Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Flaxy Martin (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Virginia Mayo plays the title role in FLAXY MARTIN (1949), an enjoyable film just released by the Warner Archive.

Mob lawyer Walter Colby (Zachary Scott) thinks that Flaxy is his girl, but the mercenary Flaxy is secretly the moll of mobster Hap Richie (Douglas Kennedy); she's stringing Walter along to ensure his compliance with Hap's wishes. Walter was originally supposed to only handle Hap's legitimate business issues, but he's being increasingly drawn in to the darker side of Hap's world and he wants out.

When Hap has a blackmailer (Helen Westcott) wiped out by his hood Caesar (Jack Overman), a crime which Flaxy aids and abets, Walter continues to believe the best of Flaxy and takes the rap for her. Only later does Walter realize he's been played for a sap; he escapes and goes on the lam to prove who really committed the murder, aided by small-town librarian Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone).

I first saw this movie in 2011 and liked it, and I enjoyed it all over again tonight. Sure, it's got some plot flaws, starting with the fact that for a supposedly smart lawyer, Walter makes some pretty dumb decisions. However, I suppose he wouldn't be the first man who makes all the wrong moves because he's head over heels for a dame.

Despite that, Scott is generally quite likeable in this, one of his "good guy" roles. While Scott was always a highly effective villain, I enjoy him even more when he's the hero fighting the crooks.

Even more perplexing behavior is the benevolence of Nora, who realizes almost immediately that Walter is a convicted murderer but doesn't much care. Like Lauren Bacall in the same studio's DARK PASSAGE (1947), Nora simply has a gut instinct that Walter isn't the kind of person described in the media, so she gives him food, shelter, and eventually her love.

Mayo disappears in the middle section of the film, but she's fascinating to watch in the opening and closing scenes as she wraps Walter around her little finger while also milking the not-so-nice Hap for his money. The scene where she leaves her former friend (Westcott) alone in a hotel room with the mob hit man is truly chilling; she knows without a doubt that the woman is about to be killed, yet she walks away with a little smile on her face, her work completed.

The movie is strewn with bits and pieces of other movies, starting with Elisha Cook Jr. as a mob "gunsel," straight out of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946). 

Speaking of THE BIG SLEEP, it's also fun to note that here Malone is once more playing a woman who works with books; she had a big break in THE BIG SLEEP as a bookstore clerk who flirts with Bogart's Philip Marlowe, and here she's a librarian.

And the theme of a handcuffed couple on the run who need to clear the hero's name? How many times has that been done? Really, though, the bits cribbed from other movies are part of FLAXY MARTIN's charm; it's familiar "movie comfort food" in that it has so many recognizable character types and situations, and the viewer is always pretty relaxed about where the movie is going. It's never dull, but it's predictable, in a good way.

Incidentally, Malone, Kennedy, and Scott would all costar that same year in the Warner Bros. Western SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949).

The supporting cast of FLAXY MARTIN includes Tom D'Andrea, Douglas Fowley, Monte Blue, and Marjorie Bennett.

FLAXY MARTIN was directed by Richard L. Bare, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 101.

The film was written by David Lang, and the question I'd love to know the answer to is: Who thought of the name Flaxy Martin, and where did it come from?

The movie was shot by Carl Guthrie. Warner Bros. fans will enjoy the extensive use of the studio's familiar city street sets. The film runs 86 minutes.

FLAXY MARTIN is diverting Warner Bros. entertainment which I enjoyed. The Warner Archive DVD is the company's typically good print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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