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Cry Vengeance (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on August 23, 2013

Former cop Vic Barron (Mark Stevens) has an axe to grind.  A car bomb has left his face mangled, and his wife and daughter dead.  On top of that, he’s just served three years in the joint for a bribe he didn’t take.  Now he wants payback.  His target: Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy), the man he believes is responsible.  His quest for revenge will take him to the fishing community of Ketchikan, Alaska, where Morelli is hiding out with his own little girl (Cheryl Callaway).  Meanwhile, he’s being pursued by the man who’s actually the cause of all his misery: Roxey Davis (Skip Homeier).  Roxey hopes to clean up several messes in one fell swoop: take care of his unhinged, talky girlfriend Lily (Joan Vohs), wipe out Morelli, and pin the crimes on Vic.  Vic finds an ally in saloon owner Peg (Martha Hyer), but will she be able to stop his vengeance before it becomes his undoing?

One cinematic characteristic that comes to mind when one thinks about film noir is night.  The dead hours of the night, where streetlamps create pools of light and cast long shadows, and the vermin come out to prowl.  But Stevens (in his directorial debut) sets his crime thriller in Alaska during the summertime, where the sun is almost constantly in the sky.  And yet the film maintains its edge, casting a harsh light on man’s darker impulses.  And in the interiors — the dusty corners of an old tavern, or the seedy motel room where Roxey smacks Lily around — one often feels that it may as well be pitch black outside.

The film is also notable for its strong and nuanced performances, where each character is painted a different shade of gray.  It’s chilling to see the “hero” of the picture calmly draw his gun in front of an innocent child, as you try to read the expression on his mangled face.  Morelli is a bad man, but does he truly regret what he’s done in the past, or merely lament that he’s in a tight spot for something he didn’t do?  At opposite ends of the moral spectrum are Peg — a goody-good character for sure, but one with a bit of smoky femme fatale around the edges — and Roxey, a total creep who nonetheless elicits a smidgen of sympathy when he tries to bargain for his life.  Homeier makes an unusual baddie… with his bow tie, blonde hair and horn-rimmed glasses, he looks more like an Ivy League student than a cold-blooded killer.  Even Callaway has an interesting turn as the little girl, a role that could easily have been too cloying and precious, but she pulls it off well.  She’s endearing and not at all obnoxious.

It could use one or two more really compelling scenes to make it a true classic, but overall this is a mighty fine noir that should satisfy any aficionado.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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