Private Hell 36 (1954)

Directed by Don Siegel
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
When 2 detectives steal $80,000 from a dead robber, one of them suffers from a guilty conscience which could lead to murder.

An effective early Siegel

12 November 2007 | by Martin Bradley ( (Derry, Ireland) – See all my reviews

This taut, low-key and highly effective B-movie film noir was an early example of a style that director Don Siegel came to perfect in his later films. Although dealing with robbery and murder it’s at its most effective in the small scenes of domesticity between the central characters, a crooked cop, his partner and the women they are both involved with and there are good performances from Steve Cochran, Howard Duff, Ida Lupino and Dorothy Malone in these roles. (Lupino co-wrote the movie with producer Collier Young). Excitement is generated from not knowing exactly which way the characters might go and from the degree of complexity that both the players and writers invest them with. The denouement is a bit of let-down, however, with things tidied up too quickly and too neatly. Still, it’s a commendable effort.

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Alcohol, affectation, and ex-wives override any expectations

Author: melvelvit-1 from NYC suburbs
17 January 2009

Independent filmmaker Ida Lupino didn’t intend to make a B picture with PRIVATE HELL 36 but that’s what happened. In the early 1950s, director/writer/actress Ida and her writer/producer husband Collier Young broke away from the studio system by forming “The Filmmakers” and they used it to tackle such topical subjects as rape and “ripped from the headlines” social commentary. Young and Lupino soon divorced but they kept their working relationship going and even used each other’s new spouses in their “classy” exploitation films.


Ida directed Collier’s wife Joan Fontaine in THE BIGAMIST (1953) and her follow-up film was going to be “The Story Of A Cop” starring her husband, Howard Duff. At the time, big city police corruption and the Kefauver TV hearings on organized crime were hot-button issues that made national headlines and were inspiration to writers like William P. McGivern who fashioned roman-a-clefs in films like THE BIG HEAT (1953), SHIELD FOR MURDER, and ROGUE COP (both 1954). Never one to let a good story go by, Ida Lupino threw her bonnet into the ring but by the time she was ready to make “Cop”, she and Duff had separated.

They soon reconciled but, afraid to rock the boat, Ida decided not to direct her husband and hired Don Siegel, who had just made RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, for the job. The result, now called PRIVATE HELL 36, is the story of L.A.P.D. partners Steve Cochran & Howard Duff and what happens when temptation proves too much for one of them. Lupino actually tackles themes that many Films Noirs have been accused of doing now and then: capitalism, materialism, and the American Dream are the mitigating circumstances propelling the self-inflicted problems everyone involved have to confront.


Loyalty and “the blue wall of silence” are also thrown in for good measure but the character study the film becomes disrupts the pace. The movie starts off with a murder/robbery but the real action doesn’t come until after the half-way mark; in between are slow build-ups involving family man Duff and his wife, Dorothy Malone, and the single Cochran who’s fallen for a witness in the case, nightclub chanteuse Ida Lupino. Ida’s a bit old for her role as a sympathetic “femme fatale” but the dynamics between her and the seemingly laid-back Cochran are one of the film’s highlights. The movie takes too long by half to get where it’s going but the ride is fascinating -as is the back story:


“Siegel was never comfortable working on the film and most of his memories of it are bad. He can remember little of it and readily admits that he may be blocking it out psychologically. The things he does remember are uniformly unpleasant. Siegel recalls there was a great deal of drinking on the set by the cast and producer. The script was never really in shape, ready for shooting, and Siegel was given little opportunity to work on it. He began to lose control of the picture, got into fights with Lupino and Young, had difficulty keeping Cochran sober, and got in the middle of arguments with his cameraman… One time, he recalls, Miss Lupino told Guffey that she wanted him to re-shoot something and even Guffey, whom Siegel describes as the mildest of men, exploded and became party to the bickering.


‘I was terribly self-conscious on that picture,’ recalls Siegel. ‘I had just done a picture for Walter Wanger, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, in which I had great authority, did whatever I wanted to do. Now I was on a picture battling for every decision, working with people who were pretentious, talented but pretentious. They’d talk, talk, talk, but they wouldn’t sit down and give me enough time. They wouldn’t rehearse. Perhaps it was my fault. Cochran was a good actor, but not when he was loaded, and I had a hard time catching him even slightly sober. I was not able to communicate with these people and the picture showed it. Strangely enough, I personally liked both Ida Lupino and Young and still do, but not to work with.”


Cinematographer Burnett Guffey had just won an Academy Award for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and would do so again with BONNIE & CLYDE over a decade later. Don Seigel hired his friend Sam Peckinpah as “dialogue coach” and Howard & Ida’s little girl had a bit part. The alcohol-fueled acting (enhanced by Leith Stevens’ jazzy score) is fine all the way around with Steve, as usual, being the stand-out as he slowly reveals his character to be a self-assured sociopath under the badge.


A Must-Have for Cochran Fans

Author: mackjay from Out there in the dark
5 May 2003

PRIVATE HELL 36 has one of those pulp-sounding titles that are like a drug for noir enthusiasts. We just have to see any film with a title like this, even if in some ways it may be a disappointment. One of Don Siegal’s less galvanizing films, PRIVATE HELL still delivers in terms of noir situations and atmosphere.


Where the film really excels, however, is with the cast. In major roles, Howard Duff and Dean Jagger deliver the goods. Duff is especially adept at the hang-dog, trapped noir protagonist. And this is one of many small-scale noirs with many familiar faces in bit parts: Richard Deacon, Dabbs Greer, King Donovan. Dorothy Malone had yet to come into her own as an actress, but she looks incredible here.

Malone might have seemed a better choice for the Femme Fatale lead, were it not for Ida Lupino’s extraordinary, iconic noir presence. Something in Lupino’s vaguely exotic face and world-weary voice belongs eternally to the noir universe. She may have been a few years too old, but her spider-like character rescues the film from the merely routine.


Also rescuing the film, and raising it a few notches above a B programmer, is Steve Cochran as Cal Bruner. Somewhat belatedly (he died in 1965) it appears that Cochran is finally receiving recognition not only for his handsome looks, but for his perceptive acting. Every scene with Lupino and Cochran in this film is riveting. These performers are totally convincing in their doomed mutual attraction.

For Lupino’s Lili, meeting Cal could have meant redemption. But she is indeed a Femme Fatale in this film, even if not an all-time classic one. The man she touches will be marked for destruction.


Cal, on the other hand, is the most complex and interesting character. His responsible investigator, by way of a drug-like obsession with Lili, heads toward corruption in true noir style. Without spoiling anything, it can be said that this film’s last 10 minutes are the very stuff of film noir.

Solidly Siegel?

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
23 November 2008

No, not really.

Two detectives, Jack Farnham and Cal Bruner are deeply investigating a robbery in which $300,000 was stolen. As their investigation progresses, they, by way of a sultry woman called Lilli Marlowe, manage to find the perp and recover the cash. But Bruner has fallen for Marlowe, and realising she has expensive tastes and that his police salary can not sustain the relationship, he ponders turning to the dark side, with Farnham equally at odds with himself over the pressures of raising a family.

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Is Private Hell 36 a Noir film? Well I’m no paid expert on the subject but it certainly has all the ingredients in place. Yet the film, in spite of some watchable attributes, is a largely character driven talky piece of fluff that isn’t really raising the bar in film noir. Or, in fact, crime picture history. Certainly it’s not a film that screams out that it was directed by Don Siegel. It’s a solid premise to work from, and in Ida Lupino (Marlowe) and the great Steve Cochran (Bruner), the picture boasts two very fine performances, with each actor giving the film its emotional weight. A nod of approval also goes to the scoring of the piece by Leith Stevens, as jazzy blues like combos flit in and out to create an ear worthy alliance as our detectives battle with their very conscience. All things considered it’s an enjoyable enough piece, but one that fades very quick from the memory. Solid if unspectacular, and reliable if lacking in any major amount of thrills and brain tickling plotting. 5/10


Underrated Siegel/Lupino noir that inspired Stanley Kubrick

Author: mwmerkelbach from Stuttgart, Germany
16 January 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Decent people struggling for keeping things going are suddenly tempted by a large amount of money coming from a long gone robbery. With its moral ambiguity and twists and the main focus on character development the writing and acting of “Private Hell 36” is above ordinary crime movies from that period.


It is exactly what makes this early Don-Siegel-flick a true film noir despite a conservative crime movie posing as one. If you don’t expect too much action and can relax while watching a slow paced middle section, which builds up tension carefully and therefore convincing, this one will give you a very enjoyable watch. Forget about the voice-over at the very end telling something about “good cops, bad cops”, because that was simply the way they had to handle things in the fifties to avoid censorship. Besides the fact that Howard Duff appears a little too stiff once in a while, Ida Lupino, Steve Cochran and Dorothy Malone make it a real fine treat. I also liked the jazzy score – typical for that period on one hand, but perfectly creepy and surprisingly “modern” on the other.


It is very obvious to me that Stanley Kubrick was highly inspired by this one for his very own sensational film noir “The Killing” that came out the year after. The race track as a central location, money blown out of an opened suitcase, a trailer park as a hiding place and especially the Ida-Lupino-character, which is very close to the one of Marie Windsor in “The Killing”, brought that suggestion immediately up to my mind. In comparison to other movies at IMDb “PH 36” seems a bit underrated to me, maybe because everybody’s expecting crime movies to be extremely fast paced as those that are made since the early 70’s. In fact “Private Hell 36” is a grim little noir and for its fans that does mean something else. 8/10

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A Movie That Punches Above Its Weight

Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
17 October 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

“Private Hell 36” is a no-frills crime thriller written by Ida Lupino and producer Collier Young which was made by their independent company “The Filmmakers”. The story about temptation and police corruption is well paced and provides evidence of Don Siegel’s considerable directorial skills at an early stage in his career. A particularly impressive example of this is the sequence early on in the movie in which an off duty cop interrupts a drugstore robbery and gets involved in a shoot out. The depiction of what follows is stylish and tense and provides the story with an extremely gripping introduction.


When the LAPD links a $50.00 bill recovered in the attempted drugstore burglary to a major robbery carried out in New York a year earlier, further enquiries lead to a singer at a local night club. Police detectives Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran) and Jack Farnham (Howard Duff) interview the singer, Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino) but she’s unable to provide them with a precise description of the customer who gave her the money as a tip. Soon, more of the marked bills come to light at the Hollywood Park Racetrack and this leads Captain Michaels (Dean Jagger) to assign Bruner and Farnham to accompany Lilli to the track to see if she can identify the wanted man. A number of days pass without the man being seen and during this time, Cal and Lilli become close. She’s very materialistic and despite her attraction to Cal isn’t convinced that a long term future with a police detective would enable her to achieve her financial aspirations.


One day Lilli sees the man they’re searching for leaving the track by car and Cal and Jack follow him. After a high speed chase, the car they’d been following leaves the road and crashes and the driver is killed. The two detectives recover a metal box full of money from the vehicle and Cal, without hesitation, starts to put bundles of bills into his pockets. Jack is very nervous about being a party to what has happened but Cal subsequently takes him to a trailer park where the money is hidden (in trailer number 36) and Jack agrees to go along with the scheme, although he remains very anxious and is consumed with guilt.


