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The Case Against Brooklyn

Posted by martinteller on January 12, 2013

Brooklyn’s got a corruption problem.  The syndicate and their bookie rings thrive while cops on the take protect them.  And after a news report on the subject, their corruption problem has become an image problem.  But the commissioner had an idea: flush out the rotten cops by using the talents of uncorrupted rookies fresh out of the academy.  Two of these men are Pete Harris (Darren McGavin) and his pal Jess (Brian Hutton).  They work plainclothes, undercover trying to find out more about the organization and who’s getting paid off.  Their best lead is Lil (Margaret Hess), the widow of a man driven to suicide (in a sequence lifted wholesale from Thieves’ Highway) by the bookies.  Pete will use whatever it takes to get close to Lil, while his wife (Peggy McCay) wrings her hands at home with worry.  Lil has another suitor as well… the mob’s cunning bagman Rudi (Warren Stevens).

When I saw that Sony/Columbia’s “Film Noir Collection – Volume 1” was on sale for a mere $16, I had to jump on it.  I’d only seen one of the five films before (The Shadow on the Window) and I didn’t care for it that much.  But at just over $3 a pop, if even one of the movies is a keeper, it was worth the gamble.  This is the only of the other ones I had intended on watching, because of the director credit: Paul Wendkos.  As the man behind The Burglar — not just one of my top noirs, but one of my all-time top 100 movies — I was eager to check out his other noir.  This one isn’t nearly as successful on any level, but it has some good qualities.

The most interesting of which is Pete’s willingness to use Lil.  His buddy Jess is the one uncomfortable with it, but Pete is downright eager to start seducing her.  While it’s not the misogynistic streak that we see in the likes of Mike Hammer, it’s nice to see such a glaring character flaw, especially when the film in most other ways is pretty straight and narrow (like the corny narration that keeps popping up in the first half).  McGavin ranges from okay to pretty good in the lead, not often having a chance to truly shine, but when the opportunity arrives he takes it.  To me the best performance is Stevens, who makes a fine baddie… and his affection (well, maybe just lust) for Lil is an interesting touch.  Hess has a few moments, but mostly doesn’t leave much of an impression.

There are some beautifully shot scenes, terrific lighting and framing… but a lot of it is pretty stale and tame.  Likewise, the film needs more tension throughout, some of it is just too routine.  Especially this late in the noir era.  While the noir aura is undeniably there, by this point one would expect to see a little more edge.  But when the film delivers, it delivers quite nicely.  Uneven but on the whole it’s enjoyable.  Rating: Good (73)


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