Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Under the Gun (1951) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

UNDER THE GUN (1951) was another not-on-DVD film shown at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

Half of the dozen films shown at this year's festival aren't on DVD. (One of those films, THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, will be out from Flicker Alley later in 2018.) Additionally, one of the six films available for home viewing was a beautiful new restoration which looks worlds better than anything else currently available, so the festival is a terrific opportunity for film noir fans in more ways than one.

UNDER THE GUN was the first film shown on Sunday, introduced by historian Foster Hirsch. As I mentioned in my festival overview, I really enjoy the way Hirsch points to visuals and themes to be watching for in movies, and he also poses questions and invites the audience to share our opinions with him after the movie. Along with Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller, Hirsch adds a great deal to the audience's appreciation of each film.

UNDER THE GUN is a bit unusual in that lead actor Richard Conte, as mobster Bert Galvin, can't even be called an anti-hero. He's an out-and-out villain, leaving the audience to root for a pair of supporting actors, Audrey Totter's nightclub singer in distress and John McIntire's dogged sheriff.

Galvin spots Ruth (Totter) singing in a Florida nightclub and insists she come with him to the Big Apple, where she'll find fame and fortune. Ruth is reluctant but Galvin won't take no for an answer, so she decides to take him up on the offer.

Early in the road trip north, however, Galvin takes care of some business and offs someone, claiming it was self-defense. The authorities are ready to let Galvin go, but Ruth finds she can't go along with it and tells the authorities what really happened, leading to Galvin being sent up the proverbial river.

At this point the film becomes somewhat like prison films of old (HELL'S HIGHWAY, anyone?), complete with sweat box punishment and a work crew. This section of the film was the least interesting to me, as prison films simply don't appeal to me that much.

Galvin works his way up to being a prison trustee who monitors the work crew with a gun. It transpires that if a trustee shoots an escaping prisoner, the trustee is released from prison, and thanks to Galvin shooting a friend (Sam Jaffe) -- it's a long story -- he's soon a free man. This isn't good news for Ruth.

This wasn't one of my favorite films of the festival just because of the prison angle, but at the same time it had some unique and interesting aspects which definitely made it worthwhile. In the film's favor, it runs a quick 83 minutes, and it has some terrific Florida locations. I especially appreciated Shepperd Strudwick's turn as Galvin's Southern attorney, chosen so as not to alienate the locals, and McIntire, always really good, is excellent here as the sheriff.

Though Totter is missing for a big chunk of the movie, I liked her character's guts, both telling the truth about the killing early on, and then standing up to Galvin when he's holding her hostage at the end of the movie, telling him he can shoot her but she's not going with him another step. Yay Audrey!

UNDER THE GUN was directed by Ted Tetzlaff, who also directed a personal favorite of mine, RIFFRAFF (1947). It was filmed in black and white by Henry Freulich and John Herman.

Coming soon: A review of another film I saw for the first time at the festival, FLAMINGO ROAD (1949).


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Lucky you, Laura! The Arthur Lyons festivals sound terrific to me, and a lot of fine and rare films were shown. I also have never seen "UNDER THE GUN" but it sounds like one I would really enjoy. It's funny how much, today, we so appreciate those actors who were not afraid to play either darkly-shaded good guys or even straight 'nasties'. Maybe quite brave for an actor aspiring to be a star back then. Conte is one of those and one I always look for in a movie. John McIntire was a character actor of course so he relished playing across the gamut of roles (and was always excellent).
Looking forward to reading your experience of "FLAMINGO ROAD"!

12:01 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I remember watching this with my dad when I was a teenager, but since then "poof" it just disappeared. I will need this for my Richard Conte collection some day.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, it would be great if one day you could make a return visit to California and time it to attend this festival!

Conte really was interesting, he was pretty fearless about being a bad guy -- reminds me of Widmark in some of his earliest films. Conte was also the bad guy in one of my favorite noir titles, CRY OF THE CITY with Victor Mature. I love McIntire's chameleon-like quality, you never know how he'll turn up looking or acting, and like Walter Brennan he could convincingly play characters many years older.

Caftan Woman, how interesting you used to watch this one. Since it's a Universal film I'm guessing it was once available to cable channels like AMC, and to other channels before that. I wonder if someday it will turn up in the Universal Vault Collection? They just realized a new "wave" of Claudette Colbert titles so it's good to see that line is still "alive."

Best wishes,

9:48 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

This one had me most curious when I checked the fest lineup--I'll watch anything Conte and your review makes it sound really interesting!

11:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

If you like Conte I think you'd find this one interesting, Kristina! It's definitely worth checking out even though the plot theme wasn't a favorite for me. I suspect you'd enjoy it.

Best wishes,

1:14 PM  

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