Saturday, July 07, 2012

Tonight's Movie: 711 Ocean Drive (1950)

I recorded 711 OCEAN DRIVE from Turner Classic Movies while we were away on our recent vacation, and I enjoyed it tonight after a long day of unpacking. I thought it was a very good movie, distinguished by a fine lead performance by Edmond O'Brien and featuring particularly outstanding location photography.

Mal Granger (O'Brien) is barely scratching out a living as a telephone lineman. Mal's bookie Chippie (Sammy White) introduces him to Vince Walters (Barry Kelly), who runs a large betting operation. Vince hires Mal to upgrade his business's technology and is soon raking in substantially higher profits.

When Walters is murdered, Mal takes over the business. Life is good, including a beach home on 711 Ocean Drive, but then mobster Carl Stephans (Otto Kruger) decides he wants in on the bookie action in California. Under pressure, Mal makes a deal with Stephans, but finds more trouble than he'd bargained for when he falls for the lovely wife (Joanne Dru) of Stephans' righthand man (Don Porter).

1950 was a great year for Edmond O'Brien and film noir, as he also starred in the memorable D.O.A.  In 711 OCEAN DRIVE, O'Brien believably takes his character from a nice guy working stiff with a gambling habit to someone who methodically builds a business and then takes over running the entire operation. O'Brien's Mal becomes increasingly confident as he grows used to wielding power and living a very comfortable lifestyle.

O'Brien builds a sympathetic character from his first scene, where he insists on loaning a hard-up coworker some dough to make it till payday. Mal's biggest vulnerability is his tender love for Gail (Dru), and after she is worked over by her husband, the audience can't help rooting for Mal when he hires a hit man (Robert Osterloh) to wipe the guy out. But since this is a film with docu-noir overtones, the viewer is eventually jolted back to reality by Lt. Pete Wright (Howard St. John), who's determined to get his man. Mal may be a sympathetic anti-hero, but he's also got blood on his hands.

Joanne Dru, who also starred in John Ford's WAGON MASTER in 1950, is appealing as the troubled wife in love with another man. Her commitment to Mal, regardless of what he's done, is touching.

There's a second interesting female character in 711 Ocean Drive, Trudy, played by Dorothy Patrick of FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949). Trudy is surprisingly refined for a woman who plays multiple roles running a bookie operation; this kind of character tends to make the viewer wonder why she didn't apply her talents to a more legitimate type of business. Trudy is a character with interesting shades, starting out as a confident woman seemingly happy to be Mal's pal, who then grows increasingly unhappy as she realizes Mal not only won't commit, he's fallen for another woman.

Sammy White, who plays Mal's loyal pal Chippie, had appeared in musicals in the 1930s, including playing Frank in the 1936 version of SHOW BOAT. He had been offscreen since 1938, and for his return to films in 711 OCEAN DRIVE he received a special credit, "Introducing Sammy White." The cast also includes Cleo Moore, who has a scene as Mal's date.

As previously mentioned, one of the movie's strong points is its use of location photography. For instance, I loved seeing a beautiful Simon's Drive-In, designed by Wayne McAllister. I also enjoyed seeing the characters visit Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars.

The most notable location shooting, however, is saved for the climax, a suspense sequence filmed entirely on location at Hoover Dam, then also known as Boulder Dam. There are both interior and exterior scenes, providing a fascinating and very effective backdrop for the film's finale. Boulder City Magazine has a list of other films made at the dam.

711 OCEAN DRIVE was directed by Joseph M. Newman and filmed in black and white by Franz "Frank" Planer. The interesting script was by Richard English and Francis Swann. The film runs 102 minutes.

The movie is available on a Sony Classics DVD-R, available from both Amazon and the Warner Archive.

DVD Beaver, in its positive review of the disc, calls the film "top-flight film noir." Glenn Erickson rated both the film and the DVD "Excellent" at DVD Savant. Incidentally, Erickson's review points the way to some interesting background on the film's production and connections to real-life mobsters.

Recommended.

2 Comments:

OpenID livius1 said...

Very nice Laura. I have a pretty rough copy of this that I've never gotten round to watching. Thanks for reminding me.
O'Brien made a great everyman hero, didn't he?

Colin

6:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Colin! I suspect you'd find this an interesting film, and I'd love to read your take on it when you have the opportunity.

Best wishes,
Laura

8:43 AM  

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