Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Western Pacific Agent (1950)

WESTERN PACIFIC AGENT (1950) is the latest film viewed in VCI's Forgotten Noir and Crime, Vol. 4 DVD collection.

Since I love train films, I decided to check out this story about a railroad detective, Rod Kendall (Kent Taylor), trying to solve a double murder. The case leads him to the small town of Chester, California, where he meets the pretty sister (Sheila Ryan) of one of the murder victims. Rod also gets to know kindly storekeeper Mr. Wickens (Morris Carnovsky), whose son Frank (Mickey Knox) is a suspect in the murders.

The 65-minute WESTERN PACIFIC AGENT is definitely a "B" or even "C" level film, about on a par with an episode of HIGHWAY PATROL or the like. It's no great shakes but I enjoyed it, corny dialogue and all -- other than the very annoying Sid Melton, whose regular employment in Lippert Pictures remains a mystery. I like the way these films set up their stories, often in realistic locations, and efficiently tell the tale in a little over an hour.

I think I most enjoy looking around the entire screen in these types of movies, as you tend to see things from everyday life and real places of the mid 20th Century that aren't in other films of the era. For instance, there's some fascinating footage of a train's double-decker observation car traveling along the Feather River; the movie doesn't just use stock footage but filmed scenes on the train with the lead actors. I loved the chance to follow Rod walking downstairs from the observation deck. He goes on to meet with the conductor in a scene which was clearly filmed in a real nearly-empty dining car; the train staff can be seen eating their meal at a table in the back of the car. I find those realistic touches very interesting.

Since part of the film is set in a grocery store, there are lots of glimpses of branded products in their 1950 packaging, including Wonder Bread, Sunshine Biscuits, and C&H Sugar. I also loved the Hires Root Beer sign seen on the outside of a building.

Although not a huge star, Kent Taylor had a long career which spanned over 40 years. While he appeared most often in "B" pictures -- including one of the greatest "B" films ever made, FIVE CAME BACK (1939) -- he also played supporting roles in "A" pictures such as RAMONA (1936) and I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1940).

Sheila Ryan's career was likewise a mix of "A" titles (THE GANG'S ALL HERE) and many "B" films. One of her most notable roles was playing Rosie in Anthony Mann's RAILROADED! (1947).

Jason Robards Sr., with his distinctive voice, narrates the story, and the supporting cast also includes Robert Lowery, Dick Elliott, Frank Richards, and Margia Dean. The film was directed by Sam Newfield and filmed by Ernest Miller.

I previously reviewed another movie in this collection, SKY LINER (1949).

There's an enthusiastic review for this set posted at DVD Talk, and there's more at DVD Beaver. These movies probably aren't for everyone, but for those such as myself who enjoy what these low-budget films have to offer, the set is great fun.


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