Captain Michaels tells the two detectives that only $200,000 of the $300,000 stolen in New York had actually been recovered from the crashed car and deduces that the dead man must’ve had a partner. Shortly after this, a man claiming to be the partner telephones Cal to demand his money back. Jack doesn’t want to proceed with paying the partner and suggests they hand the money in to the police and confess what they’ve done. Cal pays lip service to agreeing and they both go to get the money from trailer 36, where some unexpected developments bring the story to its all action climax.


“Private Hell 36” is one of those movies that certainly punches above its weight. Despite an obviously low budget and a very straight forward, pulp fiction type story, “The Filmmakers” produced an end product which turned out to be far greater than the sum of its parts. This is down to the director’s skills and also some fine performances from a talented cast. Steve Cochran and Howard Duff are particularly good as the two men who both recognise the dangers of their jobs and who, for different reasons, are desperate to be better rewarded.


When they discover the metal box full of money, both men are strongly tempted to steal its contents but their reactions are ultimately quite different to each other. Cochran is confident and focused as his character readily seizes the opportunity to realise his ambitions and seems totally unconcerned by any thoughts about guilt, duty or the legality of what he’s doing. Duff on the other hand looks convincingly anxious and full of guilt. Dean Jagger also provides a well measured interpretation of his character’s rather benign and avuncular manner which doesn’t make it obvious just how well he’s attuned to everything that’s going on.


The Unfaithful (1947)

Directed by Vincent Sherman
Cinematography Ernest Haller

The Unfaithful is a 1947 film noir directed by Vincent Sherman, starring Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres and Zachary Scott. The movie is based on the W. Somerset Maugham-penned 1927 play and William Wyler-directed 1940 film, The Letter.


Chris Hunter (Ann Sheridan) stabs a man in her home one night while her husband Bob is out of town. The dead man’s name is Tanner and she claims not to know him.

A blackmailer, Martin Barrow (Steven Geray), shows up with a bust of Chris Hunter’s head signed by Tanner, who was a sculptor. Larry Hannaford (Lew Ayres), her lawyer and a good friend, realizes that Chris is lying about not knowing the man she killed.

Barrow double-crosses her by taking the artwork to Tanner’s wife (Marta Mitrovich), who is now convinced Chris had an affair with her husband. She relays this information to Bob Hunter (Zachary Scott), who demands a divorce after Chris admits having an affair with Tanner while her husband was away during the war.


Chris is charged with murder and tried. Hannaford persuades the jury that while Chris was indeed guilty of adultery, she stabbed Tanner in self-defense. Hannaford then convinces Bob and Chris at least consider trying to save their marriage rather than rush into a divorce.

The New York Times gave the film a mixed review: “The Warner Brothers have turned out a better than average murder mystery in The Unfaithful, but they have badly over-weighted with melodramatics the things they obviously wanted to say about a pressing social problem. The new picture at the Strand stabs and jabs like a hit-and-run prizefighter at the subject of hasty divorces and the dangerous consequences to society of this ill conceived cure all for marital difficulties, but it never gets across a telling dramatic punch. However, through some uncommonly persuasive acting and skillful direction the patently artificial plot stands up surprisingly well.”


An A Picture With The Look Of A B

18 March 2005 | by David (Handlinghandel) (NY, NY) – See all my reviews

And that is a compliment for a film noir.

This is a strange movie, both daring in its subject matter and shackled by the censors. So a sculptor did a head of Ann Sheridan while hubby Zachary Scott was away in the war. Surely this ought to have been a full nude.


Still, it captures the frustration of someone left alone for a long period (Sheridan), the anger of the person who expected her to be a dutiful Penelope, and most especially the nature of gossip when such things occur: Eve Arden is splendid as the leader of a fancy gang of cats, who regularly shuck their own husbands (courtesy of protagonist Ayres, a lawyer) and click their tongues at Sheridan.

The strange thing is that, though the sets are attractive, the crowd scenes plausible and well shot on Southern California streets, two of the stars and maybe more look worn out and bedraggled: Sheridan, though a sympathetic character, wears unflattering makeup that gives her a harsh look and Ayres looks puffy and tired.


This is a variation on the far better known “The Letter,” a movie I respect for its craft but that I have never cared for. “The Unfaithful” is a more fully realized entertainment, though perhaps less elegant and stylized than its predecessor “The Letter.”

Fine remake of William Wyler’s ‘The Letter.’

Author: haroldg-2 from Philadelphia
13 July 2001

THE UNFAITHFUL (1947), is director Vincent Sherman’s 1947 loose remake of the 1940 William Wyler/Bette Davis classic, THE LETTER.

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Glamorous Ann Sheridan stars as a woman who kills an intruder in her home, and then tries to hide the fact that the man had once been her lover from her husband and the police. There’s one problem; the dead man had been a sculptor, and his widow has possession of a bust he had sculpted which Sheridan had obviously modeled for.

Sheridan is excellent as the loving wife who, out of loneliness during her husbands tour of duty in WWII, gave into temptation and an adulterous affair, then with her attorney (Lew Ayers) makes a desperate effort to retrieve the incriminating object before her husband (Zachary Scott) finds out the truth.


Neither Ayers or Scott have ever set the screen on fire for me, and that holds true here as well. But they’re both always competent actors, and they give fine support to Miss Sheridan’s gutsy performance in one of her better Warner Brothers star vehicles.

Eve Arden also has several memorable scenes as a gossiping relative.

It’s not the classic film that THE LETTER is, but still a well made and highly entertaining Hollywood drama worth seeing.

Another Fine Performance By Ann Sheridan

Author: Randy_D from Michigan
7 December 2000

Ann Sheridan is in fine form here as a woman whose past not only catches up with her, it threatens to ruin her life.

Sheridan portrays Chris Hunter, a woman who, while her husband was serving in World War II, gives in to her loneliness with a meaningless one night stand, hence the title of the film. While she tries desperately to keep this from her husband you get the sense that she knows it is only a matter of time before he finds out.

Ann Sheridan manages to evoke sympathy even though her character she did something that even she admits is unforgivable. You can’t condone what she did but at least you can understand why she did it.

Lew Ayres and Zachary Scott turn in solid supporting roles in a film worth catching.

What happened to Roger?

Author: krorie from Van Buren, Arkansas
19 March 2006

This is not a remake of “The Letter,” rather this film and “The Letter” are based on the same source, a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Strangely, Maugham is not given credit. Since he was still alive at the time, one wonders why he didn’t object. Since “The Letter,” there have been other films using the same theme but not quite as obviously as “The Unfaithful,” though the setting and other parts have been changed to update the story.


The delightful Ann Sheridan, who never received her due recognition as an actress, plays the bored housewife who has a fling while her new husband is away at war. Like so many other beauties, Marilyn Monroe comes to mind, Sheridan was promoted as a sex kitten, The “Oomph” Girl, and her true talents were never appreciated by the Hollywood establishment.

Though Sheridan is fine, three supporting players steal the show. The magnificent Lew Ayres shines as the attorney friend who tries to put the pieces together hoping to exonerate Chris Hunter (Sheridan) from suspected murder. The more he searches the less the puzzle pieces fit. Ayres received a bum rap by Hollywood big wigs when he exercised his First Amendment rights during World War II to express his pacifist views. This movie represents his efforts to be re-accepted.


Zachary Scott plays against type as the husband who is caught in a murder investigation he doesn’t understand. As the story unwinds, he learns more about his wife than he wants to know or to accept. When Bob Hunter (Scott) appears on the scene having been away on business, the viewer automatically thinks he is in someway involved in the killing since Scott usually played the bad guy. This film shows that Scott was a more versatile actor when given an opportunity.

Then there’s the elegant Eve Arden as family friend and relative, Paula. Arden has some of the best lines in the movie and does she know how to deliver them! She is catty, coy, and funny when delivering just one well-written line of dialog. When her role turns more serious toward the end of the flick, she knows how to handle that too with élan.


The film is worthwhile but there are a few weaknesses. One is the introduction of characters that just wander in and then disappear without rhyme or reason. For example, at a drunken party, Paula’s ex, Roger, played by Douglas Kennedy, disrupts the proceedings and has to be led away by Chris and Larry Hannaford (Lew Ayres). After such a grand spectacle, Roger is never seen or mentioned again in the movie. The viewer keeps waiting for his return thinking that just maybe he had something to do with the murder.


Another weakness is running time. This film is way too long. It would have played much better in a 60+ time slot. As is, there is too much dialog. So there are long boring talky parts included to stretch the film to an almost two hour format. “The Unfaithful” is more of an effective programmer than the flashy main feature it tries to be.


Nora Prentiss (1947)


Vincent Sherman

Nora Prentiss is a 1947 black-and-white drama film noir directed by Vincent Sherman, and starring Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett and Robert Alda. Sherman also directed leading lady Sheridan in another 1947 film noir, The Unfaithful. The cinematography is by cinematographer James Wong Howe, and the music was composed by Franz Waxman.


Dr. Richard Talbot, unhappy with the dull routine of his married life, begins an affair with nightclub singer Nora Prentiss. Feeling unable to ask his wife for a divorce, he fakes his own death by substituting a dead man’s body for his own. He and Nora then move from San Francisco to New York, where Nora continues her singing career. Meanwhile, Talbot drinks heavily and becomes increasingly paranoid and reclusive as he learns that his death is under investigation. After a fight with Nora’s nightclub boss, Talbot crashes his car and his face is badly scarred. The police, not realizing that the man is Talbot, arrest him for his own murder. Guilty about the suffering he caused his family and feeling he has no future, Talbot convinces Prentiss to keep his secret, allowing him to be convicted and executed.


When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine gave the film an unfavorable review. They wrote, “Nora Prentiss is an overlong melodrama, a story of romance between a married man and a girl. But it’s never quite believable. Ann Sheridan makes much of her role but the production has unsympathetic slant for leads and a lack of smoothness … Sheridan is the singer, and has two tunes to warble. As the doctor, Kent Smith is okay dramatically in a part that doesn’t hold much water. Bruce Bennett, co-starred, has little to do as a medico friend of Smith’s



8 June 2006 | by sol (Brooklyn NY USA) – See all my reviews

**SPOILERS** Straight laced at his practice as a big city, San Francisco, doctor and wonderful family man Richard Talbot, Kent Smith,has never done anything more serious in his life then being late at his doctors office. That was all to change when one evening going to his car he ran into singer Nora Prentiss, Ann Sheridan. Nora has a fainting spell falling on the street and bruising herself. Bringing Nora up to his office Richard after treating her starts to slowly fall madly in love with Nora. That leads to him throwing away his very successful practice his family, wife and two children, and later even his life, which in the movie he loses twice. Where in the end Richard faces the California gas chamber for first degree murder.


The movie “Nora Prentiss” is about a mans obsession. That obsession leads him into such depths of depression and depravity that he destroys everything he held near and dear to himself in order to keep the woman, Nora Prentiss, that drove him into this madness and in the end loses her as well. Nora for her part is totally unaware of how far her lover was willing to go to keep her from disappearing out of his life. Spending money like crazy on Nora and using the excuse of working late at the office so that his wife Lucy, Rosemary DeCamp, won’t suspect his almost nightly lateness from home Richard is still very reluctant to divorce his wife, on what possible grounds? Then like heaven sent a patient of his Walter Bailey, John Ridgely, who not only fits Richards hight and weight but is even Richard’s age,43, pops into his office one night and collapses and dies from a heart attack!


