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

Murder Is My Beat, 1955. 6.5/10

Barbara Peyton and Paul Langton star in this late noir. She’s singer Eden Lane, accused of killing her boyfriend, Frank Dean (Roy Gordon). Langton is Detective Ray Patrick, who, after Eden’s conviction, escorts her on the train that’s headed to the welcome wagon at the women’s prison. With a device that’s seen action in other crime mysteries, she claims to have seen the supposed dead man. The corpse itself had been burned beyond recognition–could the deadman be someone else?

Well, we’re going to find out. Ray buys Eden’s story, and the two of them go in search of the supposed victim. That incurs the wrath of police Capt. Pete Rawley (Robert Shayne). Also in the wings are Patsy (Tracey Roberts), Abbott (also Roy Gordon) and his wife Beatrice (Selena Royle), and Miss Sparrow (Kate McKenna).

Rawley drives into a motor court and sneaks up on one of the cottages. It’s Ray that he jumps; obviously this is foreshadowing, after the fact of Ray’s going rogue with Eden. “We’re going back [to L.A. police headquarters] together, or I’m not going back either!” Exclaims Rawley.

So to pick up the story from the beginning, we pick up the action right after the Dean ‘killing.’ We see a figurine that was used as a weapon; the victim, when struck, fell into the fireplace, and was burnt beyond recognition.

Mrs. Sparrow fills them in about Eden. So Ray heads to the club where she works, The Spotlight. “I’ll bat the questions, you just field ’em” he tells the bartender. That conversation sends Ray to Patsy, who’s a bit evasive. He wants to take her ‘for a ride.’ Not to headquarters, but to her place. He looks through everything…the trash can yields a note for a bus ticket. Only now she comes up with Frank Dean’s name.

In fact, Eden must’ve know that she’d be tailed, and got off the bus about halfway to S.F. At Merced, Ray finds a gas station guy who tells him that Eden had come by to hire a car. She’s headed East for a mountain cabin. When he gets in, he takes in the cozy scene, telling her that there’s “no rush.”

Eden certainly beguiles Ray, who’s literally slogged through a blizzard to find her at her mountain retreat. Well, he’s supposed to. Once he settles in with her, they discuss the case. He doesn’t want her to incrimate herself, but keeps the chit-chat business-like at first.

They can’t sleep, neither could I, if, like Ray I slept with my tie on. Oddly, although she admits hitting the guy, but she didn’t know that he was dead. He struggles with the supposedly closed case: “there was a loose end to this Dean case that nagged at me.” Back in L.A., we’re spared the details of the trial. Rawley tells him what he thinks; he could care less about her.

Anyway, Ray’s detailed to accompany her on the train–ultimately to the prison. They discuss the case again. At a stop she sees Frank on the platform. He doesn’t believe her, of course. But “I remember that train ride as long as I live…because I began to doubt [her guilt].” He realizes that, if she’s right, she’s obviously innocent of killing Frank.

Determined to see if they can really find Frank, Ray very quickly decides that they jump off the train when it has to slow for a bridge. He says “for his own sake” he’s going to give their ‘investigation’ a week; after which he’ll treat her as an escaped prisoner if nothing turns up. Driving around in the wayside town, he sees Patsy.

She goes into a hotel; with the naivety common in that era, the clerk gives him Patsy’s room number. She goes up there and rummages through her stuff: whoa! What’s this? A secret compartment in her suitcase loaded with cash. Later, at the motel with Eden, he tells her about the money.

Coincidentally, this joint is Patsy’s home town. I can’t understand why he takes the money. Meanwhile, showing another bit of folksy trust never to be seen again, the motel owner let’s Ray use his car. He stops in at Abbott’s porcelain factory to buy a figurine (the same as the one in the motel lobby, and, not coincidentally, also the same as the murder weapon).

He hides in a closet there, coming out at night to do… what? He’s seen by an employee; they fight briefly, and he scoots away. He expects to find a picture of Frank on the business calendar he swipes, but Eden says no dice. He can’t figure out how Patsy figures into it; Eden has already figured into Ray’s love life, though.

Meaning, that there’s no more ‘limit’ on his suspension of disbelief–he ain’t going to turn her in. He admits to himself that now they could both wind up in prison. But, what’s this? She’s skipped out. Uh–oh, he finds Rawley there instead.

Now what? Well, we’ve segued back to the opening scene, and go from that point. Ray tries to negotiate with Rawley. Incredibly, his boss/captor gives him 24 hours to continue the hunt for Frank. Not only that, he agrees to help Ray! So they go looking for Patsy. If they’re both policemen, why don’t they just march into her hotel and find her? Well, instead, they hide outside and wait for her to leave.

