Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tonight's Movie: 5 Against the House (1955)

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE is an enjoyable caper film directed by Phil Karlson. I particularly liked Guy Madison, Kim Novak, and the movie's interesting locations, but a plot which increasingly strained credulity left the movie limping along to its conclusion.

Madison and Brian Keith play Al and Brick, Korean War vets attending "Midwestern University." While the more mature Al is planning to graduate from law school and marry his beautiful girlfriend Kay (Kim Novak), Brick has mental issues as a result of his wartime service.

Al and Brick's friend Ronnie (Kerwin Matthews) seems to have psychological issues himself; a spoiled rich kid, the only thing he can think of to assuage his boredom is to plan a heist of Harolds Club in Reno! Since Ronnie doesn't need the money, he plans to give it back, somehow figuring that then there will have been no crime committed (?!).

Smartaleck Roy (Alvy Moore of SUSAN SLEPT HERE) goes along with Ronnie to get along, while Brick makes plans to go through with the holdup for real. Al is kept in the dark; he thinks he and Kay are going to Reno to get married, not realizing that Brick and Ronnie are going to attempt to force his cooperation in the plot.

There's quite a bit I liked about this movie. Madison and Novak generate real heat as the lovebirds, and the locations were fun. Midwestern University was actually the University of Nevada at Reno, the location of several other movies previously reviewed here, including MARGIE (1946), APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), and MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949).

I also enjoyed the shots of downtown Reno, which I visited in 2008. I was particularly fascinated by what I later learned was known as the "pigeonhole parking" for Harolds Club, where an elevator lifts cars up to various levels and rolls them into slots. There's more information about both the parking garage and the Reno college campus in this article.

The movie ultimately had too many weaknesses for me to buy into the storyline. (Spoiler alert, those who don't want details should stop reading here.) It was understandable Al was loyal to Brick, who saved his life during the war, but it got a bit hard to believe the mature Al had the patience to deal with Ronnie and Roy on a daily basis; for instance, Roy delights in tormenting a freshman, played by Jack Dimond.

William Conrad does a good job as the nervous money man at the casino, but the guys using a tape recorder to make him believe there's a man with a gun inside the money cart? Okaaaay.

I also found it hard to believe that Al couldn't manage to make a run from the crime scene, since Kay wasn't in danger there, and had trouble believing he was just trying to keep people from being hurt by Brick. I think Al had alternatives, but if he'd taken them there would have been a lot less story! Fortunately Kay had her wits about her and did the right thing.

And most strangely, the police seemed unbelievably forgiving...

Complaints aside, there was enough in the movie I liked that I was glad I saw it, and it certainly wasn't boring, just a little silly.

Among the coauthors of the 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE screenplay were Stirling Silliphant, who wrote last night's movie NIGHTFALL (1957), and William Bowers, who wrote sharp dialogue for numerous films including CRY DANGER (1951).

The cast includes Jean Willes (wasted in a small role as a casino patron who flirts with Brian Keith) and Kathryn Grant, later Mrs. Bing Crosby.

Kim Novak's singing was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer. In an interesting twist, just two years later Greer dubbed Rita Hayworth in PAL JOEY (1957), while Novak's singing in that same film was dubbed by Trudy Stevens.

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE is on DVD as part of the five-film Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I Collection. It can also be purchased as a single title from the Sony Choice "MOD" program.

This film can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE will next be shown on Turner Classic Movies on July 31, 2013. The trailer is available on the TCM website.


Blogger Dawn Sample said...

You may find it hard to believe, but I have not seen any of these Kim Novak classic films.

I will check them out. Thanks for the heads up.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Dawn! I hope you'll enjoy checking them out. I especially enjoyed PUSHOVER this weekend. :)

Best wishes,

10:59 PM  

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