This may be one of the most peculiar films noir I’ve seen. I mean that in the best sense, actually.
Here’s the plot:
Professional gambler Dan Milner (played by the awesome Robert Mitchum) has big problems. Believe it or not, he’s deep in debt. So … fairly standard schmuck set-up scenario.
Milner takes this weird job, strictly for the money. For $50,000 (which he takes in installments—not the best arrangement, given the circumstances), Milner must leave the country for a year. All other obligations on his part are the tiniest bit sketchy, i.e., he goes into this blind as a friggin’ bat. The bad news is that he has no idea why he’s being paid to leave the US of A. The good news is that he meets the drop-dead gorgeousness that is fellow tourist Lenore Brent (played by Jane Russell), who sings like a dream.
Okay, so Milner agrees to this
totally preposterous bizarre arrangement. On the installment plan, no less. Not that he had much choice or room to negotiate.
The bulk of the movie involves the arrival of various other guests (and the various interactions among the turistas) at the
skanky swanky Mexican hotel where Milner and Lenore hang out. I don’t want to give the whole story away. Suffice it to say that the writers planted many a twist or surprise into the plot.
I’ll mention a few highlights:
Vincent Price plays the World’s Hammiest Shakespeare Actor. Here we have what passes for the comic relief. Price plays the role so over-the-top, he doesn’t eat the furniture, he inhales it.
Raymond Burr plays yet another of his thoroughly brutal and despicable B-movie villains.
Jim Backus appears as a bumbling investment broker gringo, who ends up in a poker game with a man trying to win back lost money. (Do I detect a theme?) During the game, Milner (using
Jedi mind tricks his Pro Gambler’s Knowledge of cards) helps the man win his dough back. The scene bears a passing resemblance to that one in Casablanca.
Oh, and the ending is just … semi-controlled chaos. Part comedy, part swashbuckler flick. I half-expected to see either Gene Kelly or the Marx Brothers make an appearance.
Finally, Russell is worthy of a mention. She matches Mitchum, witticism for witticism. Such a shame she’s denied (by gender conventions of the time) a role in the grand finale. She could have been a real pistol!
There’s much to like in this
jam-packed ambitious and unique little two-hour movie.