Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Cruel Tower (1956) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

I saw five new-to-me movies at last weekend's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, including films from Argentina and France. I'll be interspersing reviews of those movies with recap posts sharing photos from each day.

First up for review is THE CRUEL TOWER (1956), which was shown Saturday morning.

THE CRUEL TOWER is a 79-minute "B" film originally released by Allied Artists. The rights are now a bit tangled, but a couple different studios cooperated with providing a print of the movie for the festival.

The movie depicts the personal problems and rivalries among a team of steeplejacks, played out as the men clean and repair a couple of water towers.

The head of the crew, Stretch, is played by Charles McGraw. (Host Alan Rode noted the irony of the 5' 10" McGraw playing someone nicknamed "Stretch.") Stretch is married, but he also has a girlfriend, Mary (Mari Blanchard), referred to by Stretch as "the Babe."

Stretch, Casey (Steve Brodie), and Joss (Peter Whitney) take in Tom (John Ericson) after Joss stumbles across him in the desert. Tom had been hitching a ride on a rail car when other occupants beat and robbed him, then tossed him off the moving train.

Tom has no interest in heights, but he starts working with the crew as ground support. Things get dicey quickly when Tom falls for Mary and she returns his interest, which is not taken to kindly by the heavy-drinking Stretch. Despite his marital status, Stretch insists that no one else will have Mary.

Other problems arise, and let's just say climbing a high tower with an angry Stretch isn't a good idea. The movie has a couple of fairly brutal moments, and as someone with a bit of an aversion to heights, I admit to closing my eyes a couple of times!

The screenplay by actor-writer Warren Douglas isn't anything particularly scintillating, yet I quite enjoyed THE CRUEL TOWER, which is just the kind of "B" film I find fun to check out.

The best thing about the movie is the authentic location work, including water towers in Burbank and nearby Huntington Beach. I'm not sure about the fate of the Burbank tower, but the one in Huntington Beach still stands today.

There was also some interesting filming on city streets, where a 31 Flavors ice cream sign caught my eye. Alan Rode guessed the city location might be Burbank, and some quick research shows that 31 Flavors originated in nearby Glendale in 1953, so perhaps that's the answer. The movie was shot in black and white by Ernest Haller.

THE CRUEL TOWER was also interesting to me from the standpoint of the complete lack of worker safety precautions! Not so much as a hard hat. I just kind of marveled at how the characters took the work so casually, including drinking before climbing, and wondered how much of that was dramatic license and how much was a reflection of different times.

I've reviewed many "B" films from the director, Lew Landers, who usually does the best job possible with the material he's given, and that's the case here. It's all a bit crazy, and I had lots of questions about the characters, their motivations, and some of their decisions, but the movie was quite entertaining, flaws and all.

Alan Rode, seen here introducing the film, wrote an excellent biography of Charles McGraw. He said he interviewed Mari Blanchard by phone about the film. Blanchard said that McGraw taught her how to relax on a set; he advised her to hit her marks and say the lines "like you mean them," and then move on. "There will be another movie."

A nice bit of trivia is that the previous year Blanchard and Ericson had starred in the Western THE RETURN OF JACK SLADE (1955), which, tying my two festivals this month together, was filmed in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills.

Steve Brodie is always a reliable supporting actor, and Alan Hale Jr. gives the film a nice jolt of energy when he joins the crew midway through the story. A waitress is played by Carol Kelly, part of an acting family which included her siblings Nancy and Jack.

THE CRUEL TOWER is not currently available via DVD, Blu-ray, or streaming, so the opportunity to see it on a big screen at the festival was quite a treat.

Stay tuned for much more from both Palm Springs and Lone Pine!


Blogger Vienna said...

Great review, Laura. Would love to see this one just for the cast, especially McGraw!

12:51 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Allied Artists came up with a good number of low-budget but enjoyable programmers in the 1950s. This is a film I would like to catch.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think you would both get a kick out of it, Vienna and Jerry! Not great art, but a lot of fun for those of us who appreciate the actors and setting.

Best wishes,

12:04 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

This looks great, love this cast and the concept. Great review!

3:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was great fun, Kristina! Let me know if you catch it. :)

Best wishes,

11:35 AM  

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