Sunday, March 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Highway Dragnet (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Yesterday was Richard Conte's birthday, so it was a particularly good weekend to watch him in the crime film HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954).

HIGHWAY DRAGNET was just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber. I first saw the movie streaming on Netflix back in 2011, when Netflix had a far greater variety of older films available; I really wanted to see it again and so was delighted when I learned it would be released by Kino Lorber.

This film, which was Roger Corman's first co-producing credit -- he also cowrote the story -- admittedly isn't the world's greatest movie, yet at the same time it's a heck of a lot of fun. Boring it ain't; it's a zippy 70 minutes which I watched with a kind of glee, totally enjoying the lead actors and the various situations as they unfolded. (When Iris Adrian, as a waitress who clearly prefers an empty restaurant, hurled menus onto a table I actually laughed out loud.) Add in superb location shooting, and this is definitely my kind of movie.

Conte plays Jim Henry, who's just left the military after service in Korea. He's picked up in a bar by former model (Mary Beth Hughes); there's a fadeout so we don't know what happens, but Jim is arrested the next day for her murder by strangulation.

The disbelieving Jim's alibi can't be located, and with Detective Joe White Eagle (Reed Hadley) convinced Jim did the deed, despite Jim's honorable military record, Jim decides to make a break for it. He manages to escape and eventually hitches a ride with Mrs. Cummings (the always-great Joan Bennett), a photographer, and her model Susan (Wanda Hendrix).

Mrs. Cummings and Susan soon realize they have a problem on their hands, what with newspapers blaring headlines about the "Strap Murderer." But we, like Susan, increasingly sense that Jim truly is just a nice guy in a bad situation...and what did happen to Mrs. Cummings' missing dog leash, anyway?

It may feel just a bit as though the still-gorgeous Bennett is slumming in this one -- and I think she knew it -- but she's still grand fun as the calculating, short-tempered photographer. Along with her jaded portrayal, I love her dress with its billowing skirt; she must have had petticoats underneath. She's quite the glamorous traveler, complete with jewelry, while young Susan is always dressed down. Changing generational attitudes towards dressing up for travel captured on film?

I simply like Conte, who is in any number of films I really enjoy, and I also admire Wanda Hendrix, as I wrote about here. This role is far less complex than some Hendrix played, but she's appealing as the quick-witted Susan.

The majority of the film was shot outdoors on location, and those locations really help make the movie as enjoyable as it is. Initially there's stock footage of old-time Las Vegas, followed by terrific shots of the cast at the Apple Valley Inn. There's more about the Apple Valley Inn in my original review and in an illustrated post at Paradise Leased; it was also seen in FOXFIRE (1955) and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1955). I clearly need to pay it a visit someday.

I don't know if the agricultural inspection station was real or created for the movie; I'm guessing it was staged in the desert closer to L.A. rather than traveling all the way to the Nevada border. There's also some fascinating filming in a flooded-out home at the Salton Sea. It's a unique choice which adds a lot to the movie.

The movie was directed by Nathan Juran and photographed in black and white by John Martin. The supporting cast includes Frank Jenks, Harry Harvey, House Peters Jr., Joseph Crehan, and Tom Hubbard.

The print and sound are excellent. (The strong wind on location impacts the sound in a couple of scenes but they didn't bother to loop them; it sounds authentic, at least!) The disc includes half a dozen trailers for film noir titles which are also available from Kino Lorber. There are no additional extras.

While HIGHWAY DRAGNET wouldn't be the right film for someone looking for a top-drawer film noir classic, its interesting imperfections combined with a good cast and stellar locations make it a delight for the right audience. I've happily watched it twice and will do so again in the future thanks to Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Kristina said...

You're right, it's super-watchable and fun. Love Corman's style of movies, loved Iris Adrian too :D and loved reading about the Apple Valley Inn! No wonder it looked so familiar in FOXFIRE!! Awesome looking place, and I'm sure I've seen it in some more movies...

7:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kristina,

Thanks so much for adding your thoughts on this most enjoyable film. So many fun elements to it.

If you spot the Apple Valley Inn in other movies I'd love to know, it's a unique location. Love the swimming pool with the clear wind breaks around part of the area. The wind must have been a challenge for the film crew given flying hair and muffled voices in a couple scenes! Seems apparent they couldn't afford to wait it out LOL.

Best wishes,

10:13 AM  
Blogger Kerri-So-Very said...

I'm a huge Joan Bennett fan, and while this movie is pretty seedy, I love Joan's performance!! It was totally opposite of Ellie Banks in "Father of the Bride" and it's sequel. Actually very different from all her previous roles! And I lived in the Palm Springs area for many years, so the desert environment and the nearby Apple Valley Inn are so wonderful and familiar to me. I actually like this film very much.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kaye,

Thanks for your comment. You capture it well -- a seedy but likable movie! LOL. Even things like some of the clunkier lines or questionable situations make it more fun. (I'm still trying to figure out why Bennett had to spill out her entire purse onto the desk in the agricultural inspection station; I guess trying to build up the suspense by delaying them leaving LOL.)

I enjoy seeing Bennett far removed not only from her Ellie Banks role but also from her more glamorous '40s femme fatale roles; here she's got some of the weariness of the stressed-out mother from my favorite Bennett performance in THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), except that in this one she's not protective -- she's not even careful of her dog -- but just plain mean! A lot of fun to watch her.

