Saturday, July 09, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Desperate (1947)

I've recently been enjoying delving into some of the '40s credits of director Anthony Mann. DESPERATE, an excellent little film noir, is an interesting film in Mann's career as it came at the tail end of a string of "B" movies and marked his transition into directing a number of highly regarded film noir titles.

Steve Randall (Steve Brodie) is a trucker who's been happily married to Anne (Audrey Long) for four months. Steve gets called for a last-minute delivery and agrees to take it for the extra cash. When Steve arrives at the job, he discovers it's a heist headed by an old acquaintance, Walt Radak (Raymond Burr), and he's supposed to be the getaway driver with a truck full of stolen loot! Thanks in part to Steve's lack of cooperation, the robbery falls apart, and Radak's brother is arrested for the murder of a cop Steve alerted to the robbery.

Steve goes on the run with the pregnant Anne in order to protect her from the crooks who have threatened her, planning to turn himself in once she's safe. When he goes to the cops, will they believe he's innocent?

This is an interesting movie from a number of angles. I really enjoyed seeing Brodie and Long in the leads; it's fun to see such fresh faces heading the cast. I've seen both actors in a number of films -- for instance, Brodie was in STATION WEST (1948) and Long was in TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944) -- yet their names had never really "registered" strongly before. Brodie makes a good "average Joe," a hard worker who is devoted to his wife, and Long is sweet and lovely.

The only problem I had with the film is that the tension sometimes ratchets up almost unbearably high, as this nice young couple go through serial traumas trying to escape from the nightmare. They really are, in the words of the title, desperate! That said, it's the mark of a well-done film that it made me so nervous.

Burr is a very scary bad guy who doesn't hesitate to shoot someone at point-blank range, threaten old folks (while helping himself to their dinner!), or suggest he'll knock off a kindly innocent woman who's just offered him cake, because he thinks she's seen too much.

The supporting performance I really enjoyed, however, was Jason Robards Sr. as Detective Ferrari, a police officer who initially treats Steve with disdain but ends up being a rather intriguing character. He has a couple of strong scenes near the end of the film and a good way with sarcastic quips.

The black and white cinematography by George Diskant is superb. The movie is worth seeing for this aspect alone, including shadows, swinging lights, and a truly amazing shot of Raymond Burr and staircases at the end of the film. I'd love to know how that scene was done, it looked like a stuntman must have made a good day's pay! The shot was so good that I replayed it for my husband and son, who hadn't seen the movie; they were suitably impressed with it.

DESPERATE is one of two films for which Anthony Mann also worked on the original story; the other was FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949).

DESPERATE is available in an excellent print as part of the Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 5. There are no extras. (May 2017 Update: This set has just been reissued by the Warner Archive.)

This RKO film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. TCM has a clip from an early scene in the film.

Anthony Mann films previously reviewed: STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944), TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945), THE BAMBOO BLONDE (1946), T-MEN (1947), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949) (uncredited), THE TALL TARGET (1951), BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), and THUNDER BAY (1953).

March 2014 Update: I had the chance to see this film in 16mm as part of UCLA's Anthony Mann Festival.


Blogger Karen said...

Enjoyed your review, Laura! I love Desperate - it's one of those little-known noirs that was a joy to discover. Raymond Burr has some great lines, I always enjoy Steve Brodie's performances, and the cinematography is awesome. Great pick!

9:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Karen, it's great to hear from someone else who enjoyed it. :) I agree, it's such fun to watch a lesser-known film like this. Thanks for stopping by!

Best wishes,

10:20 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Another one recorded but not watched. Your fine review makes it a must see soon.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Jacqueline! I hope you enjoy it too. I'd love to read your take.

Best wishes,

12:07 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for your review.
I watched DESPERATE recently and agree it was nice to see Steve Brodie in a leading role. Afraid I don't share your enthusiasm for Audrey Long.I found her character a bit annoying. I would have preferred,in the noir style, if Brodie had been a loner, picking up the pieces of his life before being trapped by Burr, and maybe meeting someone like Lizabeth Kerr or Evelyn Keyes along the way.
I know I'm changing the plot, but it had so much going for it - the great cinematography as you said, and Raymond Burr's menace. And Brodie couldn't be faulted.

7:49 AM  

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