THE SELLOUT, an expose of small-town police corruption, has just a so-so script, but a blue-ribbon cast makes it highly watchable and at times quite compelling viewing.
Walter Pidgeon leads the fine cast as Haven Allridge, a newspaper editor who has a bad experience with the sheriff (Thomas Gomez) in a neighboring town. Allridge vows to expose the sheriff's kangaroo court and make-it-up as you go style of law enforcement and initially has the support of a significant number of witnesses whose stories are published in Allridge's paper.
Allridge disappears just as Special Prosecutor Chick Johnson (John Hodiak) arrives in town to investigate the sheriff and gather evidence for indictments. Chick and Police Captain Buck Maxwell (Karl Malden) slowly build their case, and when Allridge suddenly arrives back in town they expect him to testify, but he inexplicably refuses. With Allridge an apparent sellout, other witnesses are also reluctant to testify.
The sterling cast also includes Audrey Totter as a roadhouse singer, Frank Cady as the roadhouse owner who secretly gives testimony to Chick and Buck, Paula Raymond and Cameron Mitchell as Allridge's daughter and son-in-law, Everett Sloane as the sheriff's sleazy attorney, Griff Barnett as the attorney general, Jeff Richards as a witness, and Hugh Sanders as the judge. Character actors such as Burt Mustin, Whit Bissell, and Roy Engel are also in the cast. Walter Pidgeon's granddaughter is played by Nadine Ashdown, a cute child actress who was in a number of films of the '50s.
Dorothy Patrick, the lovely actress seen in films such as FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), COME TO THE STABLE (1949), and reviewed most recently here in HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950), has but one small scene with a couple of lines as the attorney general's secretary.
The film is a bit of a curiosity in that it's comprised of two distinct sections with two different leading men. Initially the film is all Pidgeon's story, but then he vanishes and it becomes John Hodiak's movie, with Pidgeon reappearing in some final scenes. Hodiak is excellent, and he and Karl Malden share some nice chemistry as they work together on the case, seeing it through despite threats and attempted bribes.
Hodiak also has some good scenes with Audrey Totter, who works at a joint in the "bad" part of the county run by the crooked sheriff. Although Hodiak and Totter's moments together are charming, the script by Charles Palmer doesn't seem to know what to do with her, and her storyline abruptly peters out as she, like Pidgeon, leaves town.
This is definitely a case of the cast outperforming the material, as the story is a bit jerky and meandering, and the sheriff's kangaroo court struck me as so cliched it was almost hard to take it seriously -- though, in fairness, perhaps this film helped to create such cliches! That said, I had a very good time indeed watching this film; I'd be hard pressed not to enjoy a film with a cast of this caliber.
I seem to have watched an unusually high number of films about newspapers and crime this year. This movie fits right in with THE LAWLESS (1950), TRY AND GET ME (1950), HIGH TIDE (1947), PICTURE SNATCHER (1933), JOHNNY COME LATELY (1943), and APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (1957).
THE SELLOUT was directed by Gerald Mayer and shot in black and white by Paul Vogel. It runs 83 minutes.
THE SELLOUT is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. The disc includes the trailer.
This movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.