She goes into a church. When the service is over, they go back to her room, only to find her dead. Then they go to the Abbott’s; they’re the folks who run the ceramic plant. Rawley says that Patsy had been blackmailing the Abbott’s, and accuses him of killing Patsy. When Abbott’s wife comes in, the cops leave; yet they overhear the couple arguing about Patsy.

Eden gave herself up. Why? They summon Mrs. Sparrow, as she’s the only one available to identify Frank. Their theory is that Abbot is Dean. He’d framed Eden by staging his own death. The actual corpse was a blackmailer (Patsy’s boyfriend Mike); she was killed for blackmailing Abbott/Dean about Mike.

Abbott deduces that his wife instigated the whole thing. She slips out and kills herself by jumping off the speeding train. That, supposedly ties it all up. Except for the next and last scene at city hall where Eden and Ray, now both in the clear, fix to tie up their own knot. With Rawley as best man. The end.

This is watchable, but as a story, it’s just not very plausible. If Ray is simply a guy who’s attracted to Eden, ok, we can buy his overlooking her legal issues. But he’s not only a cop, he’s charged with conveying her to prison, and turns rebel anyway. To compound this near-impossibility, his boss plays along, pretty much going rogue himself.

If this had all occur at the remote mountain cabin, this all might’ve been at least logistically possible. But, no, the rogue-cop pose plays out in broad daylight, in everyday life; as if it’s the Old West. In the initial scene, Pete does realize that he’s sticking his neck out by basically throwing-in with Ray, but once we’re past that point, he and Ray act like Holmes and Watson.

On the other hand, the foreshadowing device does grab us right off the bat. The viewer is completely in the dark until near the end that Abbott and Dean are the same guy. That’s pretty clever, but it does make the long build-up with the Abbotts into more of a distraction; the payoff comes a bit late.

Up to the time that Ray and Eden ‘escape’ from the train, this is a pretty good mystery. Then the believability suffers just as the pacing slows; the church scene is entirely superfluous, and it’s absurd that Eden turns herself in. The whole blackmail thing is way too complex to unravel; and Ray helps himself to some of it for no apparent reason.

The business with the figurine is worked to death, somewhat like the tiresome postcard prop from the same year’s British crime mystery, Postmarked For Danger. That movie also features an initially unidentifiable, burnt body.

Langton and Payton have pretty good chemistry–we can see that they would fall for each other. The supporting cast, Shayne excepted, is fairly bland. A little better than Postmarked For Danger, but monster truck racing beats both by quite a bit. 6.5/10

Postmarked For Danger, 1955. 6/10

A murder mystery involving a diamond smuggling ring. Lewis Forrester and Alison Ford (Robert Beatty and Terry Moore) have an apparently fatal car crash, but Alison survives. After she skulks around in Lewis’s brother Tim’s art studio, he and his remaining brother, Dave (William Sylvester, find a dead model, Jill Stewart (Josephine Griffin). There’s plenty of twists and turns before we’re done with this lot.

The car wreck starts us off (with the usual substitution of a much older car for the burning hulk). And, as in 1944’s Laura, a portrait of a beautiful woman in the family’s (Tim’s) house. Tim is busy painting Jill; she tells him about her date with Henry Carmichael (Allan Cuthbertson). He sort of pre-proposes.

Dave goes up to see Tim, and tells him about the accident. Dave says he’s taking a reporter, Fenby (Terence Alexander), to the inquest; Dave’s a pilot, so they take a DC-3 to Milan (near the site of the accident). Back in London, police are discussing Dave’s whereabouts; they think that he and Lewis have been involved in a diamond-smuggling ring. They theorize, that along with another guy found dead in Milan, Lewis was targeted.

Inspector Colby (Geoffrey Keen) takes a call from Italian police regarding Lewis’s death; apparently Lewis had sent a postcard with a drawing of a bottle to someone in London, but no one knows to whom. Clue or red herring? Inspector Colby figures to talk to Tim. Meanwhile, Jill tells Tim that she’s marrying the priggish, but wealthy Henry. They embrace warmly as she takes her leave.

“She works for me” he says to the Inspector, of Jill. “Nice work” he notes. Anyway, Colby asks him about the card with the drawing; Tim just got a conventional touristy card from Lewis, no mysterious bottle picture. Tim looks in on a guy named Smith (Henry Oscar). That guy had mentioned doing a portrait of his daughter from a photograph. Turns out the woman is Lewis’s companion from the accident, Alison, still presumed dead.

Tim agrees to do the portrait (the one we see at the very beginning). While he’s at work, who looks in on him but Jill. Anyway, Dave returns to London. He says he didn’t really find out anything at the inquest. Before the brothers get back from the airport, we see Alison appear miraculously at Tim’s studio. She seems agitated.