Best wishes,

10:37 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,
My Kino Blu Ray arrived yesterday and I watched HIGHWAY DRAGNET last night.
I totally agree with your take on the film which moves at a very fast clip.
I never dreamed that we would get 4K restorations of minor films like this.
The Blu Ray looks wonderful.
There were several producers who worked at Allied Artists during the Fifties like
Walter Mirisch and Lindsley Parsons.
HIGHWAY DRAGNET's William F Broidy made lousy Westerns and good thrillers.
His films were noted for their low budgets,brisk pacing and appealing casts.
Broidy's productions were also distinguished by the extensive and striking location
work.Certainly HIGHWAY DRAGNET was among the best of the Broidy's other notable films
Conte. I've seen all of these in "off air" versions and would simply love Kino
to release 4K restorations of them all.Seeing HIGHWAY DRAGNET in such a sparkling transfer
is more than a dream come true.I hope sales for HIGHWAY DRAGNET are decent enough to
encourage Kino to explore more Allied Artists thrillers.
Though not a Broidy production;FINGER MAN is also a tough hard boiled Noir with a
most diverting cast.This excellent Lindsley Parsons production would make a wonderful
Kino Lorber Blu Ray's always nice to retire an "off air" version.
Oddly enough most of the Allied Artists Broidy's seem to be owned by Paramount and
not Warner Bros.Another Allied Artists thriller on my "most wanted" list is the Parsons
production THE COME ON with Anne Baxter and Sterling Hayden...a "daylight Noir" if such a thing exists.THE COME ON again has striking location work mainly set on beaches and
marinas during daytime but it's themes are strictly Noir.

5:06 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Joan Bennet's role in HIGHWAY DRAGNET may have come about through her
husband Walter Wanger. Joan's career was certainly on the skids then but not
as much as Wanger's.Wanger's glittering career was derailed by the mega flop
JOAN OF ARC. As if all that was not bad enough Wanger served a short custodial
sentence for shooting Bennett's lover Jennings Lang. Lsng went on to become a hot shot producer at Universal in the 70's notably in the Eastwood/Siegel era.
After a brief term at Eagle Lion Wanger's career was more or less over.
Wanger's pal Walter Mirisch was virtually calling the shots over at Allied
Artists.Mirish let Wanger handle a few cheap Allied Artists films like
Wanger however struck gold again with cult classics RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11
Sadly Wanger not learning from past mistakes got involved in the debacle that
was CLEOPATRA, I'm sure Bennett's role in HIGHWAY DRAGNET was a favor to Wanger
from his friend Walter Mirisch. No producer in Hollywood history made the
big time quicker than fact in just a few short years he graduated
In between Bomba Mirisch made some very good Allied Artists pictures like
WICHITA at an interesting point between his B Movies and his later hugely
successful career.

2:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

Loved your informative comments! Delighted that you enjoyed this as much as I did. As you say, who could have dreamed we'd have such beautiful restorations of a movie like HIGHWAY DRAGNET! (Speaking of which my SINGING GUNS and TRIGGER JR. screeners have arrived!)

That is great info on Broidy being known for fast-paced films with good locations as that is sure the case with HIGHWAY DRAGNET. I also adored LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN, another film which may not be great shakes but is "just the thing" for a fan like me. :) Interesting to learn that it's the same producer on both films. Need to pull out PORT OF HELL and watch it. I'd also love to see THE COME ON. It's exciting to contemplate what Kino may have in store for us in the future, and I hope everyone will support these releases in order to keep 'em coming!

I seem to recall that Joel McCrea had a very good relationship with Mirisch.

Thanks again, John! Great to hear from you.

Best wishes,

12:26 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Thanks Laura,
Yes McCrea appeared in six Mirisch produced films all CinemaScope color Westerns.
FORT MASSACRE was the first Mirisch Corp film when Mirisch moved his operation over
to United Artists.The short lived TV series WICHITA TOWN was a Mirisch-McCrea production.
I think you will enjoy PORT OF HELL very much-Dane Clark and Wayne Morris are on top form.
I would love to see PORT OF HELL given the care and attention applied to HIGHWAY DRAGNET.
As you quiet rightly state I also hope that folks support these Kino restorations to ensure
that we get more-I'm sure the legion of Noir fanatics will support HIGHWAY
allow Kino to release similar product.
I hope SINGING GUNS is well supported also, it's a good Western and Vaughn Monroe
is an acceptable Cowboy Hero.
I thought Monroe's other A Western THE TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA was even better-with it's
harrowing Indian attack at the start and a brilliantly staged gunfight during a
thunderstorm at the climax.The film also stars Joan Leslie-I'm a considerable fan.

Finally it's mighty fine that you are reviewing so many Kino releases

3:04 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

This sounds like a grand movie for a rainy day and I want to spend time with some old friends, the old friends we find at the movies.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John! It would be great if PORT OF HELL or TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA come out in prints as nice as this. I'll be reviewing SINGING GUNS soon!

Caftan Woman, it really is a great movie for a rainy day. Nice short movie with a great cast and locations, good fun.

Best wishes,

7:39 PM  

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