Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Roadblock (1951) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight was "Los Angeles Noir" night at the Noir City Film Festival, featuring a pair of "B" movies filmed around the city.

The double bill kicked off with a brand-new 35mm print of SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950), a very enjoyable Allied Artists release with Don DeFore as a Secret Service agent working to break up a counterfeit ring. I reviewed the Warner Archive DVD in 2012 and enjoyed it all over again tonight. There are some great shots of L.A.; one of my favorite moments is when Don DeFore hops on the Angels Flight Railway.

The second film of the night was ROADBLOCK (1951) starring noir icon Charles McGraw.

ROADBLOCK was an RKO film which fell in between McGraw's starring roles in ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) and THE NARROW MARGIN (1952). Whereas McGraw was a cop in each of that pair of films, in ROADBLOCK he plays Joe Peters, an insurance investigator whose partner is Harry Miller (Louis Jean Heydt).

Joe meets avaricious Diane (Joan Dixon) on a flight to L.A. and is simultaneously annoyed and smitten. Soon he is completely head over heels for the dame, but she wants to hold out for someone who can offer her diamonds and furs.

Joe decides to stray off the straight and narrow path and use inside information to engineer a robbery which will give him the funds to lure Diane. Diane, however, suddenly decides she's crazy about Joe and willing to take him on any terms, including living on his modest salary. (It looked like a pretty nice life to me, seeing as how Joe and his partner also share a vacation home in the mountains!) Joe tries to back out of the robbery but it's too late...

One of the best things about this fast-paced 73-minute movie is its L.A. atmosphere, especially the amazing final chase scene which takes place in a dry L.A. flood control riverbed -- an utterly fantastic location for an action-packed noir conclusion.

I really enjoyed this film, although I wished that McGraw weren't playing, as Alan K. Rode described before the film, a "noir chump." McGraw's Joe seems too smart to be so dumb, although McGraw does do a good job conveying Joe's insecurity about being able to maintain Diane's interest long-term. I love McGraw as a heartsick romantic lead so that aspect of his performance was quite appealing to me. There was something quite adorable about tough guy McGraw wanting to surprise his lady love with a Christmas tree.

This was one of just a handful of films starring actress Joan Dixon. She also appeared in BUNCO SQUAD (1950), EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950), and five Tim Holt Westerns, including the recently reviewed LAW OF THE BADLANDS (1951).

Louis Jean Heydt was an excellent actor with a long career; he reminds me a bit of James Millican, who would have been good alternate casting for the role of Harry. I have particularly enjoyed Heydt in a small but effective role as a trainer in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944).

Milburn Stone of GUNSMOKE plays Joe and Harry's boss. Martha Mears, who dubbed many actresses over the years, is a nightclub singer. Lowell Gilmore, Harry Lauter, Dave Willock, and Harold Landon are also in the cast.

ROADBLOCK was directed by Harold Daniels and shot in black and white by Nicholas Musuraca.

ROADBLOCK is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

To read more on this film, it was recently reviewed by Stacia at She Blogged By Night and Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant.

The evening at the Egyptian started off with a seven-minute short, GLASS SUN (2013), in which a mystical shadow leads an investigator on a gorgeous tour of many iconic Los Angeles film noir locations, including the Bradbury Building, Union Station, the 2nd Street Tunnel, Chinatown, and Angels Flight Railway. GLASS SUN may currently be viewed online.


Blogger Jerry E said...

What a great double feature, Laura! "Southside etc" is one I have never seen but it appears to be just up my (dark rainswept) street!

I love "Roadblock". One of many such fairly brief, taut and gritty noirs that RKO was so good at doing.

3:44 AM  

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