Monday, September 23, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Death in Small Doses (1957)

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES is an Allied Artists film featuring Peter Graves as a federal agent on the trail of drug dealers in the trucking industry.

Graves poses as Tom, a novice trucker learning the ropes as a driver in Southern California. He witnesses the effects of "bennies" on truckers immediately, as an older man, Shug (John Dierkes), who's addicted to them dies and Tom's coworker, Mink (Chuck Connors), is a perennial wild man, guzzling the pills like candy. Then Tom's trainer Wally (Roy Engel) is killed after asking too many questions about the source of the pills which killed his friend Shug.

Mala Powers plays the attractive owner of the boarding house where Tom and Mink live, and Merry Anders is an addicted truckstop waitress who deals pills.

The drama's a bit exaggerated at times, but it's quite entertaining, though I have to say I didn't care for the unexpected resolution; I didn't see it coming until just before the climax, and it seemed a bit...convenient, as well as disappointing.

Graves is fine as the agent, and this movie provides a whole new look at Chuck Connors, that's for sure. He's an absolute crazy man in this, which is entertaining in part because it's completely different from any other performance I've seen from him. It's quite a memorable portrayal. There's a brief sample of Connors' character in this preview clip available on YouTube.

The supporting cast includes Robert Williams, Harry Lauter, Claire Carlton, Robert Shayne, Fred Sherman, and John Mitchum.

The screenplay, based on a Saturday Evening Post article, was by John McGreevey. McGreevey was a longtime writer for THE WALTONS, and I had the pleasure of chatting with him at a WALTONS tribute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a number of years ago; he was a very nice man. He passed on in 2010.

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES was directed by Joseph M. Newman (711 OCEAN DRIVE) and shot in black and white by Carl E. Guthrie. It runs 79 minutes.

I watched this via a remastered print from the Warner Archive Film Noir collection. IMDb doesn't have info on the aspect ratio; the DVD is fullscreen, and while it doesn't seem that anything is missing from the picture, at times the actors have the same oddly "squished" look that I noticed when I recently watched Sony's BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954). It would be interesting to know the cause. The picture quality is a little rougher than the norm for an Archive DVD, but certainly very watchable. The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix. (Update: Please visit the comments for more on the format issue; 'tis a mystery!)

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

There are additional takes on the film at The Bloodshot Eye and Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Chuck Connors seems to have made a vivid impression on everyone!

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES would make a great double bill with HELL DRIVERS (1957), a British trucking noir released the same year.

7 Comments:

Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,

I am en-route to London so I thought I would stop off to chip in on this film.
Its an Allied Artists B movie directed by Joseph Newman so thats enough boxes
ticked for me.
Blake,Hi if you are out there I did see your comments on the PRINCESS OF THE
NILE thread and of course I was only kidding about the "lowbrow" thing.
I guess that you have seen DEATH IN SMALL DOSES because it stars Mala Powers
who of course you knew.
My Warner Archive DVD is a lovely 1.85 remastered widescreen version;in fact
if ten years ago someone had said people would be releasing remastered versions
of these obscure films I would have said that they are crazy!
Not too sure I liked seeing the lovely Mala play a "bad" girl in this one,but
the film is great fun.
I know Blake that we both admire Newman.
Very interesting comments on the "Princess" thread regarding Sidney Salkow.
I find his work very variable but some of it is pretty darn good.
He certainly made three of George Montgomerys best Westerns THE PATHFINDER
JACK McCALL DESPERADO and ROBBERS ROOST.
Watched ROBBERS ROOST the other night and among its many virtues it was great
to see a working ranch where the ranch hands actually do some work.
RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS is a most engaging romp with not one but three
bad guys:Gerald Mohr,Henry Brandon and Tony Caruso.
CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is pretty good too. I am however very underwhelmed by
fare like GUN BROTHERS and SITTING BULL.
As far as the "lowbrow" thing goes I normally avoid comments on The Masters like
Ford,Hitchcock and Hawks because I feel I can add nothing to what has been said
before.One the other hand I can always find lots to say on people like Lesley Selander,
Sidney Salkow,Harmon Jones and Joseph N Newman because very little if anything ever
gets said about them.
How low is lowbrow well I even like some of those Albert Zugsmith things and I am not
talking about his more upmarket projects. Even I will pass on SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE
(just released by Warner Archive). However his more "trashy" films like THE BIG OPERATOR
PLATINUM HIGH SCHOOL,and THE BEAT GENERATION have their moments and I would love to see
some of them get an official release.
Many years ago in a pub in Putney,London I told a great American acoustic guitar wizard
how much I admired his obscure first album issued on a micro label.(vinyl of course!)
"well" he said......."theres no accounting for taste.!"

5:03 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Gee, Laura, you unearth the most interesting films unknown to me!

