As films of the noir persuasion go, this story is fairly straightforward. The movie opens with a gas station robbery that goes quite wrong when a police officer happens by and gets shot dead for his trouble. But not before drilling a slug through one of the robbers.
The wounded thug, Morgan, seeks help from ex-con Steve Lacey (played by Gene Nelson). This does not go over well with either Steve or his wife, Ellen (played by Phyllis Kirk). Especially since
it’s 3 a.m. dammit and folks are sleeping the call comes early in the morning. When Morgan shows up, Steve makes it pretty clear that Morgan should get the hell out beat feet. But then Morgan goes and dies. Oh. No.
Anyway, the two other guys who robbed the gas station include Mr. Big Shot, “Doc” Penny (played by a nasty Ted de Corsia) and a rather hot-headed
flunky knee-breaker, Ben Hastings (played by Charles Buchinsky—who you might know better as (a young) Charles Bronson). These two think it would be awesome for Steve to be their wheelman for the big, amazing bank job they plan to pull. Steve, who’s trying to keep his nose clean, refuses—until the couple basically become Penny’s hostages unwilling guests.
Meanwhile, a detective named Sims (played by Sterling Hayden, in extra-grouchy mode) is convinced Sam is guilty of the robbery. Why? Because he doesn’t answer his phone. In the middle of the night. After getting a very unpleasant phone call. Um … yeah.
That’s the kind of guy Sims is. He is absolutely sure based on no evidence whatsoever that Steve is still dirty. In short, he’s a
complete asshole hardass. In fact, Steve is so worried about the cops’ perception of his alleged dirtiness that he won’t call his parole officer about Penny’s strong-arm tactics. So, on the one hand, he’s worried about his wife and on the other … his life.
This is a really suspenseful movie. I love that the female role isn’t a femme fatale. The night cinematography is gorgeous and the location shooting on the streets of L.A. enhance the film’s authentic look. Also, during the heist, note the shots of time pieces. It reminded me of The Killing, with a much more straightforward narration, of course. One of Penny’s thugs is even played by Timothy Carey who appeared in both movies. Carey was, according to Eddie Muller on TCM Noir Alley (and to sum it in a few words),
as crazy as a bedbug ever-so-slightly nuts eccentric.
But don’t take my word for it! Check out Eddie Muller’s afterword! 🙂 He’ll tell you about that and a lot more!
Also, I love the ending. It might be a bit abrupt and arguably not noir, but I don’t care.
A taut little thriller and film noir, and just a bit more. 🙂