Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Shockproof (1949)

SHOCKPROOF (1949) is a good minor noir starring the husband and wife team of Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight. It was directed by Douglas Sirk and is distinguished by terrific Los Angeles location shooting.

Jenny Marsh (Knight) is a hard-bitten ex-con who reports to her parole officer, Griff Marat (Wilde), at his office in the Bradbury Building in Downtown Los Angeles.

Jenny has finished serving a five-year prison sentence and has been ordered to stay away from her bad news boyfriend Harry (John Baragrey). However, Jenny has no intention of complying with that condition of parole, and she intends to get out from under the watchful eye of her parole officer as soon as possible.

Jenny gradually starts to change when Griff has her to dinner at his home on Bunker Hill, where he lives with his blind mother (Esther Minciotti) and kid brother (Charles Bates). She accepts a job as companion to Griff's mother. Griff falls for Jenny, which she initially intends to use to her benefit, but then Jenny falls for Griff too.

There's just one problem, Harry won't leave Jenny alone. An incident with Harry, Jenny, and a gun results in Jenny and Griff going on the run.

It's a nice little movie mixing crime and romance, and a couple on the road together always makes for interesting viewing. The film takes a surprisingly easy out at the end, which raises all sorts of unanswered questions; it would have been nice to arrive at the same result with more believable means. (At least one online article, incidentally, indicates that Sirk did not direct the final scene, which was not how the movie was originally intended to end.) Overall, despite the poorly written ending, it was a good film and I enjoyed it.

The last part of this Columbia movie, incidentally, seems to have inspired the Warner Bros. film TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951) in no small measure: A couple including an ex-con go on the run, the woman dyes her hair dark and her behavior is softened by love, the couple live in a rough shack, and it's possible their identity will be disclosed to the neighbors via a magazine or newspaper. I had a distinct feeling of deja vu in those shack scenes!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of SHOCKPROOF is its location photography, shot by Charles Lawton Jr. The film makes outstanding use of both the Bradbury Building (there's an impressive fall over a railing!) and Bunker Hill. I think the airport exterior where Griff parks was probably Long Beach Airport.

Patricia Knight was excellent as Jenny, lovely but quite a tough cookie. I was impressed by Knight and wondered why I hadn't seen her in more films; she's a great noir dame. She was married to Cornel Wilde from 1937 to 1951; they had a daughter, Wendy, and given Knight's looks and talent I assume she didn't work much by choice. (I'd love to see her in ROSES ARE RED with Don Castle, Joe Sawyer, Jeff Chandler, Charles McGraw, and James Arness. What a cast!) After her marriage to Wilde ended, Knight would marry twice more and was widowed both times. Wendy Wilde herself became an actress.

Cornel Wilde later married Jean Wallace, a union which would last for three decades; Wallace appeared with him in THE BIG COMBO (1955) and STORM FEAR (1955). Wallace and Wilde had a son, Cornel Jr. Cornel Wilde (Sr.) died in 1989 and is buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, which I visited last April. Click on the photograph to enlarge his gravestone for a closer look.

I've mentioned in the past that Charles Bates, who plays Wilde's brother, was the uncle of a childhood next-door neighbor; I never met him but have always remembered that little factlet!

The cast also includes Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Virginia Farmer, Frank Ferguson, and Arthur Space.

There are stills from the film, including the cast on location, in the recent book LOS ANGELES'S BUNKER HILL: PULP FICTION'S MEAN STREETS AND FILM NOIR'S GROUND ZERO by Jim Dawson.

SHOCKPROOF runs 79 minutes. It was written by Samuel Fuller and Helen Deutsch. It's part of The Samuel Fuller Collection, a beautifully presented set which I've just started exploring; I've heard great things about it and it looks terrific.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

It's generally understood that the ending was changed by the studio and Sirk did not like it. In the long interview book SIRK ON SIRK, he says that he did like Fuller's original screenplay and it sounded like he would have felt better about the movie if he could have stuck to that first script.

For all its good points it's a compromised and although I consider Sirk one of the greatest of all directors, it's close to being one of the very least of all his movies. It's interesting that TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY, though directed by lesser light Felix Feist, is so much better, and really it is impressively directed by Feist too. Ruth Roman and especially Steve Cochran had richer parts than they were usually given, one of its virtues--not that both are not generally excellent but usually cast more to type.

Laura, since you have the Samuel Fuller collection pictured, I strongly suggest you move next to the set's two masterpieces, specifically the two that Fuller himself directed, THE CRIMSON KIMONO and UNDERWORLD U.S.A. These are great, among the best of Fuller's films--and neither one is compromised in the least.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake,

Thanks so much for all this interesting info.

There's a lot of a good movie in SHOCKPROOF, it's too bad the last minutes leave you going "Huh."

I especially appreciate your suggestions on what to watch next in the Fuller set! I was happy to get it recently for a terrific price. A couple people have told me they were charmed by IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD, an early Fuller script included in the set which starred Richard Dix and Fay Wray.

Looking forward to checking out THE CRIMSON KIMONO and UNDERWORLD U.S.A.!

Best wishes,

2:54 PM  

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