Going to call the police to pick up the body Richard get this bright idea to switch identities and thus bury his past, as Dr. Richard Talbot, and start a new life as whoever he chooses with who he feels is the love of his life Nora Prentiss.

Nora who was leaving for New York for a job as a singer at the Sea Gull Cafe run by her very close friend and former employer Phil Dinardo,Robert Alda, runs into Richard who excitedly tells Nora that he’s divorcing his wife and within weeks when his divorce papers go through they’ll be able to get married. Rchard in fact disposed of Bailey’s body with his wedding ring on him to make it look like he was the one who was killed.


In New York living like a fugitive from the law Richard has Nora becomes a bit annoyed of his constant secrecy and avoidance of people. It soon gets to the point where she’s forced to live with Richard in a hotel room and only having her job at Phil’s nightclub as the only contact with the outside world. Richard, now calling himself Robert Tompson, for his part constantly keeps up with the news back home in San Francisco and learns that his “death” is being investigated by the police as a murder suspect with evidence found at his office; The cops found a letter of divorce that he partly burned that’s interpreted as a blackmail note. Also at the accident scene the police found a can of gasoline with his fingerprints on it.


Richard finally lose it when he finds Nora, who by then he already confessed what he did, in her dressing room with Phil! That has him go into a jealous rage and attacks the startled nightclub owner. This causes the police to chase Richard all through the streets of Manhattan ending up in a fiery accident in Central Park with his face badly burned.

With Phil not pressing charges and Richard getting a face-over, plastic surgery, it now looks like he and Nora can finally get married and put his life as Doctor Richard Talbot behind him. It’s then his being fingerprinted by the police for car theft and those fingerprints matched those back in San Franciso on the can of gasoline come up as a match! This made Richard the number one suspect in his own murder! how’s that for ultimate justice.


Now with nothing to look forward to with his wife and family as well as Nora out of his life forever Richard, or as he’s known now as Robert Thompson, can only sit in his dark prison cell and count the days leading up to his scheduled execution. He can also see what a mess he made of his life by reaching for something that he should have known was well out of his reach Nora Prentiss.


From the very beginning it’s all downhill for Dr. Talbot!

Author: grasshopper54 from Cromwell, CT
1 March 2003
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Never in the annals of film history has one man screwed up his life as badly as Dr. Richard Talbot, played by Kent Smith. From the very beginning of this film, Talbot’s life unravels, at first very slowly, but, as the film progresses, in a hideously downward spiral that goes out of control by the end of the film. Watching this film makes one want to chant `I’m glad I’m not this guy!’ over and over again. Kent Smith’s antics as Dr. Talbot in this film make Fred Mac Murray’s Walter Neff of `Double Indemnity’ or Wendell Corey’s Cleve Marshall in `The File of Thelma Jordan’ look like child‘s play. Both of these movies can scare you silly regarding infidelity, but still, there is no comparison.


As the film begins, Talbot is portrayed as a straight-laced family man; an individual who has no clue about the world around him save for his family and work. This, of course, doesn’t last too long. Enter Nora Prentiss. Ann Sheridan does a superb job portraying the alluring Nora, a nightclub singer who gets clipped by an automobile while she’s crossing the street. Just by luck, Talbot is outside of his office and sees the accident. Being a doctor, he brings her up to his office in order to repair the damage, which consists of a bruised knee. The ride downhill to ruin begins for Dr. Talbot, first in a subtle way. He becomes tempted to see her perform in the nightclub across the street from his workplace. You can feel the rush toward disaster get a little quicker at this point.


First it’s dancing, then it’s a jaunt to his summer cabin when the family is away on a trip, then it’s expensive gifts, then it’s his coming home in the wee hours of the morning. By then his wife, played by Rosemary De Camp, becomes suspicious, but (miraculously) maintains her reserved attitude about what’s happening around her and her family. The gnawing anxiety inside of her finally prompts her to angrily quip, `Not everyone in San Francisco is in poor health’ or “I wonder what’s going on inside of you” to her husband during one breakfast. Of course this is the day of their daughter Bonita’s birthday which, of course, he forgets because of his frequent late evening trysts with Nora. You can feel the plunge toward certain disaster getting more apparent, just like feeling a noose being put around one’s neck.


It gets so bad by this time that he can’t even concentrate on his work. Before a New York doctor witnessing an operation, he almost kills the patient. Of course this happens after Nora tells him that she wants to call it quits (good timing!). Talbot can’t give her up. He pursues her like a male moth pursues a pheromone laden female. She keeps pushing him away, but nothing can stop this guy by now.


By now everyone viewing this film has a clue that this guy is tormented by the demon of infidelity. He feels like a trapped rat in a corner. He wants to divorce his wife, but lacks the courage to tell her. The viewer can feel the gnawing dilemma within Dr. Talbot and by now is REALLY glad that he’s not in his shoes! Enter Walter Bailey, played by John Ridgely. Bailey is a heart patient who, coincidentally, collapses and dies in Dr. Talbot’s office the moment he is writing a note to his wife asking for a divorce. Talbot notices that Bailey is the same age, height and weight as himself. In a day before DNA identification, Talbot sees a way out of his dilemma. He places his ring, watch and money clip on Bailey, drives his 1941 Buick to a cliff somewhere in Carmel, CA, douses the interior of the car with alcohol and sets it on fire with (of course) Bailey in the driver’s seat. It gets much worse, by the way…


So, Talbot “kills” himself in his endeavor to by with Nora. The continuing downward spiral gets a little more bizarre and precarious… He takes off to New York City with Nora and keeps informed with San Francisco newspapers about his death. He then notices that the District Attorney is investigating his death, so another factor is introduced in the plot: paranoia. He and Nora stay shut up in the hotel they’re living in. Nora is perturbed that they’re not living a “normal” life like everyone else. She is also confused as to why he is acting the way he is, not knowing what’s being written in the San Francisco papers.


Talbot becomes even more paranoid when they go out dancing one evening and he runs into the same doctor who watched that botched operation mentioned earlier. He tells Nora that they have to leave NOW without explaining to her what the problem is. By now Nora is really perturbed about what’s going on so she confronts him. He finally explains to her the mess that he got himself into, all because he wanted to be with her. The walls start to close in on Talbot as you can see him deteriorate in the seclusion of his hotel room. Hotel meals, newspapers and alcohol are all that he looks forward to in his `prison’. Nora gets a job as a singer at Phil DiNardo’s (played by Robert Alda) nightclub and manages to make a living for both herself and her `prisoner’ boyfriend.


Still another factor appears in the plot: jealousy. Talbot, who by now is calling himself Thompson, becomes enraged that Nora is spending too much time at the nightclub and with Phil. It doesn’t help any when he reads in the gossip pages how Nora and Phil are `an item’. One night he slips out of his hotel room and goes to the nightclub, pummeling DiNardo and fleeing in the latter’s car. As can be expected in this film, he speeds off, is pursued by the police and has an accident resulting in severe facial injuries. He treats his injuries like a blessing, thinking that his being altered in this way can let him live a `normal’ life in the great outdoors without being identified by anyone. Can Dr. Talbot really put away his past self now? Not a chance.


In perfect timing, the law arrests him because of a fingerprint identification on the can of alcohol he used in order to destroy his previous identity. Whew! They extradite him back to California where he is tried for the death of himself. He is so disfigured that not even his wife or past colleague, Dr. Joel Merriman, recognize him. He is sentenced to die and he makes Nora promise never to tell anyone who he is. Would you? Warner Brothers advertised the movie with a tremendous advertising campaign. The billboards asked: `If you were Nora, would you talk?’

If there ever was a deterrent for philandering, this is it. The film is filled with a tragedy of errors from beginning to end. Dr. Talbot’s fall from grace is truly astounding. His impulsiveness at throwing caution to the wind, as one would say, shows the stupidity of one man on his ability in screwing up his life big time. It really leaves one chanting over and over again, `I’m glad I’m not this guy!’


Not exactly film noir, but excellent thriller

28 March 2006 | by krorie (Van Buren, Arkansas) – See all my reviews

Though labeled a film noir drama, this film doesn’t really qualify for that genre. For one thing, the femme fatale, Nora Prentiss, is not really a femme fatale. She is a thoughtful, caring woman, who truly loves the good Doctor Talbot and earnestly tries to do what is best for him. She is played to perfection by the wonderful actress Ann Sheridan. Though Talbot loves her too, it is a more selfish, possessive kind. The one who sincerely loves her is her manager, Phil Dinardo, played with knowing skill by Robert Alda, but Nora does not return his love. He is more of a helpful long-time friend who is always there for her, even if she usually does not reciprocate.


Unfortunately, two of the main parts are given rather perfunctory readings by two ho-hum actors of the period, Kent Smith as Dr. Talbot and Bruce Bennett as his partner, Dr. Merriam. Too bad more capable Thespians were not assigned those roles, especially the key one of Dr. Talbot. Rosemary DeCamp is excellent in her cold hearted portrayal of the good doctor’s nondescript wife. The viewer wonders how Dr. Talbot has tolerated her for all those years.

The story is exceptional, very complex yet realistic. Most of us have had one little event, at the time seemingly insignificant, drastically alter our workaday lives, sometimes for the good, other times for the bad. In this film it is an accident that occurs right in front of Dr. Talbot. Being a physician, he rushes to the aid of a pretty young nightclub singer, has her taken to his office, and proceeds to treat her. From that time on, the entire fabric of his life is changed. What twists and turns until the denouement! Director Vincent Sherman permits no cop out at the end.


This is one of those pictures where everything counts, including the music and the photography, to accentuate the main theme. Listen to the music and to the lyrics of the songs Nora Prentiss sings, in particular “Who Cares What People Say?” Cinematographer James Wong Howe blends San Francisco photography and crisp black and white interior shots into the story settings to emphasize the mood and the importance of a particular scene. Note for example how what look to be bars on Nora Prentiss’ sweater in the lodge sequence indicate the happiness the two lovers are enjoying may be short lived.

The title is not a good one. Automatically one thinks of “Nora Prentiss” as a chick flick. It is not. There is little melodrama and not much sentiment. It is brash and harsh most of the way.


The Sellout (1952)


Gerald Mayer

Haven D. Allridge is the editor-in-chief of the News-Intelligencer newspaper in St. Howard, a town where he and his family have lived all their lives. Peggy, Randy and Marcia Staunton – Haven’s married daughter, her husband, and their child – now live about thirty miles away in Bridgewood County, which is adjacent to the St. Howard town limits. Randy is the county prosecutor. Haven learns first hand the corruption of the county sheriff, K.C. Burke, and his associates when, in an innocent enough move in picking up an acquaintance, Wilfred Jackson, at a bus stop located within the county and lightly bumping but not damaging a county sign with his car in the process, Haven and Wilfred are hauled into jail, where they spend the night before appearing before the county judge the next morning. Beaten up by prisoners with who they shared the cell, Wilfred, who has no money and pleads not guilty to the charge of soliciting rides on the highway, is held at a labor camp for trial in thirty days…


The meaning of ethics

23 October 2011 | by blanche-2 (United States) – See all my reviews

Walter Pidgeon, John Hodiak, Tomas Gomez, Audrey Totter, Cameron Mitchell, Karl Malden and Everett Sloan all star in “The Sellout,” a 1952 film. Pidgeon plays a well-respected newsman, Haven Allridge, who runs afoul of a corrupt sheriff (Gomez). Despite the fact that he and his department have been using violence and other illegal tactics unopposed because people are afraid, Allridge decides to take him down. He uses the power of the press to bring the matter to everyone’s attention, and soon an indictment is called for. Since Allridge’s son-in-law (Mitchell) works for the court, a special prosecutor (Hodiak) is brought in. Unfortunately, when it comes time for the indictment proceedings, everyone seems to have forgotten what they said previously.


