Prior to reading about the new DVD release from Olive Films, I'd never heard of SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955). Boy, was I missing out! It was love from the very first jazzy notes playing during the opening credits of this Allied Artists film.
It's a rather odd movie, but I mean that in the best possible way. I think I watched most of the movie with a smile on my face, and what more can a viewer ask? I'd love to see this film all over again on a big screen with an appreciative audience.
The goings-on include Commies exchanging microfilm in the titular diner, mysterious poultry truck drivers, and the harpooning of a stuffed swordfish (!). There's Keenan Wynn benchpressing weights on the diner counter, Lee Marvin as a scarily unsanitary short order cook named "Slob," Terry Moore as a shapely waitress with aspirations to pass the Civil Service exam, and Frank Lovejoy as a seemingly mild-mannered professor in the middle of it all. Think of it as a lighter take on a PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) type story.
Wynn plays George, owner of the diner and the employer of both Slob and Kotty (Moore). (My hearing must be going, I thought they were calling her "Connie" all the way through the movie, but apparently not.) George says the only reason he keeps Slob on the payroll is he can't get a better employee at such an out-of-the-way establishment. Personally, I would have done the cooking myself rather than keep Slob around...but without Slob there's no movie!
The movie veers between character study, comedy, romance, and Cold War noir, and it worked for me on all levels. (The zigzagging style made me think just a bit of movies like HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT and ARISE MY LOVE, earlier films which were also emotionally all over the map, though a lot more glamorous!) Wynn and Whit Bissell staggering around in the diner in swim fins, Wynn and Marvin having a contest for the best legs, Slob's kitchen fight with Perch (Len Lesser), and that scene with the harpoon, which is one of the more amusing sequences I've seen recently -- well, it's all pretty wild.
The noir angle is good too -- who cares if it's all rather improbable? -- and though the climax to the final action sequence can be seen coming a mile away, that doesn't make it any less fun!
The movie's got a great cast of pros who seem to be enjoying themselves, and the audience enjoys the movie along with them. I'm a huge Frank Lovejoy fan so I got a big kick out of him in this film, and I'm sure fans of the other lead actors must feel the same way, as they're memorable roles. There's a nice part for character actor Whit Bissell, too.
SHACK OUT ON 101 was directed by Edward Dein, who cowrote it with his wife Mildred. The movie was filmed in black and white by Floyd Crosby (HIGH NOON). The movie runs 80 minutes.
The standard Olive DVD I watched looked great. It was also released by Olive on Blu-ray. There are no extras on either version.
It had a VHS release back in 1998.
For additional enthusiastic reviews of this film, visit DVD Beaver and Home Media Magazine, as well as DVD Talk, where Adam Tyner writes that SHACK OUT ON 101 is a "deliriously fun and unrepentantly weird movie."
If "B" level noir's your thing, SHACK OUT ON 101 is very highly recommended.