Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Riffraff (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

RIFFRAFF (1947) is an engaging film noir with comedic overtones, just released by the Warner Archive.

RIFFRAFF, which bears no relation to the 1936 Spencer Tracy-Jean Harlow film, is a creatively staged movie from RKO. Eddie Muller and Alan Rode of the Film Noir Foundation refer to RKO as "the House of Noir," and this film is another good example of RKO's strong track record in the genre.

The movie starts off with a long, wordless sequence which does a great job setting the stage and building suspense; two men board a plane during a downpour in Peru, but only one of the passengers gets off when the plane lands in Panama.

The man who gets off (Mark Krah) asks local P.I. and all-around "fixer" Dan Hammer (Pat O'Brien) to serve as his bodyguard. Hammer parks the man at a hotel and heads for a meeting with two businessmen (Jerome Cowan and Jason Robards Sr.) who offer Hammer a large sum of money -- if he can find the very man who just hired him!

Returning to the hotel, Hammer discovers his new client is no longer among the living, and soon there's a free-for-all looking for a map the man was carrying, with the interested parties including gorgeous blonde nightclub singer Maxine (Anne Jeffreys), nasty Eric Molinar (Walter Slezak), and local law enforcement (George Givot).

To be sure, there are some dark and violent moments, starkly filmed by George Diskant, who would later do such a great job with ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951). But there are also some delightful comic touches, such as Hammer giving his mangy old "guard dog" dinner and admonishing him, as he walks out the door, "Don't eat it till 6:00."

Percy Kilbride is amusing as a laconic cab driver with a broken-down car who also takes care of Hammer's laundry and serves as his righthand man, playing a key role in catching the killer. There's also some nice interplay at the end with the police inspector.

There's a running gag with local folks constantly approaching Hammer for help with varied problems, which he invariably solves by scrawling an introduction to someone on a card, saying "Send me a check"; he even sets up the police inspector to get a new gun! The only thing that would have made it even better would have been if there was some sort of payoff at the end with all the people he'd helped bailing Dan out of a jam.

Anne Jeffreys is lovely in this, and she has the chance to sing one song, "Money is the Root of All Evil," which also ties in nicely to the story. She and O'Brien have an appealing chemistry, and the film does a good job developing their relationship "between the lines" -- someone making a pot of coffee has never had more significance, as there's a fade out and then a fade in much later in the day.

At the same time, the film avoids any overly obvious love scenes, which might have been slightly awkward given the leads' 23-year age difference; however, the choice to portray the relationship more subtly actually ended up adding positively to the movie's style.

I was curious about George Givot, as I didn't recognize him but he sounded like he had a "voice for radio," very similar to Jeff Chandler. I was thus amused to look him up and learn that Givot was indeed a radio actor, and he also memorably voiced Tony, the chef at the Italian restaurant in LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955).

RIFFRAFF was directed by Ted Tetzlaff (THE WINDOW). It was written by Martin Rackin.

RIFFRAFF is one of those unsung little films which may not be a classic yet packs quite a bit of entertainment value into 80 minutes. I had a good time watching it. Thanks to the Warner Archive for making it available in a great-looking print.

The DVD has no extras.

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.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Nice to see a review of this pleasant RKO thriller. Nice leads with good chemistry, and it is always a pleasure to see Anne Jeffreys.

When I was a kid growing up and watching increasingly the type of film on TV that really floated my boat I noticed how many of them ended with the RKO logo. Of course, I know now the reason was that Film Noir increasingly became a much-loved genre for me and that RKO was, per Laura's spot-on quote, "The House Of Noir".

A RKO "noir" from this period with Pat O'Brien that I think was better though was "Crack-Up". The pace and construction of that one works better than "Riff-Raff" IMHO but I can watch films like these 'til the cows come home'LOL.

I must be careful here though not to bandy the 'noir' term about too freely as I agree with Blake that it is used too widely now, often capturing straight crime dramas, thrillers etc.

12:17 AM  

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