My, “what way will Robert Ryan go today?“, will he be a goody or baddy? That mystery went straight out the window in the first few minutes. As soon as he appears, in a washed out, oversaturated black and white shot, emerging on the city street, you get a sense of this man. He’s playing Earle Slater, a washed up southern war veteran who’s turned to crime. He’s savagely prejudice and filled with toxic racism, he’s angry and desperate to make some serious dough. He’s up for any manner of big payout as long as it plays out to his ideals. Ex cop David Burke (Ed Begley) has one of those perfect plan’s, money for the taking, easy money, Earle Slater takes notice.
Tagline – He knew where $50,000 lay begging to be STOLEN!
David Burke lives with his trusty alsatian alone in his apartment block, has he retired from the force or has he been relieved of duty? Either way David Burke seems a nice fellow, though he’s eager to work his way to a cool $50,000 and change. He needs three men for the job, a bank job he’s stalked out, learnt all the angles, money for the taking. Luckily David Burke knows the jiving cool vibes playing cat Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a young musician brimming with confidence. He’ll surely be onboard for some big cold cash money, David Burke knows he’ll want it.
Unfortunately Johnny Ingram is an addict, addicted to gambling. He’s up to his eyeballs in debt and that debt is held with gangster Bacco (Will Kuluva). Bacco is a reasonable man but Johnny Ingram has pushed his luck way too far. As things get tough, will Johnny Ingram be forced to take up this bank job offer? On the other hand Earle Slater has his doubts and working with a black man is not his ideal! Though he’s poor and humiliated being looked after by his younger girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters) who is sweet and happy to work a double shift.
Both, are broken men, both men are lost, both men call David Burke, they are in.
Tagline – This Isn’t A Story…It’s An Explosion!
The bank is secondary, almost a MacGuffin. This film is about broken souls, angry men, lost men. Riddled with addiction and prejudice the men, especially Earle Slater are tough and unsentimental but it flows through Johnny Ingram too, though more on the inside than the out. They are cynical self-motivated men looking out for number one. Earle Slater’s prejudices and hidden anger bubbles to the top where Johnny Ingram is buried beneath. David Burke is just determined.
Can these three broken men find themselves and change their lives around? How will their journeys go when they hit that bank job deadline? Will they become friends or if all goes to plan what will they do with their loot? Definitely get to seeing this expertly directed film noir from Robert Wise if you can and if you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know below if you wish.
A few observations
- Director Robert Wise has a bonkers film list, he’s made from classics like West Side Story and The Sound Of Music. To some of my favourite films like The Andromeda Strain, Run Silent Run Deep and the first Star Trek movie, which is still a feast for the eyes. Also the incredible noir boxer drama The Set-Up also starring Robert Ryan.
- The lovely and slightly off-kilter Gloria Grahame plays Helen a rather flirtatious neighbour.
- Richard Bright plays gangster Bacco’s muscle, Coco. A hitman with a kink and a strange quirk to him.
- The story is based on a novel by writer William P McGivern who wrote some hard boiled crime-busters turned into films. The Big Heat, Shield For Murder and Rogue Cop. The last two I need to see.
- In the truly wonderful jazz club scenes Harry Belafonte gets to show off his singing whilst playing the vibraphone. Look out for jazz singer, dancer Mae Barnes who plays Annie and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade who plays Kitty.
- The soundtrack is supplied by the long running jazz group The Modern Jazz Quartet and it can be purchased here on Discogs. I’m very tempted to get myself a copy to add to my soundtrack collection.
- If you would like to read another take on this film then please pop on over to fellow blogger Gary at his Cracked Rear Viewer movie blog.
PS Two things I will say is, one, look out for the a classic gangster movie end similarity and the other, the last lines of the movie will hit you with a gut wrenching body slam.