Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Crime Wave (1954)

It was a night off from attending the Noir City Film Festival, but it wasn't a night off from film noir!

Tonight's movie was CRIME WAVE, a movie to gladden the heart of anyone who loves film noir. This fast-paced 73-minute film was filmed all over Los Angeles and Glendale, and it looks absolutely fantastic. As Mark writes at Where Danger Lives, "Crime Wave is one [of] the most attractive, maybe even exhilarating, film noirs ever made. Hit the pause button on almost any frame, and you’ll find something to linger on." Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant calls the film "a major undiscovered delight."

I would have loved watching this film if only for its great looks; for instance, check out the nighttime shot of Sterling Hayden standing in front of the gas station crime scene, lit by the glow of the building's lights, or the realistic-looking, overly bright fluorescent lighting inside the police station. A Red Car glides past L.A. City Hall, and there's a shot of an Owl Drugs, also seen in SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950). The final scene was filmed in the rain -- how lucky could a crew get to have that happen? It was perfect. It's all great stuff, and I also loved the police procedural scenes -- especially the graveyard shift dispatchers in Hawaiian shirts!

The movie has more going for it than appearance, presenting an interesting story with a deep cast of pros. Gene Nelson, usually thought of as a song and dance man in Warner Bros. musicals and OKLAHOMA! (1955), plays ex-con Steve Lacey. Steve has a pretty wife, Ellen (Phyllis Kirk), and a good job as an airplane mechanic, but when a local heist goes wrong, several bad guys come barging back into Steve's life. (The thugs include one Charles Buchinsky, later known as Charles Bronson.) Steve is forced to cooperate in a plan for the men to rob a bank and get out of town, or he and Ellen will be killed.

CRIME WAVE was one of a dozen movies made by Sterling Hayden which were released in 1954 and 1955. There's more info on that in my review of his Western TOP GUN (1955). Hayden is terrific, as always, as the crusty, toothpick-chewing homicide detective who's determined to prove that Lacey has returned to a life of crime.

Gene Nelson is excellent as the handsome young mechanic trying to have a better life. He and Phyllis Kirk have an appealing chemistry, and there's a nice steamy undercurrent to their relationship. (For starters, it's always a bit of a surprise when a film avoids the "only in the movies" convention of a married couple in twin beds.) I'd have liked to see Nelson do more roles of this type. He was certainly a multitalented man, who would go on to a long career as a director.

The supporting cast includes James Bell, Ted de Corsia, Jay Novello, Timothy Carey, Ned Young, Dub Tayor, and Hank Worden, who has just one scene but makes his offbeat mark, as always.

CRIME WAVE was directed by Andre De Toth, who also made PITFALL (1948) with Dick Powell and RAMROD (1947) with Joel McCrea. According to the featurette on the disc, De Toth was given 15 days to make the movie, and he brought it in ahead of schedule! As mentioned, the shoot included a great deal of location filming, including a robbery sequence filmed inside a Bank of America.

The screenplay was by Crane Wilbur (HE WALKED BY NIGHT), with black and white cinematography by Bert Glennon.

CRIME WAVE was shown in Britain under the alternate title THE CITY IS DARK. A costume test shot for Phyllis Kirk, seen in the DVD featurette, indicates that at one point the movie was titled DON'T CRY, BABY.

CRIME WAVE is available in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4. Extras include a featurette, a trailer, and a commentary track with Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM website. I had a feeling that Sterling Hayden was trying to hide some amusement as he spoke directly to the camera: "Murder is my business, and midnight is my beat." This viewer is always glad to have Hayden on the job.


Blogger dfordoom said...

Crime Wave is a neglected film noir gem.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I can't believe I haven't seen this film! It sounds great and I love Sterling Hayden so I'm sure I would enjoy it. Great review Laura!

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great little movie.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I was really taken with this movie! Started listening to the commentary track earlier today and am enjoying the chance to look at it all over again. This one was a real visual "wow" for me. So glad you know and love it too, DforDoom and Toby!

Raquel, if you love Sterling Hayden I bet you'll enjoy it. He's such an imposing presence in this movie -- I love the way he is often shot from a low angle which makes him seem to tower even more.

Best wishes,

2:03 PM  
Blogger redcon1 said...

One of my favorite noirs too. Loved Hayden's bit with the cigarette and toothpick at the end.

11:36 AM  

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