I suspect a random person sitting down to watch the film wouldn't find much to shout about, but for me, LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN was a delightful little slice of cinematic bliss filled with people I enjoy in a great "retro" setting.
Dennis O'Keefe plays the ultra-cool Joe Barnes, owner of the resort and casino El Rancho Vegas.
All sorts of interesting people come to the El Rancho -- a sweet, shy schoolmarm and author named Julie (Coleen Gray) who attracts Joe's romantic interest; an estranged couple (James Millican and Dorothy Patrick) contemplating divorce; a gambling addict (a hard-to-recognize dark-haired Mary Beth Hughes) who loses money her husband (Frank Hanley) planned to use for a business; a proper banker and his wife (Charles Winninger and Elizabeth Patterson) who don't want anyone back home to know they're in "scandalous" Vegas; and oh, yes, the mobsters (Thomas Gomez, Robert Armstrong, and Joe Downing) intent on killing Joe. It seems Gimpy (Gomez) just got off Alcatraz and is determined to see Joe dead.
If there was actually a shakedown in the movie, I missed it. Joe runs an honest establishment, and the entire film, other than the mobster angle, has a sort of Cinderella feel to it, especially Joe and Julie's love story.
Think of it as sort of an early version of THE LOVE BOAT -- or as an IMDb reviewer tagged it, GRAND MOTEL! -- with Joe as the captain, making sure things run smoothly and bringing people together; that said, it's much more interesting than the boring LOVE BOAT ever was, with some fantastic '50s Vegas location filming thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes it's nice to simply watch a happy romance with no problems attached, and this film delivered. My only complaint is I wanted more than 79 minutes!
This film was a reunion for O'Keefe and Gray, who had also costarred in THE FAKE (1953). They are well-matched and completely charming as Joe and Julie. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop -- maybe she's not as sweet as she seems, or some other problem will crop up -- but nope, he just flat-out immediately falls for the teacher behind the glasses, seeing someone "good."
Being a virtuous miss, Julie scurries away from Joe's first couple of passes, thinking he's not sincere or out for a fling, but when he offers to buy her an evening gown and she blanches, he makes clear he's on the up and up, he's buying the dress for his future wife! And to add to the Cinderella angle, he mentions that his wife will need lots of gorgeous gowns. Julie's really hit her own jackpot.
It was extra-special that another pair of favorites, Millican and Patrick, were in secondary roles as the couple with the troubled marriage. Their story likewise builds to a touching ending.
And just to make sure there's not too much sugar, you've got the bracing presence of old hands like Gomez and Armstrong wielding knives, guns, and fists as they try to take out Joe. A violent confrontation in a train yard would do any film noir proud.
LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN was directed by Sidney Salkow and written by Steve Fisher, who had many interesting film noir and Western titles in his credits, including the novel which inspired I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) and screenplays for THE HUNTED (1948), WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953), and CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953), to name just a few.
The movie was filmed in black and white by John J. Martin. The film has an interesting low-key and gritty, almost documentary look which stands in contrast to a story which is mostly, in the end, upbeat.
The copy of the film I watched was clear but somewhat jumpy. Here's hoping that this Allied Artists film will be available in the future in a beautiful Warner Archive print.
As a final note, this seems to be the year of Dennis O'Keefe for me, having very recently loved three other O'Keefe films, ABANDONED (1949), COVER UP (1949), and WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950). I'm happy at the prospect of taking a second look at ABANDONED at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival this weekend. If I were making a new list of Favorite Actors I'd have to find a spot for him!