This is an okay movie, although predictable, with good performances. It does point out that ethics aren’t just for people who have nothing to lose, when it’s easy. True ethics are for the tough times, when one is faced with huge losses.

Good cast.

Enviable cast doesn’t ignite four-square crusade against corruption

Author: bmacv from Western New York
18 January 2003

An enviable cast of noir veterans (John Hodiak, Audrey Totter, Walter Pidgeon, Thomas Gomez, Everett Sloane, and Karl Malden) tackling an all-American storyline – a newspaper crusades against municipal corruption – promises something above the ordinary. But The Sellout’s promise, like cold fusion’s, proves an inflated one; the movie never quite ignites.


An editor from a mid-sized city (Pidgeon), visiting his daughter’s family in a neighboring county, drives into a speed trap. He’s thrown into jail, subjected to a prisoners’ kangaroo court, and fined the entire contents of his wallet. Once back, he launches a crusade against this hijacking of the law, lining up witnesses and publishing blistering editorials against Gomez, the sheriff, and county boss Sloane. Then, abruptly, he leaves town and the campaign ceases.

A prosecutor from the state capital (Hodiak) is sent to investigate; upon arrival, he’s ambushed by a B-girl and shantoozie (Totter) who works at the machine’s headquarters, a road house called Amboy’s. Her philosophy of life is eloquent: (`Who makes plans? You do the best you can – Sometimes you wish things turned out differently.’) But she grows sweet on him and warns him off. With the help of honest cop Malden, Hodiak tries to get to the bottom of the editor’s silence, but everywhere encounters a stone wall. It turns out that the corruption runs very close to home….


Probably the biggest shortcoming of The Sellout is relegating Totter to a sub-plot that fizzles out too early; she lends the movie whatever quirky subversiveness it shows. For the most part, however, it’s four-square – there’s little visual excitement – and a little too self-important. Though crowded with incident, it ends up just plodding along. It’s also rooted in a now (one hopes) vanished America where out in the boondocks, away from the bright lights of civilization, lurked pockets of unexpected peril. The billboards marking the city limits might have well warned: Beyond here lie monsters.


No Stool Pidgeon

Author: wes-connors from Los Angeles
1 October 2011

Idealistic and respected newspaper editor Walter Pidgeon (as Haven D. Allridge) is accosted by corrupt sheriff Thomas Gomez (as Kellwin “Casey” Burke) in a nearby town and treated poorly in jail. Vowing to “skin this tin badge off that sloppy shirt of yours if it’s the last thing I do,” Mr. Pidgeon wants his newspaper to help blast the nasty Sheriff out of office. Then, suddenly, he becomes “The Sellout” and stops his exposé. Following a likely murder, state attorney John Hodiak (as Charles “Chick” Johnson) and detective Karl Malden (as Buck Maxwell) attempt to prosecute the case, but find Pidgeon uncooperative. The transition of leading men is awkward, but this is an engaging little drama, with a nice supporting cast.

****** The Sellout (5/30/52) Gerald Mayer ~ John Hodiak, Walter Pidgeon, Karl Malden, Thomas Gomez


Losing Momentum

Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
27 July 2009

1951, the Kefauver congressional committee on organized crime and corruption is making headlines, and MGM under new head Dore Schary is trying to make that famously big-budget studio relevant to news of the day. The trouble is that the so-called Tiffany of studios just doesn’t have the same feel for gritty material as a Warner Bros. or an RKO. Too bad this film doesn’t sustain the harrowing feel of the first 15 minutes, when prominent editor Allridge (Pidgeon) is brutalized after a minor traffic infraction by corrupt Sheriff Burke (Gomez). Allridge’s ordeal has the feel of a “sudden nightmare” to it, as if he’s been abruptly forced into a savage new world where the old civilized rules no longer apply. It’s a backwater county run by the sheriff like a private fiefdom and a jailhouse where inmates rule once the cell door slams shut. I like the way we’re shown the difficulties state prosecutor Johnson (Hodiak) encounters in trying to rid the county of Burke and his outlaw regime.

Verkauft und verraten
Still and all, the longer the movie lasts, the more momentum it loses, ending with a final 20 minutes of plodding courtroom procedure. There’s still some suspense in the air (why did Allridge skip town), but the initial energy has long since dissipated. At least part of the problem lies with uninspired direction that can’t sustain the early sense of tension and evil. Too bad noir maestros like Phil Karlson or Anthony Mann weren’t running the show. Those reviewers contrasting this film with Karlson’s similar Phenix City Story are right on target. Nonetheless, the movie does have its moments, along with a vibrant turn from the under- rated Audrey Totter who never seemed to get the recognition her talent deserved.


Final film of Richard Cramer, whose career started back in the days of silent films.

In this drama, an idealistic newspaper editor tries to launch a public crusade against a corrupt sheriff. The editor ends up kidnapped, but fortunately, the states attorney continues with the cause. The sheriff is brought to trial, but none of the witnesses are willing to speak against him.
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Dead End (1937 )

Directed by William Wyler
Cinematography Gregg Toland

Dead End is a 1937 crime drama film directed by William Wyler. It is an adaptation of the Sidney Kingsley 1935 Broadway play of the same name. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, and Sylvia Sidney. It is notable as being the first film appearance of the Dead End Kids.


Dead End was filmed from May 3 through July 8, 1937.

Robert Osborne, film historian, stated that Joel McCrea had a tough time working with Humphrey Bogart, especially during the scene “…on the rooftop, guns ready, and standing very close to each other. During the filming of that scene, McCrea kept flinching and the director William Wyler had to keep doing more takes. Finally, Wyler pulled McCrea aside, and he asked him what was wrong. McCrea, embarrassed to tell him, explained that Bogart kept spitting in his face when he was speaking. Not exactly what Wyler was expecting to hear or to be the problem. Happens with actors more than you can imagine.


Great visual beauties, direction, acting. A so-and-so story.

7 November 2002 | by pzanardo ( (Padova, Italy) – See all my reviews

The main credit of “Dead End” lies in the stunning visual beauties. The studio reproduction of a New York slum is really magnificent, worth of other major achievements of the same kind, like, say, the set of “Rear Window”. A true joy for the eyes. The work of the camera and William Wyler’s direction are outstanding, as well. And, of course, the job of the cast is great. Bogart, still in the role of the villain, McCrea and Sylvia Sidney are excellent, and save their rather straightforward characters and lines. In my opinion, the best one is Claire Trevor, in the small part of the lost girl. I normally dislike kids on the screen, but I must concede that here they give great performances, playing the gang of street-boys.

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The story is conventional, with a noble message, but few and predictable twists. The script is often clumsy and preachy. Luckily enough, the director gives a quick pace to the narration and inserts a number of humoristic touches. There’s a main flaw in the plot: I think that, even in the States of the 1930s, a common citizen couldn’t freely shoot a gangster.

Anyway, I’ve found in the screen-play an interesting and modern theme, namely the psychological ambiguity of some characters, whom even the all-knowing viewer cannot fully understand. For instance, Claire Trevor is apparently the cliche disgraced girl, the innocent victim of poverty, lack of opportunities, social injustice. To end as a prostitute is her unavoidable doom… But, when her former boy-friend Bogie gives some money to help her, she makes the horribly vulgar request of “twenty more bucks”… with a grimace worth of a hardened prostitute (great stuff by Trevor!). So we see that, after all, perhaps that girl is not so innocent as she pretends to be… And what about Drina’s brother, the leader of the street-boys?


The audience is perfectly aware that, in spite of his whining, weeping self-apologies (when he’s in dire straits), the boy is a REAL criminal. We see that he deliberately harms people, steals, brutally thrashes the rich kid, wants to slash his gang-mate. And he just mocks his affectionate sister and his friend McCrea when, in tears, he cries that he’s good, that he didn’t intend to harm, and all that. So, are we supposed to feel sympathy for this hideous boy? Interesting ambiguity, which creates a fine artistic effect… perhaps beyond the actual intentions of the writer Lillian Hellman.

All in all, we may forgive the defects of the movie. it is worth seeing “Dead End”, enjoying the beauty of the set and the work of director and actors.


Well Done — and a superb cameo

Author: felixoscar from New York, USA
4 December 2004

Considering all the talent involved, it was hardly surprising to find this a first rate movie. Didn’t you want to slap Bogart around … well, that is actually what compelled me to make this entry. Among the handful of superlative cameo (say 2 to 8 minutes in length)performances I have seen in my 40 plus years of movie-going, Dead End features one of them.

Marjorie Main, almost as unlikely a film character (think Ma Kettle!) as one could imagine, turned in what I consider a masterpiece. Read that she repeated her stage role, and wow, that slap, that dialog and that role. Bravo!


The film turned out to be Bogart’s most significant film since “The Petrified Forest.”

Author: Righty-Sock ( from Mexico
17 January 2009

It offers a vivid portrait of people caught up in a continual fight to somehow satisfy themselves despite the oppressive environment that seemed to quiet their every attempt…


Joel McCrea is a frustrated architect who dreams of tearing down the slums and Sylvia Sidney portrays a shopgirl struggling for identity and meaning in her life, a life made even more complicated by having to look after her brother (Billy Halop). The boy idolizes the decadent Bogart, an excessive admiration shared by the rest of the Dead End Kids, here recreating their original Broadway roles with noisy good humor…

Opposing these idealists is their real threat, Bogart, an assassin named Baby Face Martin… Bogart is impolitely rejected by a mother (Marjorie Main) who hates him and an ex-girl friend (Claire Trevor) who leaves him bitter and disillusioned when he discovers that she has become a hooker…


Rebuked by those he had been sentimental enough to want to visit, he rapidly reverts to represent beforehand and plans a kidnapping in order to rescue something from the consumed affair…

“Dead End” remains one of Bogart’s best films, where the actor proves that he is capable of handling difficult material with considerable skill…

Still powerful

Author: preppy-3 from United States
17 August 2004

Excellent drama of the New York tenements of 1937 where the rich people live along the same street as the poor people. Movie focuses on two young lovers (Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea), killer Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart) and the Dead End Kids (later to become the Bowery Boys).


From the incredible opening shot it basically focuses on the kids–it shows the harrowing lives the kids have to live through and how Sydney and McCrea try to keep them good while Bogart teaches them how to rob and kill. Pretty graphic for its day and still strong. Excellent performances by all, especially Bogart, Sydney and Billy Halop (as one of the kids). Also Marjorie Main, Claire Trevor and Ward Bond shine in supporting roles.

This had huge censorship problems–it was adapted from a play and was HEAVILY cut (the language was MUCH stronger in the play and when the kids went swimming they weren’t wearing bathing suits!) and Warner Bros. had to fight to keep it strong. Aside from a nice, moral ending this is pretty gritty. A must-see and seeing Bogart, Sydney and McCrea so young is amusing.


Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Cinematography Sol Polito

Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 American crime film directed by Michael Curtiz for Warner Brothers. It stars James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and George Bancroft. The screenplay was written by John Wexley and Warren Duff, and is based on the story by Rowland Brown. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the notorious gangster William “Rocky” Sullivan. After spending three years in prison for armed robbery, Rocky intends to collect $100,000 from his co-conspirator, Jim Frazier. All the while, Father Jerry Connolly tries to prevent a group of youths from falling under Rocky’s influence.


Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and George Bancroft in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

When Cagney was offered Angels with Dirty Faces, his agent was “convinced” that he would never agree to play the role of an “abject coward” being dragged to his execution. Cagney, however, was enthusiastic about the chance to play Rocky. He saw it as an opportunity to prove that he had a broad acting range that extended beyond “tough guy” roles. To play Rocky, Cagney drew on his memories of growing up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, New York.


His main inspiration was a drug-addicted pimp who stood on a street corner all day hitching his trousers, twitching his neck, and repeating: “Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!” Those mannerisms came back to haunt Cagney, who later wrote in his autobiography: “I did those gestures maybe six times in the picture. That was over thirty years ago – and the impressionists have been doing me doing him ever since.”Cagney’s other inspiration was his childhood friend, Peter “Bootah” Hessling, who was convicted of murder and “sent to the electric chair” on July 21, 1927. The night Bootah was executed, Cagney was “playing in a Broadway show” and “wept” upon hearing of his friend’s death.


Pat O’Brien was cast as Father Jerry Connolly, Rocky’s childhood friend. O’Brien had been a “contract player” with Warner Bros. since 1933, and eventually left the studio in 1940 following a dispute over the terms of the renewal of his contract. He and Cagney first met in 1926 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. O’Brien was a “lonely, young” actor “playing in a stock company”. He heard that a stage play, Women Go on Forever by Mary Boland, was coming to Asbury Park on its way to Broadway. Wanting to meet the “star of the show”, he went backstage after a performance and met Cagney for the first time.  O’Brien and Cagney became great friends, and remained so until O’Brien’s death in 1983. (Cagney died in 1986).


By May, 1938, the Dead End Kids had already starred in Samuel Goldwyn‘s Dead End; as well as Warner’s Crime School  (both with Humphrey Bogart). They had signed a two-year contract with Goldwyn in 1937, but he sold the contract to Warner Bros. the same year because of their behavior on the set of Dead End; in one instance, they “jumped” Bogart and “stole his pants” while in another they crashed a truck into a sound stage. Bogart portrays the crooked lawyer Jim Frazier in Angels With Dirty Faces. German scholar Winfried Fluck described Bogart’s character, Jim Frazier, as an “entirely negative” and “thoroughly bad figure”, in “contrast” with Cagney’s antihero.


An absolute classic

Author: The_Void from Beverley Hills, England
3 January 2005

Michael Curtiz has made some great films, yet the only one that tends to be well received among film fans is his contender for the best movie ever made – obviously Casablanca (and Robin Hood, to a lesser extent). However, the man has a wealth of other influential classics under his belt that don’t tend to get the recognition that they deserve, and Angels With Dirty Faces is one of those films. To sum the film up easily, one would say that it is a crime drama. However; like the best crime dramas, this one has multiple themes that elevate it from being merely a film about crime, to being a character study, a portrait of what it is that makes a hero and a condemnation of criminals on the whole. The story follows Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly; two young New York thugs, the former of which is caught by the police and sent to a reform school, where, ironically, he learns to be a criminal. The latter escapes punishment and goes on to become a priest. The story follows these two men as they meet up as adults and have an effect on the lives of the kids of their old neighbourhood.


The focus of the film is always centred on the neighbourhood. This allows Curtiz to show us the effects that Rocky’s criminal endeavours have on the kids of the neighbourhood more effectively. This sort of narrative would be employed in later films, such as the critically acclaimed ‘City of God’, and works well here too. The way the film shows how impressionable young kids can be influenced by adults works brilliantly, and Curtiz is able to continue this theme up until the powerful ending. James Cagney would later go on to achieve major fame in the incredible ‘White Heat’, but here he shows us what the quintessential New York gangster would be like. His performance, in short, is incredible and easily ranks among the best gangster roles of all time. The rest of the cast do well in their roles, with distinct New York accents helping to firmly place the audience in the city that the film is taking place in. Furthermore, the film is economic in the way it’s plotted and it’s also very exciting, and therefore guaranteed to delight it’s audience.


Angels With Dirty Faces is an absolute cinema classic and quite why it isn’t more famous is anyone’s guess. Although not quite as good as Casablanca, this is a major notch in Michael Curtiz’s filmography and I wouldn’t have any qualms with recommending this to film fans at all.

Golden-age film offers great gangster yarn and metaphysical struggle

Author: Sloke from Greenwich, CT, USA
18 March 2000

“Angels With Dirty Faces” has been called the gangster movie of the New Deal. Previously, with such early-30s films as “Little Caesar” and “Public Enemy,” gangster films at their best were engrossing actioners with charismatic but undeniably evil central figures. “Angels With Dirty Faces,” released in 1938, presents a more nuanced view of what makes the modern bad man tick. Is it a bad heart? Or is society to blame?


Cagney is undeniably great in the role that made him a legend. His practiced patter never wears thin, and his screen presence is electric throughout. (Especially at the end, and I don’t mean that as a pun.) But the screenwriters never let us forget the good in the man. We see him come up against more ruthless elements of the underworld, people like Bogart (a real baddie here) who have no compunction about killing a man if it means avoiding payment of a heavy debt. We see him interact with a group of starry-eyed juveniles (The Dead End Kids) whose nickel-and-dime antics fill him with a poignant but heartily-amusing nostalgia. And we see him try to do right by his former partner in crime, now a priest played by Hugh O’Brien.

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But Cagney is trapped by the circumstances of his life. He can’t walk away from a life of crime, which has made him what he is and gives him the only life satisfaction he knows. He’s correctly on guard for double-crossers at every turn. When cornered, his cheery face becomes bug-eyed and menacing. We know he’s bad, but we like him, and that puts us in the company of the audience-surrougate figure, Father Connolly.

Director Curtiz was an auteur before his time, filling his canvas with images of downtrodden street life. This isn’t for mere effect, but to show us why Rocky is what he is and how come he finds little hope for his redemption. There are souls to be saved in this picture, but for Father Connolly, they are Laurie and the boys. He must take on his childhood chum, the same kid who saved Connolly from the perils of the Mean Streets and allowed him to become what he was.


It is a choice between God and friendship, and while Connolly has little doubt which way to go, the audience may not be with him all the way. The ending points up this spiritual conflict in some of the most harrowing terms ever brought to screen at that time. When you really think about what’s going on behind Connolly’s face in that final scene, it’s a real tear-inducer.


Was Rocky’s last scene a put-up job? I guess it can be argued back and forth, but the real question of value is whether, if it was faked, was it enough to perform a miracle even the good Father Connolly wouldn’t have quite believed in, the salvation of Rocky. The last image of the boys, desolately accepting the news of their hero’s fall, is at once triumphant and bittersweet. Nothing comes easy in this world of ours.

“Angels With Dirty Faces” may strike a falsely optimistic note to some, but it is optimism well-earned by the honesty of vision expressed. Add to that clever dialogue, great pacing, and one of cinema’s keystone performances by Cagney, and you have a real keeper here.

P.S. It also features one of the finest Cagney impersonations ever, by William Tracey as the young Rocky. Funny stuff.

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Cagney Heads Impressive Cast

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
29 October 2005

This film certainly has an attractive cast with three Hall-Of-Fame actors and the very pretty Ann Sheridan.

James Cagney, my favorite actor of classic films, once again steals most of the scenes. He just dominates the screen and gets you very involved with his character, especially at the end. Pat O’Brien plays his normal somewhat-liberal and likable priest role and Humphrey Bogart is convincing as the crooked lawyer. Bogart was the bad guy in most films until he became a big star a couple years after this film.


The “Dead End Kids” are a pretty tough bunch. Seeing them play basketball is quite a sight – more like rugby. It must be one of the highlights of this entertaining film because I remember it so well….it was so different from any other basketball game I’ve ever seen!

The shootout-and-chase scene near the end was well-done with some great film-noir photography and the ending of the movie is quite memorable. Frankly, the first time I saw this I thought it was overrated but after the second viewing – and then seeing a nice transfer on DVD – I changed my mind. It is anything but overrated.


‘G’ Men (1935)

Directed by William Keighley
Cinematography Sol Polito

It’s the early days of the F.B.I. – federal agents working for the Department of Justice. Though they’ve got limited powers – they don’t carry weapons and have to get local police approval for arrests – that doesn’t stop fresh Law School grad Eddie Buchanan from joining up, and he encourages his former roommate James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) to do so as well. But Davis wants to be an honest lawyer, not a shyster, despite his ties to mobster boss McKay, and he’s intent on doing so, until Buchanan is gunned down trying to arrest career criminal Danny Leggett. Davis soon joins the “G-Men” as they hunt down Leggett (soon-to-be Public Enemy Number One) and his cronies Collins and Durfee, who are engaged in a crime and murder spree from New York to the midwest.


Brick Davis is a street-wise New York City lawyer who decides to join the US Department of Justice and become a G-Man after his friend Eddie Buchanan, also a G-Man, is gunned down by mobsters. Davis’ schooling was actually paid by a friend, Mac McKay, a benevolent mobster who wanted to make sure that Brick didn’t end up on the wrong side of the law. He hasn’t been very successful as a lawyer so law enforcement seems to be the next best thing. When mobsters go on a spree of bank robberies in the US mid-west, Davis is assigned to the Chicago field office. As they arrest the mobsters one by one, Davis learns that the rest of the gang is hiding out at a hotel run by his onetime friend and mentor McKay. Things come to a head when the last remaining gunman kidnaps a fellow G-Man’s sister.


In this film, which was made after one of the many “censorship” reforms, the gangsters are never seen using the common gangster weapon: the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun. In an effort to curb the violence in movies, the new “production codes” forbade the use of the weapon by gangsters on camera for fear that it would corrupt the youth of America (a fact explained in the Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) DVD documentary). This is especially evident during the lodge shootout. All of the cops and FBI agents have Tommy guns, 12-gauge pump shotguns and automatic pistols, while the gangsters only have revolvers and lever-action rifles.


Puff Piece for the Federal Bureau of Investigation

28 May 2006 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

When Machine Gun Kelly gave up, uttering that famous line, “Don’t Shoot G-Men”, he gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation members a moniker that has survived down to this day. He also entitled an upcoming film being made at Warner Brothers about the FBI.


Though the FBI had been in existence since 1908, founded during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, it’s structure and mystique never took shape until Calvin Coolidge’s Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed a young civil servant named J. Edgar Hoover as it’s new head.

The place was known as dumping ground for political hacks up to that time and Hoover put an end to it. He brought in the laboratories and fingerprint data base. Folks who had law and accounting degrees saw the FBI as a good career now. Crime was now national and a national organization was needed to fight it.


Probably if J. Edgar Hoover had put in his retirement at the end of World War II his historic reputation would be a lot higher today. The negative stuff about him only comes during the McCarthy Era and beyond until his death in 1972. And only after that.

