Thursday, July 04, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Shakedown (1950) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

There were four new-to-me films at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, held in Palm Springs in mid-May.

I previously reviewed one of those movies, THE SCARLET HOUR (1956). The other three films I saw for the first time were ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959), KING CREOLE (1958), and SHAKEDOWN (1950).

As I catch up on reviewing this trio of films, I'll start with the last one shown, one of my favorites at the festival. SHAKEDOWN was the first film screened on Sunday morning. It was introduced by Victoria Mature, who made the interesting point that this tale of an amoral news photographer predated the better-known ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) by a year.

This was an absorbing, fast-paced watch which ran just 80 minutes. It was a bit surprising inasmuch as I had expected Howard Duff, playing photographer Jack Early, would be the film's hero. Instead he plays a completely reprehensible character who, having landed a job at a San Francisco newspaper, will stop at nothing to get "big" pictures. Jack's editor (Bruce Bennett) becomes increasingly concerned about his tactics, which also gradually put the brakes on his newly developing relationship with another of the paper's employees (Peggy Dow).

Jack lands a photo of gangster Nick Palmer (Brian Donlevy), who hates to be photographed yet admires Jack's gumption. Jack sells his soul to the devil when Palmer gives Jack cash and the promise of some great pictures in return for Jack's "help." Jack ends up double-crossing Palmer and as a result gets another "big" picture of a car bomb going off set by Palmer's henchman Colton (Lawrence Tierney). Jack thinks he's protected himself by hanging on to compromising photos, but in the end it may not be enough to save him.

I thought it rather brave of Duff to play a character so completely unlikeable; he's not even an antihero, but an out-and-out villain despite being the movie's top-billed character. When he received his comeuppance at the movie's climax, the audience applauded! (In a nice touch, he manages to photograph the moment.)

One of the film's biggest pleasures is the great cast. Donlevy and Tierney are always interesting to watch; Bennett is also a favorite of this blog, and Peggy Dow was never less than wonderful in any of her performances.

Dow was only in nine films, from 1949-51, but she's a warm and delightful actress. She retired when she married in 1951 and raised five children in Oklahoma; today she is 91. The Helmerich School of Drama at the University of Oklahoma is named in her honor; her married name is Peggy Dow Helmerich.

The cast also includes French-born actress Anne Vernon (TERROR ON A TRAIN) as Donlevy's wife. Rock Hudson shows up in a small role, as he often did in Universal Pictures of that time.

This movie was filmed by Irving Glassberg.

Like THE MIDNIGHT STORY (1957), which has only been released on DVD in Europe, SHAKEDOWN is a Universal Pictures film directed by Joseph Pevney which is not available on Region 1 DVD. It also does not appear to have ever had a VHS release. Hopefully eventually some of these interesting Universal films will be released for home viewing.

2022 Update: Good news! This film will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in March 2022.

March 2022 Update: My review of the new SHAKEDOWN Blu-ray may be read here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

HOWARD DUFF was on the prime-time soap FLAMINGO ROAD as a sheriff. It also starred MORGAN FAIRCHILD, MARK HARMON, BARBARA RUSH & STELLA STEVENS. He played Paul Galveston, the father of Greg Sumner(WILLIAM DEVANE) on KNOTS LANDING. He also guest-starred on two episodes of DALLAS as a SENATOR. He was a good actor with a unique voice.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just put a post about Howard Duff being on FLAMINGO ROAD, etc. I think I forgot to put my handle-Classic TV Fan

8:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think one of the first roles I knew Howard Duff from was his late-career role as an attorney in KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979).

Best wishes,

10:09 PM  

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