Tight Spot (1955)

Directed by Phil Karlson
Cinematography Burnett Guffey

Tight Spot is a 1955 American film noir directed by Phil Karlson and written by William Bowers, based on the play Dead Pigeon, by Leonard Kantor. It stars Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, Brian Keith, Lorne Greene, and Eve McVeagh. The story was inspired by Senator Estes Kefauver‘s tactics in coercing Virginia Hill to testify in the Bugsy Siegel prosecution.

Plot

Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) is a model who is in prison for a crime she did not knowingly commit. She is offered a deal for her freedom by U.S. attorney Lloyd Hallett (Edward G. Robinson) if she will testify as a witness in the trial of mobster Benjamin Costain (Lorne Greene). Hallett hides her in a hotel under the protection of a squad of detectives led by Lt. Vince Striker (Brian Keith), where she stalls making a final decision while she enjoys expensive meals from room service. Despite the presence of the prison matron escort Willoughby, sparks begin to fly between cop and potential witness.

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Through his corrupt inside contacts, Costain finds out where Conley is being kept. She survives an assassination attempt when Striker kills the assailant, but Willoughby is shot and seriously injured. Costain and his thugs ostensibly abduct Striker, who is revealed to be one of Costain’s insiders. Costain has learned that Conley is being transferred to jail, where Striker will have to kill Conley himself if he does not arrange another attempt at the hotel. He is told to leave a window unlocked for another killer. Conley remains uncooperative, especially after Hallett attempts to use her sister Clara (Eve McVeagh) to persuade her.

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Inadvertently, Striker almost reveals his duplicity to Hallett, but a phone call to Hallett interrupts. Willoughby has died in the hospital. Conley, who shared a respect for and friendship with Willoughby, then agrees to testify against Costain. Striker, who cares for Conley, fails to dissuade her and reluctantly proceeds with the plan. Hallett returns to escort Conley to jail moments before the killer strikes. Talking with Striker while she changes her clothes in another room, Hallett’s banter brings a jumpy Striker to a breaking point. Striker abruptly kicks open her door and saves Conley, but at the cost of his own life. The opened window tells Conley and Hallett that he had set up her murder but changed his mind.

Conley takes the stand at Costain’s trial, giving her occupation as “gang buster“.

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Reception

When Tight Spot was released, The New York Times reviewer Howard Thompson gave the film a positive review, writing, “‘Tight Spot’ is a pretty good little melodrama, the kind you keep rooting for, as generally happened when Lenard Kantor’s ‘Dead Pigeon’ appeared on Broadway a while back … Along the way are some nice, realistic trimmings Mr. Karlson, or somebody, had the bright idea of underscoring the tension with sounds of a televised hillbilly program (glimpsed, too unfortunately). For our money, the best scene, whipped up by scenarist William Bowers, is the anything-but-tender reunion of Miss Rogers and her sister, (Eve McVeagh) — no competition to the two ‘Anastasia’ stars down the street, but an ugly, blistering pip … Indeed, Miss Rogers’ self-sufficiency throughout hardly suggests anybody’s former scapegoat, let alone a potential gone goose. But she tackles her role with obvious, professional relish. Mr. Keith and Mr. Robinson are altogether excellent. Lorne Greene makes a first-rate crime kingpin and Katherine Anderson is a sound, appealing matron.”

In a recent review, film historian Leonard Maltin characterized Tight Spot as a “solid little film” with a virtuoso performance by Ginger Rogers. “Rogers, key witness at a N.Y.C.’s crime lord’s upcoming trial, does a lot of high-volume Born Yesterday-like verbal sparring with Keith, her police lieutenant bodyguard.

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The characters Ginger Rogers and Brian Keith portrayed were supposed to be around the same age. In real-life, Ginger Rogers was over a decade older than Brian Keith.

“There’s Never Been a Gal Like Sal From Texas Valley!”

24 August 2001 | by the_old_roman (Leonia, NJ) – See all my reviews

Tight police drama with D.A. Edward G. Robinson trying to protect witness Ginger Rogers from the clutches of evil crime lord Lorne Greene. Rogers and Robinson are both marvelously vulnerable beneath their complementary tough exteriors. The direction is tense throughout. The film makes excellent use of its claustrophobic environs. Brian Keith is also very good as a tough cop.

Ginger Gets a Revival

6/10
Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
12 September 2010

I love it when Mississippi Mac bangs out a tune on his head using a rubber mallet, a clever touch getting comedy relief from a TV parody of a country and western telethon. Otherwise, it’s a pretty somber movie and extended showcase for Rogers then coming off a reverse blacklist of Hollywood right-wingers.

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As it is, Rogers gets ninety minutes of snappy dialog with more brass than spent cartridges on a rifle range. But, frankly, all the tough talk and attitude does get tiresome despite her spirited effort. The fact that she’s 40-something and starting to bulge strikes me as just right for the aging party-girl part. Remember, Sherry (Rogers) is supposed to have been around the block more than a few times and is now looking back over what she suspects is a misspent life. That’s what makes her otherwise hardened character rather poignant and vulnerable.

What a shrewd piece of casting to pair the high-key Rogers with the low-key Bryan Keith. At this career stage, Keith was one of the more subtle actors around, able to convey a lot by doing very little. Director Karlson apparently liked him too, casting him also in his 5 Against the House (1955). And for Robinson and Rogers, it must have seemed like old home week at Warner Bros.

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But truth be told, cult director Karlson is wasted in a crime drama that any one of a dozen lesser directors could have handled. At the same time, I didn’t see the major plot twist coming which strikes me as the most memorable part of a too-stagey film; although, like other reviewers, that family spat with sister Clara (McVeagh) is a real barn burner and high point. Anyway, the film’s an okay crime story that really serves as a vehicle for a Ginger Rogers career revival.

A Rough Little Noir With A Fine Cast

7/10
Author: David (Handlinghandel) from NY, NY
27 August 2006

Ginger Rogers is good as the tough-talking woman sprung from prison to testify in a trial. What a strange career she had! Best known for her movies with Fred Astaire, she was also a delightful comedienne. She did some serious work in her prime, winning an Oscar for an only-OK soap opera. But she’s good in “Primrose Path.” She turned tough in many of her fifties outings, and she looked tough too. Here she has sort of a pixie haircut that doesn’t quite work with the character and isn’t flattering to her. But she’s excellent.

Edward G. Robinson, billed second to her, is superb. He always was. That man was incapable of giving a bad performance, no matter how oddly cast he might have been at times. Brian Keith, whom many know for sunny outings in later television, is exceptional as a very tough cop. He really is the focus of this movie, though the Rogers character is the lead.

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Who in the world was Lucy Marlow, who got fourth billing? It says prison girl. Hmm. The woman playing the matron, Katherine Anderson, is important to the plot. She is very touching as well.

Lorne Green is another actor who played some mean hombres before he became the benevolent dad on TV’s “Bonanza.” His character is less nuanced than the one he plays in “Autumn Leaves.” But he does well by it.

Phil Karlson was an excellent director, who had some of the nastiest, darkest, roughest noirs of the fifties under his belt. This is among the best of them.

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