If Hoover was nothing else, he was media conscious. One of filmdom’s most notorious gangster actors went on the side of law and order for G-Men. James Cagney is a young lawyer who’s not doing so good in private practice, wasting the education that an oldtime gangster helped finance. After his friend FBI agent Regis Toomey is killed, Cagney joins the FBI. His knowledge of the underworld is put to some good use though he has a lengthy time winning acceptance from his superior, Robert Armstrong.


Lloyd Nolan makes his debut as an FBI agent here also. Later on during the Forties, Nolan played THE ideal conception of what J. Edgar Hoover had in mind for an agent in The House on 92nd Street and The Street With No Name.

A couple of incidents fresh in the mind of the public were recreated for G-Men, the famous Kansas City Massacre and a shootout at a rural motel that involved Baby Face Nelson who escaped as chief hood Barton MacLane does here. No doubt these scenes lent a certain documentary authenticity to the film.

G-Men dates very badly, the FBI is still respected, but not revered as it once was. But Cagney and the cast do a fine job and G-Men is a relic of bygone years.

Cagney ‘s ‘Untouchables’

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
29 October 2005

Here’s an old-time (about 75 years old!) gangster movie that is fast-moving as all James Cagney crime films tend to be. In here, Cagney is the good guy, a “government man” out to get crooks, one of whom turns out to be his old pal. All the characters in here are pretty interesting, particularly Cagney’s boss played by Robert Armstrong.


Watching this film, one discovers an interesting fact: government agents weren’t allowed to use guns in the early days. That didn’t change until things got totally out of control with too many defenseless lawmen getting killed.

Margaret Lindsay also stars in this movie, and that’s a good thing. The more I see of her, the more I like her. It would have been interesting to see what roles she’d play if she was a young actress in today’s films.

Finally, the action scenes in this film reminded me of the old television series, “The Untouchables” with the machine guns blazing out of those big, boxy 1930 automobiles.


One of Cagney’s best

Author: MartynGryphon from Coventry, England
7 June 2004

I could go on record as saying that G-men is probably my favourite film of all time, but I won’t. Though it would certainly have no need to fight for a place in my top 5, as anyone who’s seen this movie could see why it would have a well earned place there.

Cagney plays the tough guy again, but this time firmly on the side of Uncle Sam, as a laywer turned Federal Agent to avenge the death of a friend. Cagneys performance is one of his best, and it’s not just cagney that shines, Robert Armstrong is brilliant as Cagney’s tough talking FBI boss. and Regis Toomey’s good but brief appearance as Cagney’s doomed friend is equally pleasing.


I love everything about this Movie, the guns, the Cars, the suits, the music. The only thing I don’t like, is that every version you find of this great film these days has the annoying and rather pointless prologue added in 1949, showing a group of ‘FBI Men’ (or actors as I like to call them) having a training session where the instructor tells this fledgling officers that Gangsters are scum and and that law and order will prevail. WHY????????


The 1930’s were Warner Bros’s glory days, and their gangster films were rightly regarded as the best crime movies ever (until supplanted by the brilliant Godfather movies). However, the new makes way for the old, and Pacino, De Niro, Brando, as good as they are, could NEVER replace the cockiness of Cagney, the ruthlessness of Raft,and the barbarity of Bogie(though sadly neither Bogart or Raft appear in this picture I’m afraid). Maybe that’s where the film could have been better with Barton McClanes lacklustre performance as Cagney’s gangster nemesis, being replaced by either George Raft or Humphrey Bogart. I’m not going to spoil the plot, as this movies a treat for all fans of B&W gangster films. this is a MUST SEE


Margaret Livingston, I Presume!

Author: ( from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
9 September 2006

“G-Men” is one of the best of Warner Brothers gangster films. It casts James Cagney, known at that time for his gangster roles, on the right side of the law for a change.

Lawyer “Brick” Davis (Cagney) is a well educated lawyer with no clients. He is visited one day by an old friend Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey) who encourages Brick to join the Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation (soon to be named the Federal Bureau of Investigation).


When Eddie is murdered by gangster Collins (Barton MacLane), Brick decides to apply to the Department of Justice. It should be noted that in the FBI’s early days they could only engage lawyers and accountants and were not permitted to carry firearms. Brick is assigned to tough laconic Jeff McCord (Robert Armstrong) who is of the opinion that Brick will never make an effective agent.

McCord and Bureau Director Bruce Gregory (Addison Richards) both believe that to be effective, the bureau needs to have national jurisdiction, be allowed to carry weapons and hire law enforcers and not lawyers.

Poster - G Men_05

As it turns out Brick was rescued from the street by gangster Mac McKay (William Harrigan) who took him in and provided him with his education. Brick soon demonstrates his capabilities and quickly gains the confidence of his superiors. Along the way he meets McCord’s sister Kay (Margaret Lindsay) and the two fall in love. Bad girl Jean Morgan (Ann Dvorak) also has this thing for Brick.

When Collins’ gang disappears, Jean is brought in for questioning and we learn that she has married Collins after Mac closed his night club. She gives Brick the lead he needs and the Bureau takes action. Collins escapes the Bureau’s attack on his gang and…………………


Director William Keighley gives us one of the classic gangster movies. It changes the focus on the hero from a gangster to a law enforcement officer, but at the same time offers one of the best shoot outs of the genre.

Cagney loses nothing in his switch from the wrong to the right side of the law. He remains his usual cocky fast talking self. Armstrong in a role that usually was played by Pat O’Brien, is effective as McCord. Of the female leads, Dvorak has the best role. Lindsay is merely around as Cagney’s good girl love interest. MacLane, Warners resident gangster, turns in his usual good performance as the brutish Collins.

Others in the cast include Lloyd Nolan in an early role as Brick’s fellow agent, and Edward Pawley, Noel Madison, Harold Huber and Raymond Hatton as assorted gangsters.

In 1949, the film was re-released to help mark the FBI’s 25th anniversary. A prologue featuring David Brian showing the film to a group of new recruits was added.

A word about the DVD commentary by film historian Richard Jewell. For someone who should know better, he makes two glaring errors regarding the cast. He identifies David Brian as Brian David and Margaret Lindsay as Margaret Livingston. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have heard him call Cagney, James Pygmy or MacLane, Barton Fink. A little more thorough research Mr. Jewell.


Bullets or Ballots (1936)


William Keighley

Cinematography by

Hal Mohr

Bullets or Ballots is a 1936 gangster film starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Barton MacLane and Humphrey Bogart. Robinson plays a police detective who infiltrates a crime gang. This is the first of several films featuring both Robinson and Bogart.


Robinson Ties In With the Mugs!

12 September 2006 | by ( (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

“Bullets or Ballots” was affected by the new motion picture Production Code introduced in 1934. The Code stipulated, among other things, that gangsters could no longer be glorified in films as had been done with “Little Caesar” (1930) and “The Public Enemy” (1931). That meant that Warners resident gangsters Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney had to come over to the right side of the law.


Cagney had done so in 1935 with “G-Men” but in 1936 was embroiled in a contract dispute with Warners and had left the lot. That left Robinson. You can just hear the brain trusts at Warners saying, “Let’s put Eddie Robinson in a new crime picture only this time we’ll have him go undercover so that he can ACT like a gangster while satisfying the Code by really working on the side of the law”. “Bullets or Ballots” was the result.


Gangster Al Kruger (Barton MacLane) is a new order of corporate type gangster that shuns the old violent ways of the 20s. He is controlled by unseen bosses well placed in the business community. His second in command Nick “Bugs” Fenner is of the old school. When crusading newspaper reporter Ward Bryant (Henry O’Neill) is murdered by Fenner, it sets off a cry for justice. Police Captain McLaren is appointed Special Commissioner charged with cleaning up the rackets.

Detective Johnny Blake (Robinson) is a down on his luck policeman who has been exiled to an outer precinct. One day he learns that McLaren has fired him as part of his cleanup. But as we learn, Blake is really working undercover informing McLaren of the mob’s plans. Blake then joins up with Kruger and rises quickly through the ranks. Fenner, meanwhile doesn’t trust Blake and the two compete against each other.


As the result of the crime crackdown, the mob’s earnings have dropped. Blake suggests that they move into the numbers racket which was being run successfully on a small scale by Blake’s girlfriend Lee Morgan (Joan Blondell) with the aid her pick-up man Herman (Frank McHugh) and Harlem contact Nellie (Louise Beavers).

With the success of the numbers game, Fenner sees that Kruger has gone soft and is neglecting the mob’s other businesses. Fenner murders Kruger and vies with Blake to take over. Blake succeeds and continues to inform McLaren of the mob’s intentions. Fenner decides on a showdown and…………….


Robinson, who was a well educated and classically trained actor wanted to get away from gangster roles and did so whenever he could. But in spite of that, he will always be best remembered for these types of roles. Barton MacLane for once doesn’t play the brutish gangster. He plays Kruger as a businessman and not a thug. Bogey on the other hand, had just made his mark in “The Petrified Forest” (1936) and was typecast for the most part as a gangster for the next five years. Joan Blondell is wasted in her superficial role as Robinson’s love interest and McHugh is just along for comedy relief.

Still, “Bullets or Ballots” remains one of the all-time gangster classics.


William Keighley directed the film with a firm and fresh efficiency…

Author: Righty-Sock ( from Mexico
12 April 2005

Following his brutal portrayal in “The Petrified Forest,” Bogart became a much more articulate and calculating killer in “Bullets or Ballots,” a gangster thriller starring Edward G. Robinson as a crusading crime-buster, modeled after true-life cop Johnny Broderick, known as “the toughest cop on Broadway,” who pretended to be thrown off the police force in order to infiltrate Bogart’s gang and get the evidence to bring him to justice…

Bogart revealed no emotion whatever as he goes about his gun-happy chores of shooting a respected newspaperman as well as his partner-in-crime, Barton MacLane, in his characteristic double-cross…


The exciting finale found both Bogart and Robinson in a blazing showdown, an unusual ending for this period in film history, but one which Robinson had fought hard to retain…

William Keighley directed the film with a firm and fresh efficiency…


Robinson Ties In With the Mugs!

Author: ( from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
12 September 2006

“Bullets or Ballots” was affected by the new motion picture Production Code introduced in 1934. The Code stipulated, among other things, that gangsters could no longer be glorified in films as had been done with “Little Caesar” (1930) and “The Public Enemy” (1931). That meant that Warners resident gangsters Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney had to come over to the right side of the law.


Cagney had done so in 1935 with “G-Men” but in 1936 was embroiled in a contract dispute with Warners and had left the lot. That left Robinson. You can just hear the brain trusts at Warners saying, “Let’s put Eddie Robinson in a new crime picture only this time we’ll have him go undercover so that he can ACT like a gangster while satisfying the Code by really working on the side of the law”. “Bullets or Ballots” was the result.

Gangster Al Kruger (Barton MacLane) is a new order of corporate type gangster that shuns the old violent ways of the 20s. He is controlled by unseen bosses well placed in the business community. His second in command Nick “Bugs” Fenner is of the old school. When crusading newspaper reporter Ward Bryant (Henry O’Neill) is murdered by Fenner, it sets off a cry for justice. Police Captain McLaren is appointed Special Commissioner charged with cleaning up the rackets.


