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Johnny Stool Pigeon

Posted by martinteller on November 8, 2012

“I brought her because she’s a decent kid, and I didn’t want to see her end up on a slab, too.  Because I thought when you saw how she felt about you, you’d at least give her a break, try to help her.  Because I was chump enough to think that you really cared about what happened to people!  Well, you’re not kiddin’ me any more.  You don’t care about people!  To you, it’s nothing but a game!  Hide and seek!  Cops ‘n’ robbers!  Anything goes as long as you come in the winner!”

George Morton (Howard Duff) is a T-man trying to break a big narcotics ring.  He wants to go undercover but he needs help.  He turns to Johnny Evans (Dan Duryea), a convict languishing in Alcatraz.  Johnny isn’t willing to be a stoolie, until Morton shows him the body of a girl who died because of those narcotics… Johnny’s wife.  The two head to Canada to follow their only lead, a smuggler named McCandles (Barry Kelly).  There they arrange to meet a connection in Tucson, but they pick up an unexpected guest.  McCandles’s shabby moll Terry (Shelley Winters) has tagged along, hoping to start a new life.  Now Morton has to hide his identity from Terry, the drug kingpin Nick Avery (John McIntire), and Avery’s mute but keen bodyguard Joey (Tony Curtis).

This was a cruddy way to watch a movie.  Not only was the print worn and washed out with a studio chyron in the upper right corner, but the sound was out of sync, about 5-10 seconds ahead of the picture.  So I’m going to keep this short, with the idea of potentially watching and reviewing it again if it ever gets a proper release.

The plot is in many ways your standard “infiltrating the organization” noir, but the Duryea character gives it a 48 Hrs. twist, and the Winters character is a novel touch as well.  Still, you get the standard scenarios… the scene where the undercover agent gets grilled on his credentials, the close call, and the usual business where he finally does get discovered and has to avoid getting bumped off while still shutting down the criminals.  It’s a tried-and-true formula, but the devil is in the details.  The story doesn’t really have any intriguing details, but the character work elevates it above the standard.  Of course it’s tough to judge performances under these conditions, but I was impressed as usual with Duryea and Winters, who give their roles a lot of heart.  Duryea especially has a great delivery, and I wish he had even more to do here (although it’s not a small role).  Duff, on the other hand, comes off pretty stiff.

The photography, from what I could tell, shows some flair.  Not as striking as Castle’s earlier When Strangers Marry, but some good shots and nice location work (in San Francisco, Vancouver, Tucson and Mexico).  An entertaining if rather routine picture, worth watching for fans of Duryea.  Rating: Good (73)

IMDb
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