the way to their honeymoon. The end.

This was fun, tense, and fast-paced–until near the end. Then it just sort of reverts to ’40s serial-style action. That would be ok, but the showdown at the plant takes way too long. And Mike’s talky exposition to Gene (of Freddie/Steve scam) stalls the jaunty ride we’ve had up to that point.

Plus, no matter how you work it, the spam shenanigans are about as pedestrian as crime can get. Ok, deceived citizens, just buy the hot dogs that don’t look bloated; is all of that malefeasence really worth two murders? It might’ve added up if Fenton’s character had been built up a bit more–he’s about as much of an ex-con type as Doris.

It does make some convoluted sense for Freddie to want Mike snooping around; Mike’s the only character (besides Freddie and Fenton) who might have a grudge against Borden. Freddie must also have engineered the stray shots at the house; spooking Gene helps bring Mike into the picture.

The premise itself is good: frustrated ex-cop ends up in questionable territory–if not on the wrong side of the law. That sudden thrust into the dark side is where the best noir protagonists find themselves. Doris’s role works perfectly; the smart, loyal team player who will stick her neck out. In fact, she holds an ace-in-the-hole with her police status. Doris and Mike make a great couple too.

The lighter moments (Doris making the record, the continual car disappearances, the wisecracks) are actually sly rather than silly. We get the sense that Doris and Mike are just a few steps ahead of everyone else. Sort of like Holmes and Watson. And the atmosphere stays gritty and sordid enough to keep us on edge.

That is, until the ’30s-style murder mystery ending. This was entertaining, but needed a few more scenes to make its bad guys more credible, and some tighter editing to keep up the momentum. 7/10

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