Was there something in the air (aside from diesel exhaust) in 1957? Along with "Hell Drivers" (1957) and "Death in Small Doses, you could make a good triple feature about truckers if you added The Long Haul(1957), a recent British discovery that I caught on TCM. For a dash of Gallic seasoning, I'd add the Jean Gabin flick, "People of No Importance" (1956) aka Des gens sans importance to this Lonesome Highway genre.

I often think that Chuck Connors may have relished playing villains since he could be quite intimidating and really let it rip when he got a chance to do one of these types. A dual role in "Deadly Image," a 1962 episode of The Rifleman and the 1966 movie "Ride Beyond Vengeance" are pretty chilling examples of his flair for the malevolent characterizations). I prefer Chuck playing against type more often. Seeing a big galoot like Connors being a struggling nurturer as he portrayed on The Rifleman was really effective.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I've never seen DEATH IN SMALL DOSES--I think I would have but don't seem to remember it coming along on TV or anything. Newman and Mala are both incentives for me with this, and I like the trucking background too (I'm an admirer of HELL DRIVERS, not to mention THIEVES' HIGHWAY). I work on catching up with Mala's movies and look for her in TV things, like the MAVERICK episode she was in, but have a long way to go to see it all.

John, you may be interested to know that in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES (aka THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK: MOVIES in the UK) I contributed an entry on a Joseph Newman film--the editor had never seen it but took my word for it. This was a very early Newman, JUNGLE PATROL, 1948 (I can't remember if you've seen this or if Laura has). Absolutely a low-budget B movie of no prestige or reputation (but it's on DVD now)and yet I consider it great and was a major discovery for me in recent years and a movie I've come back to a number of times.

I did recently catch what I believe was Newman's last theatrical feature TWENTY PLUS TWO with the wonderful David Janssen (a king on television but somehow did not make it as a movie star on the big screen)and it was very good except for an ending that was too fast.

Laura, there is no excuse for anything that wasn't shot anamorphic, meaning 'Scope, to be squeezed in the way you say. If it wasn't 'Scope it was shot full frame and could be shown that way even if 1.85 or 1.66 would be preferable (and that was not always the case, contrary to what one usually hears). I'm just mentioning this because this is the second time this has come up with a movie you've reviewed recently.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'll be back later in the day to answer these wonderful comments, but just a quick note for now to say that I'm really puzzled on the format issue -- this is the third rental disc I've seen recently where I watched a fullscreen print and have received comments from viewers who saw a nice widescreen copy. The first two times it was a Sony DVD, but this time it was Warner Archive.

I checked the Warner Archive page and it shows the film as 1:85, and the preview clip on the site is letterboxed, which is not how I saw it.

I don't think it can be an issue on my end -- I have an older TV and older DVD player so I never play with aspect ratios or anything like that, as I've read some people can do with HD TVs. And at least in the case of MASTERSON OF KANSAS, I saw a much poorer print than others described. Likewise, the print I saw last night was not really what I would have expected from a remastered Archive disc, with the "squeezed" look. I'm starting to put out some questions on this and will see if I can get answers.

As a side note, while I watched a rental disc of DEATH IN SMALL DOSES as I thought seeing the remastered Archive print would provide the best viewing experience, I happened to have recorded it from TCM a few months ago and got out the tape. TCM showed it fullscreen.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:45 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Could not agree more about Jungle Patrol. Thought Arthur Franz would become a star instead of a successful working actor. Did not get that right at all, but I was ten. A fine film, well done with an interesting leading lady in Kristine Miller as well.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Laura, I also have an older TV and DVD player. I haven't had this problem you've had (which is not to say I might not sometime). But it just seems baffling for all the reasons you say.

Please let us all know what you find out and good luck with it!

12:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Blake, I'm pursuing this in a couple different directions and will be sure to let you all know if I find anything out. I'm completely baffled at this point but needless to say I'd like to figure it out, especially so this doesn't happen again, LOL.

It was fun to think of you knowing Mala when I watched the movie, BTW!

John, hope you're having a great trip to London! You've listed a couple George Montgomery Westerns I don't have on hand yet. Glad you caught ROBBERS' ROOST, I liked that one.

Moira! Always so great to have you drop by. What a great mention of THE LONG HAUL, I just recorded that last week on a day of Victor Mature movies. I'll have to watch that one soon. Trucking movies seemed to be "in" in the late '50s -- I liked ALASKA PASSAGE ('59) with Bill Williams, and another in my "to be watched" stack is VIOLENT ROAD ('58) with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Brian Keith. Thanks for adding more to the list!

Thanks also for sharing thoughts on Chuck Connors. I was thinking as I watched that I bet he had fun playing such a crazy guy.

Blake and Barrylane, you have me curious about JUNGLE PATROL now. Saw Kristine Miller in SHADOW ON THE WALL and would be interested to see more of her work.

TWENTY PLUS TWO has been sitting in my stack of DVDs to watch so I'm glad you mentioned that one too!

Thanks to you all, as always, for all the great viewing tips and discussion!

Best wishes,
Laura

12:13 AM  

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