What she does is deface the portrait; the brothers discuss the police interest in the accident–they themselves seem oblivious about anything that Lewis might’ve been mixed up in. When they get back, not only do they discover the messed-up painting, but Jill’s body–wearing Alison’s pink dress. We see Alison walking the dark streets.

The cops are going over ‘just one more thing.’ Tim tells them about the dress, Alison’s dad, etc. In a parcel, the Inspector discovers a Chianti bottle, that is, the same type in the one in the sketch. They bring Henry in to grill him about the Chianti bottle, he more or less fingers Tim as a suspect, due, no doubt, to his status as a “bohemian.”

Now that he’s done with the police for a bit, Tim takes a call from an auto dismantler, Dorking (William Lucas). The guy claims to have Lewis’s car; in fact he doesn’t, but he has access to that funky Chianti sketch, for a certain price. Fenby looks in on Tim, who asks him about (oh, yeah) that stupid sketch. Fenby and Dorking are up to something.

Apparently, the police are onto Dorking, and use Tim to attempt an incriminating blackmail payoff. Dorking stalls; which makes Tim out to be even more hapless in the eyes of the police. Plus the Inspector tells him that Alison’s alleged pink dress (that was found on Jill’s corpse) was in fact Jill’s anyway. His whole problem is that Alison has been very elusive.

That’s cleared up, at least, as she comes back to Tim’s. She doesn’t want him to get Colby. “Why are you afraid? Why are you here?” She describes what’s happened. She was with her dad in Italy, where she met Lewis. She wouldn’t believe it when Lewis clued her in about the smuggling ring her dad was involved in.

The gangsters wanted to bump Lewis off, thus the ‘accident.’ The woman found in the car was a hitchhiker. Alison lets on that she’d been in Tim’s studio (thanks to a tell-tale earring)…she admits that she saw Jill’s body there. The good news is, now that Alison’s available to model, Tim can complete the painting. So touching.

Dave comes back from Paris to find out that Alison is a houseguest. But, of course, now that Tim’s told both Dave and Colby about her, she skips out. That dork Fenby doesn’t have the dumb Chianti card… it’s in the mail or some such. Meanwhile, Alison reunites with her dad. She accuses him of being involved with the smugglers.

The Inspector isn’t happy to not find Alison at Tim’s, but he believes that she was there–her passport is lying around. Switching back to Alison, her dad refuses to turn himself in; she meets up with Tim. Stuff happens quickly, as both Fenby and then Alison’s dad get it (Fenby’s murdrered, dad simply falls out a window).

Strangely, Dave starts getting jumpy, and says he’s splitting for South America. Because he’s in the ring too. We find this out because Tim gets the Chianti card–Dave insists that Tim hand it over, as it fingers him. “I’m just a stooge in the game!” But a pretty deadly game. They fight, very unrealistically. Tim wins.

Finally, thanks to Tim, Colby gets the card. He figures that the card had some invisible ink that named all the smugglers; that is, a handy blackmailer’s tool. The police lab decodes the card. Alison comes back to Tim’s to find that old boy Henry looking for something. She recognizes him from Italy; another one of those pesky smugglers.

He’s in fact Nightingale; he’d killed Jill because she ‘knew too much’. He now tries to kill Alison. Naturally, Tim arrives just in time to have a jolly good very dumb fight with him. Good thing the studio has a loft for Nightingale to fall through. That does it for the bad guys. The happy couple’s happy, the Inspector’s happy, and so am I.

Because this is over. It started out with some cunning, but about the time Alison surfaced, it more or less degenerated into sessions of Colby taunting Tim with ludicrous innuendos about Jill’s murder, and Tim’s huffy denials. The smuggling device really didn’t animate the plot as there was no smuggling to be seen, let alone any diamonds to smuggle.

On top of those less than interesting bits, the Tim/Alison romance happened predictably, lacked believability, and was, well, unbelievably unromantic. Jill seemed to be a more interesting character, but she was the first one to go. We never really get a feel for any of the other characters, especially Tim and Dave, so it’s hard to feel sympathy for any of them.

This might’ve worked better as a simple love triangle; with Jill engaged to Henry, as written, but Tim’s the sensitive, artistic guy she really wants or something. In place of a character-driven plot, we get psuedo fights and a whole deck’s worth of that obnoxious card. Invisible writing isn’t going to make it into the Maltese Falcon.

Kind of a disappointing murder mystery; literally too much plot ties up our attention while the characters, instead of engaging our interest as people, flail about until they become targeted as bad guys. Ok, but not worth staying up for.