Detective Johnny Blake (Robinson) is a down on his luck policeman who has been exiled to an outer precinct. One day he learns that McLaren has fired him as part of his cleanup. But as we learn, Blake is really working undercover informing McLaren of the mob’s plans. Blake then joins up with Kruger and rises quickly through the ranks. Fenner, meanwhile doesn’t trust Blake and the two compete against each other.

As the result of the crime crackdown, the mob’s earnings have dropped. Blake suggests that they move into the numbers racket which was being run successfully on a small scale by Blake’s girlfriend Lee Morgan (Joan Blondell) with the aid her pick-up man Herman (Frank McHugh) and Harlem contact Nellie (Louise Beavers).


With the success of the numbers game, Fenner sees that Kruger has gone soft and is neglecting the mob’s other businesses. Fenner murders Kruger and vies with Blake to take over. Blake succeeds and continues to inform McLaren of the mob’s intentions. Fenner decides on a showdown and…………….


Robinson, who was a well educated and classically trained actor wanted to get away from gangster roles and did so whenever he could. But in spite of that, he will always be best remembered for these types of roles. Barton MacLane for once doesn’t play the brutish gangster. He plays Kruger as a businessman and not a thug. Bogey on the other hand, had just made his mark in “The Petrified Forest” (1936) and was typecast for the most part as a gangster for the next five years. Joan Blondell is wasted in her superficial role as Robinson’s love interest and McHugh is just along for comedy relief.

Still, “Bullets or Ballots” remains one of the all-time gangster classics.


BULLETS OR BALLOTS (William Keighley, 1936) ***

Author: MARIO GAUCI ( from Naxxar, Malta
14 April 2008

This is one of the few gangster classics from that genre’s golden era and featuring its iconic stars which was never available in my neck of the woods until it surfaced on DVD. It was also the first of five films teaming (or rather pitting one against the other) Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart; the former was the real star and he was already starting to branch out from gangster roles – the latter was still a supporting actor (having just had his big break with THE PETRIFIED FOREST [1936]) and five more years would pass till he achieved his long-deserved stardom (nevertheless, in spite of the lack of range offered by the scripts for these type of roles, Bogie always made an impression at it).


By this time, the Hays Code had come down on Hollywood for their glorification of the gangster; Warners had pulled a clever switch with “G” MEN (1935), where these same crimes were presented from the viewpoint of law enforcement officers (that film had also been helmed by this film’s director, William Keighley, and starred another of the great genre actors, James Cagney). In this case, the narrative allowed Robinson as an undercover cop to still be involved in the criminal activity, and rise through the ranks as always, without taking active part in them: however, censorship of the time still dictated that his character had to die at the end (unless it was a way of showing the risk inherent in such police work).


Interestingly, Keighley would return to a similar situation – this time revolving around the F.B.I. – many years later with the noir THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948), which I’ve just watched as part of my ongoing tribute to Richard Widmark; having mentioned the noir, while I admire the vitality and raw power of the gangster films, their limited plot lines rather prevents them from having the same pull of the fatalistic thrillers often involving tortuous plots and where the protagonists – apart from the dark city streets – could be as much a private detective as the next man, but always gullible and at the mercy of a femme fatale…


To go back to BULLETS OR BALLOTS, the film is typically fast-moving – it’s not just the action that crackles but the dialogue as well – and, while some of the edge of the very earliest gangster pictures, has been lost by way of repetition (and the standards of the Code), it’s still a satisfactory and highly entertaining entry. For the record, two of the very best efforts in this influential genre were still a couple of years away – namely ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) and THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), both with Cagney as an anti-hero and Bogie ever the irredeemable and duplicitous mobster. Here, alongside the two stars, are Joan Blondell as Robinson’s on-off girl on whom Bogart has his eyes as well (interestingly, she’s got her own particular racket going!), Barton MacLane as the big boss whom Bogart is forever trying to oust (again, a role he would often play) and Frank McHugh providing the comic relief (ditto).


very satisfying Warner police drama

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
20 July 2006
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Okay, I’ll admit that MOST of the Warner Brothers films of the 1930s starring actors like Cagney, Bogart and Edward G. Robinson were predictable and formulaic. But, they were also very entertaining and the public loved them. I happen to be a real fan of the films but know that they aren’t exactly “high art” or always 100% believable! Well, this is such a film, as you really need to suspend disbelief and just sit back and enjoy–and boy, did I enjoy this dandy film.


Robinson played a tough as nails detective who used to be a force to be reckoned with in the police department, but in recent years instead of smashing organized crime, he’s been reassigned to more mundane activities. And, he’s got REAL ATTITUDE, as when hoods see him on the street, he’s likely to slug them if they don’t show him “proper respect”. At the same time, the grand jury is outraged by the proliferation of organized crime, so they appoint a new Police Commissioner. However, unexpectedly, this new Commissioner unexpectedly fires Robinson instead of having him return to his old mob-fighting ways! Now at this point, considering who Robinson’s character was, it seemed obvious that his being fired was NOT “strictly on the level”. Where this goes and how the movie wraps everything up, I’ll leave to you.


The acting is fun and exactly what you’d expect from an old gangster picture. The combination of Robinson, Barton MacLane and Bogart as the leads is exceptional and is sure to please, though I must admit that MacLane’s character, at times, seems a bit stupid and gullible–he wasn’t the best written character in the film.

Edward G. Robinson played GOOD & EVIL GUY!

Author: whpratt1 from United States
18 August 2004

Enjoyed viewing is great film directed by William Keighley, it has a great cast of Veteran Classic actors.


Keighley produced another great film,”Street With No Name”,’48. Edward G. Robinson,(Detective John Blake),”The Red House,”’47, was trying to be a good cop and keep the city from being taken over by the hoods. Joan Blondell,(Lee Morgan),”Big Daddy,”’65 has a big crush on Blake and also has a Numbers Racket going on in town that the hoods become interested in obtaining. Barton MacLane (Al Kruger),”Captain Scarface”,’53 is one of the big shot gangsters and tries to get John Blake to change sides and join the bad guys. Humphrey Bogart,(Nick Bugs Fenner), “Dead End”,’37, looks very young and just starting out in his acting career, does not trust John Blake and is a trigger happy gangster who will stop at nothing to become the Number 1 HOOD! If you love old gangster films with great actors, this is the film for YOU!


Beating Those Criminals to a Pulp

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 May 2006

Edward G. Robinson stars in yet another classic gangster film from the folks who did them best at Warner Brothers. This time his character of John Blake is based on real life NYPD detective John Broderick.

Back in the day you would not have given much chance for Broderick to grow old and die in bed. Yet in 1966 that’s what he did do. Back in the day too many of New York’s noted underworld figures felt his knuckles in various parts of the anatomy.


Broderick was independent, fearless, and honest, the last being a rather rare commodity in the days of and just after Prohibition. Good thing he retired before the Miranda decision. He didn’t think that hoodlums had any civil rights.

Because Broderick was so open and known to all undercover work was impossible. But in Bullets or Ballots Robinson is kicked off the force for excessive brutality and joins the hoods he’s been beating on.


But it’s all an act. It’s a deal worked out by Broderick and the Police Commissioner so he can go undercover and get the goods on the numbers racket. The ostensible heads, Barton MacLane and Humphrey Bogart and the respectable types they’re fronting for.

Though the ending is melodramatic, Bullets or Ballots holds up pretty well today. And who knows, Broderick’s real life might yet rate a good biographical picture today.

Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

Directed by Lee Sholem

Superman and the Mole Men is an independently made 1951 American black-and-white superhero film, produced by Barney A. Sarecky, directed by Lee Sholem, that stars George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. The film was released by Lippert Pictures Inc.


The storyline concerns reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane arriving in the small town of Silsby to witness the drilling of the world’s deepest oil well. The drill, however, has penetrated the underground home of a race of small, bald humanoids who, out of curiosity, climb to the surface at night. They glow in the dark, which scares the local townfolk, who form a mob intent on killing the strange visitors. Only Superman can intervene to prevent a tragedy.

George Reeves is still THE Superman!

28 June 1999 | by Michael J. Hayde (Manassas VA) – See all my reviews

Considering it was shot in 11 days; considering its “special effects” are something less than primitive, George Reeves and this film still pack a Kryptonite-sized wallop.


Mysterious Mole-Men emerge from “the world’s deepest oil well,” and scare the inhabitants of the nearby town of Silsby. Despite pleas for tolerance and patience, Superman must disarm the town and protect the aliens while hard-headed Luke Benson repeatedly tries to kill them.

FACTOID #1: Despite other accounts, this film was NOT a “pilot” for the eventual series. In fact, there WAS no pilot. The day after shooting wrapped, the company spent another 12 weeks shooting 24 half-hour episodes. The comic book company decided to include a feature film as part of the schedule, so they’d be sure to recoup their investment at the box office in case no one bought the series. Lucky for us, that didn’t come to pass.

s guff

FACTOID #2: Although the two-part TV version, “Unknown People,” had been edited and packaged with the other 24 half-hours, it had to be withheld during the series’ original run. It had been produced in 1951, and SAG rules forbade films copyrighted after 9/48 to air on TV without residuals. Not until 1960, when the rules were revised, did “Unknown People” appear.

Reeves’ Debut as Man of Steel Still Timely…

Author: Ben Burgraff (cariart) from Las Vegas, Nevada
21 September 2003

In anticipation of the television series, ‘The Adventures of Superman’, this third ‘live-action’ Superman was the first ‘feature’ film (the previous entries had been serials). Replacing serial ‘King’ Kirk Alyn as the ‘Man of Steel’ was George Reeves, a gifted 37-year old actor who had been impressive in such ‘A’-list productions as ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘The Strawberry Blonde’, ‘Lydia’, and ‘So Proudly We Hail!’


Returning from the war, however, his career, as was the case with so many other young actors, had stalled. Reduced to supporting roles, or leads in ‘B’ films and serials, ‘Superman and the Mole Men’ represented yet another minor film, but Reeves hoped the exposure from both film and television might jump-start his flagging career…

He little anticipated what impact Superman was about to have on his life!

A cautionary tale, with elements ‘lifted’ from ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, begins as miners drill the world’s deepest shaft, and break through to an underground world. Two of it’s inhabitants, bald, radioactive midgets, decide to secretly investigate our world. Doing a feature story on the well for the ‘Daily Planet’, reporters Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates, inheriting the role from the serials’ Noel Neill), and Clark Kent (Reeves), finds a town gripped with fear and prejudice, as an old man had suffered a heart attack after seeing the ‘visitors’.


Despite pleas for tolerance, the residents arm themselves, and plan to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, particularly after the ball of a little girl who sees them (and has an innocent encounter), has enough residual radioactivity to glow in the dark. Shots are fired, the aliens bring up their own weapons, and it’s up to Superman to ‘save the day’!

Reeves’ interpretation of ‘Clark Kent/Superman’ was far less jovial and buoyant than Alyn’s; decisive, serious, and nearly combative, this was a ‘Superman’ you didn’t mess with (the characterization would be toned down, for television).


