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The Threat

Posted by martinteller on November 18, 2012

“Nick, got your pliers?”

The vicious criminal “Red” Kluger (Charles McGraw) has escaped from prison.  Before being locked up, he swore to get revenge on D.A. MacDonald (Frank Conroy) and the cop who caught him, Ray Williams (Michael O’Shea).  And he’s making good on his threat.  With the help of his goons (Anthony Caruso, Frank Richards), he kidnaps them both, along with Carol (Virginia Grey), the dame he believes squealed on him.  The police know that MacDonald is gone, but thanks to Kluger’s crafty machinations — and twisted manipulations — they believe Williams is on the case.  It’s a battle of wits and a race against time as Williams tries to find a way to outsmart and overcome Kluger and his cronies.

Felix Feist has been good to me this Noir-vember.  First the crackling The Devil Thumbs a Ride, and now this, the finest of his films that I’ve seen to date.  Once again, it’s a lean, tight film clocking in at just over an hour.  But it packs a lot of noir into that short time.  This is a brutal film that makes its violence felt.  Kluger is an absolutely cold-hearted, sadistic character, played with calculated menace by the great McGraw.  He doesn’t play it as a reckless psycho, but as a man who simply doesn’t care who he hurts or how much he has to hurt them, as long as he achieves his goals.

It almost goes without saying that the “bad” characters are the more compelling performances.  Conroy doesn’t have much to do, O’Shea is fine but nothing special (Julie Bishop as O’Shea’s wife is quite bland).  Don McGuire is a little better as a hired truck driver who didn’t know what he was getting into.  Grey is off and on, every now and then showing a little something interesting, especially at the film’s climax.  Caruso and Richards are fun playing the usual hood archetypes.  It’s really McGraw carrying the movie, though, and it’s a pleasure watching him at work.  He’s one of the best at pulling off this type of cold toughness.

The photography is really strong throughout.  High angles, low angles, tight spaces and deep shadows.  The cinematographer, Harry J. Wild, wasn’t a familiar name to me, but he should have been.  He shot some of the classics, including especially good work on Johnny Angel and Murder, My Sweet.  The music by Paul Sawtell is solid as well, like the little bump-and-grind jazz that plays when Grey tries to use her feminine wiles.

This is just a wholly enjoyable movie.  A tight script that sports some clever business and a fine build of tension as the situation gets more and more desperate for everyone.  The dialogue isn’t loaded with clever lines, but comes in clipped, down-to-business bursts that matches the raw brutality of the action.  I’ll be buying this one.  Rating: Very Good (88)


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