Square-jawed and more muscular (aided by a tee shirt with sewn-in shoulder pads, beneath the costume, to make him even more formidable-looking), the greatest variance between his interpretation and the comic books’ was in his ‘take’ on Clark Kent. Reeves gave the reporter courage and integrity, as opposed to the ‘meek, mild-mannered’ geek that readers were familiar with (and who would be revived by Christopher Reeve, 26 years later). While some critics complained that he made Kent and Superman’s personalities too similar, Reeves and the producers wisely realized that as budgetary restraints kept Superman’s presence in the movie (with the FX required to show his ‘super powers’) to a minimum (there aren’t ANY flying sequences in ‘Superman and the Mole Men, only cast comments…”Look, up in the sky”… and a close-up of his ‘catching’ a falling alien), Clark Kent would be on-screen more, ‘standing in’ for the Man of Steel. Kent ‘had’ to be stronger, to fill the void.


Phyllis Coates was fabulous, as Lois Lane. No longer the serials’ air-headed girl reporter who kept getting into trouble, Coates’ Lois was strong, smart, and every bit Clark Kent’s equal. She redefined the role, and when Noel Neill returned to the part, on TV several years later, she had big shoes to fill!

Aided by an excellent supporting cast (including screen veterans Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, and J. Farrell MacDonald), ‘Superman and the Mole Men’, despite its small budget, offered excellent performances, and a theme of tolerance that still rings true, today.

With the success of the film, ‘Superman’ moved on to television…and history was about to be made!


Good Fun

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
10 August 2008

Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

*** (out of 4)

Reporters Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) are sent to Texas to do a story on an oil rig that has dug six feet into the ground but soon the big story becomes the mole men that have crawled out of the hole. I really wasn’t expecting too much at of this film but it turned out to be pretty entertaining in the same form that a lot of science fiction “B” movies are from this period. The most shocking thing is how good the story is. Sure, it only runs 58-minutes but there’s really no dry spells in the film, although I wish the mole men had more to do in the story besides be chased around. Superman also doesn’t get too much screen time but when he’s on he really shines especially one scene where he must disarm a group of men who want to kill the creature. Reeves is excellent in the roles of Kent and Superman and I loved his no nonsense way of handling everything. Coates was also very good in her role as is Jeff Corey as the nutty local who wants the creatures dead. He makes for a great villain and really delivers in each scene he’s in. The special effects are quite campy but they just add to the entertainment value of the film.


Maybe It’s About Oil…

Author: flapdoodle64 from Portland, OR, United States
27 June 2008

‘Superman & the Mole Men,’ was filmed immediately prior to ‘The Adventures of Superman’ TAS) weekly TV series. This film was then released into theaters so as to insure that the producers recouped at least some of their investment in the TV show: at the time season 1 was filmed, there wasn’t a sponsor yet, and in fact it took 2 years before Kellogs Cereal Co. took on the role and the show was finally broadcast.


‘Mole Men’ was filmed just 1 year after the movie serial ‘Atom Man Vs. Superman,’ but ‘Atom Man’ is so primitive by comparison that it could have been made 30 years prior.

Besides being enjoyable as an atmospheric and suspenseful B/W cold war scifi/horror pic (a la the original ‘The Thing’), this little film is interesting since it engages in a little social commentary. Almost without exception, TAS never touched any of the burning social issues (bigotry, war, pollution, etc.), but ‘Superman & the Mole Men’ is, very obviously an allegory about prejudice.


This makes ‘Mole Men’ a kind of bridge between the Superman radio show, which, starting after WWII, did a long series of award-winning social message programs, directly addressing issues such as race prejudice, war-mongering, and social welfare, and TAS, which stayed completely clear of social relevancy.

(The Superman radio show, which ended in 1950, was produced by Bob Maxwell, who also produced the 1st season of TAS. I’ve never read anything that explained why TAS dropped the social relevancy of the radio show, but one could speculate it had something to do with the impact of various ‘witch hunts’ on the political and media spheres…)


‘Superman & the Mole Men,’ is the story of about some funny-looking little men who emerge into view after the world’s deepest oil well is dug. The funny-looking men, who are not evil and whose world has been invaded by oil exploration, become victims of prejudice and eventually a mob forms with the intent of killing the funny-looking men. If you think about it, this might remind you of a contemporary real-life situation.

Chinatown (1974 )

Chinatown is a 1974 American neo-noir mystery film, directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. The film was inspired by the California Water Wars, a series of disputes over southern California water at the beginning of the 20th century, by which Los Angeles interests secured water rights in the Owens Valley. The Robert Evans production, a Paramount Pictures release, was the director’s last film in the United States and features many elements of film noir, particularly a multi-layered story that is part mystery and part psychological drama.


A very classy, consistently engaging and dark detective story

3 January 2005 | by bob the moo (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Jake Gittes is a former cop turned private detective. When he is contracted by a Mrs Mulwray to find out if her husband is having an affair, he takes to trailing Water Company Executive Hollis Mulwray. Mulwray appears to only have water and a dry riverbed on his mind but eventually they catch him with a young woman, although almost immediately the news gets leaked to the papers and Mulwray goes missing, only to turn up dead. At this point the real Mrs Mulwray comes to Gittes threatening to sue him for his involvement and Jake realises that he had been set up to set up the Mulwrays. He continues his investigation into the murder only to find a conspiracy involving thousands of gallons of water being wasted during a drought and the mysterious presence of Mrs Mulwray’s father, Noah Cross.


As a fan of film noir and tough detective movies, I am too often put off by modern entries into the genre that try to replace atmosphere and intelligence by just having nudity and swearing; the genre managed atmosphere without these in the forties and fifties but yet modern films seem to rely on them. With Chinatown however, everything works well as a homage to the best years of the genre and, as such, is very well set in the period and is of suitable presentation even if the material and tone is darker and harder than would have been allowed years ago. This is not to say it is just a copy and paste from better films because it isn’t and indeed stands out as one of the best detective noirs I have seen in ages. The plot is always going to be the most important thing and it gets it spot on throughout, doing the proper thing of starting with a simple story and continually building it more and more complex as it goes. Unlike some other “classics” of the genre, Chinatown manages to do this without ever losing the audience and I found the plot to be both rewardingly complex but yet still very easy to follow.


Needless to say, things are very dark and the script is convincingly dark and miserable, leading to an ending that is as depressing as I’ve seen – not so much in what actually happens but also in the wider implications for the characters that the credits prevent us from seeing. Director Polanski does a great job of putting this story in a lush setting that produces a real strong sense of period but also manages to always be showing us the darkness coming through subtly throughout the movie. Of course it helps that he also has a great cast to work with. Jack Nicholson is iconic in this role and, if I had to pick one film to act as an introduction to Nicholson then it would be this one. He is tough yet damaged, upright but seedy and he brings out his complex character well. Dunaway has less screen time but is just as impressive with a similarly dark role. Huston adds class and manages to ooze menace while also coming across as a harmless old man. The support cast are all fine but really the film belongs to these three, with Nicholson being the stand out role.


Overall this is a very classy film that has stood up very well to become a well-deserved classic. The story is complex, mysterious yet simple to follow; it is dark and seedy without relying on swearing or nudity to set the atmosphere. The direction is great, with a real atmosphere and sense of time and place that is matched by a great collection of performances delivering a great script.


Capturing the True Spirit of Film-noir

Author: nycritic
10 September 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The seventies were the last years of great (American) films. I say films because when we speak of movies nowadays, we allude to blockbusters that generate hundreds of millions of dollars, the least amount of controversy, and are mostly inane crowd pleasers with tacked-on endings.


Consider the output of influential film makers Allen during that time: Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, Lumet, Ashby, Bogdanovich, to name a few Americans, not to mention European directors Fellini, Bergman, Wertmuller, Truffaut, Argento, Saura, and Bunuel — all household names in those days. Before Spielberg and Lucas came along, not a single one of these made movies appealing to the “summer blockbuster tradition,” and unlike Spielberg or Lucas, they have a body of work filled in high artistic quality with minimum special effects and a lasting mark on future generations.


Polanski is another one of these directors, and with “Chinatown,” he reaches his directorial peak amidst the scandals which seemed to taint everything except his art. One can only imagine him in the forties, living his scandals, and transmuting this into high art — when film-noir was at its darkest. Thankfully he lived in a time which did not demand the “happy ending” or re-shoots in order to be politically correct — else “Chinatown” would have lost its devastating punch and conformed to the norm.

A departure from the horror genre which brought Polanski to stardom, he re-creates an equally grim genre with his jaded view of 1930s Los Angeles down to the choice of the color palette, and using the acting powers of Dunaway and Nicholson to a fantastic effect, he creates haunting characters who can’t be easily dismissed as film-noir archetypes without looking very closely at their reactions,


listening to their words, and following their progressive involvement in a plot which threatens to swallow them whole, and ultimately does. And having Huston play Noah Cross — who virtually took noir to its heights with “The Maltese Falcon” — Polanski hits the mark dead center, because Huston is the hardened heart of the corruption in “Chinatown.” In brief scenes he creates a character almost unbearably evil with a hint of madness just underneath, and how he affects the characters around him will pervade the viewer long after the credits have rolled — after all, he is the person who tells Nicholson he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

I doubt this movie could be made today for reasons stated above. I’m thankful Polanski’s vision prevailed, and not Towne’s. Film-noir is a genre about human darkness, and here, the envelope is pushed all the way through, making this film, in my opinion, rank second to “The Maltese Falcon.”



Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
30 January 2002

There is a word, impossible to spell, that describes the alignment of solar bodies like the planets when they all fall into place together. A similar word would describe this film. Everything about it is right. Polanski never directed a better movie. The performers, down to the lowest atmosphere person, are superb. The editing, the score, the sound, the decor, the dialog, all are just about flawless. The photography is peerless. The white garden apartments, the terra cotta roof tiles, the palms and desert sand are all painted with a faint gold, faintly ripe with false promise, like the oranges that bounce from Gittes’ desperately speeding car in the northwest Valley.


Polanski deserves much of the credit. When Gittes surprises Evelyn Mulwray in her car, after he follows her to her daughter’s house, her face slumps forward and beeps the horn briefly. Then, so faintly, we hear a few dogs bark in the background. Not only is the scene itself exquisitely done but it prefigures the ending, as does Gittes’ remark earlier to Evelyn that she has a flaw in her iris. The movie is too good to deserve much dissecting. It stands repeated watching. If there is anything wrong with it, it is the serious and tragic ending that Polanski always insists on tacking on. Robert Towne was right and Polanski wrong in this case. Everything came together on this film. It’s not only the best detective movie ever made; it’s one of the best movies ever made — period. A marvelous job by everyone concerned.


I have to add (6/27/05) that the word I mentioned in the first sentence is spelled “syzygy.” Man, did I get enlightening email on that. I might as well add two other impressive features of this movie. (1) Polanksi takes his time. Example: Gittes sneaks into Hollis Mulwray’s office and begins to go through the drawers of his old-fashioned wooden desk. As he slides each drawer out, Polanksi gives us a shot of their humdrum contents (checkbooks, magnifying glass, and so forth) and we can almost smell the heat and the odor of shellac and sawdust emanating from the wooden containers. The contents reveal nothing of importance in this case. But (2) sometimes irrelevant information crops up that resonates later in the film with its own echo. The detail might be just a word (“applecore”) or an ordinary object (a pair of spectacles found in a pond, immediately after Gittes imitates the Japanese gardener’s remark that the water is bad for the “glass.”) Some of the references may be so consistent as to constitute a theme (water). None of this hits you over the head with its significance. It’s all very neatly stitched together.