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Plunder Road (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on October 2, 2013

Five men (Gene Raymond, Steven Ritch, Elisha Cook Jr., Wayne Morris and Stafford Repp) rob a train of $10,000,000 worth of gold bars just outside Salt Lake City.  They divide the loot into three trucks, carefully disguising it as various types of cargo.  Spaced out at half-hour intervals, the trucks make their way to Los Angeles, where Eddie’s (Raymond) gal Fran (Jeanne Cooper) waits to help them out of the country.  As the law closes in on them, nerves start to fray.

I’m wondering if I overrated this one slightly on the first viewing (I gave it a 9 on the 1-10 scale I was using at the time, and a 90 on Criticker), or if I’m perhaps cooling off on noir in general.  My last few noir viewings have been good but I haven’t felt the thrill I once did.  I’m not even that jazzed about Noir-vember next month.  It was inevitable that I would hit a point where there were very few gems left to be discovered, but revisiting previous favorites should be more of a treat.

Still, in this case it’s simply a minor downgrade in my score.  A tiny bit less thrilled, but still had a great time with it.  The opening heist sequence is fantastic, starting with a little inner monologue from each character but proceeding with zero dialogue for about 20 minutes.  It’s a beautifully crafted and very gripping robbery, with exceptional camerawork.

For the remainder of the film, we see the meticulous preparation and planning inevitably (this is 1957, after all, and the code demands that the bad guys get what’s coming to them) start to unravel in the face of minuscule slipups and unforeseen circumstances.  Along the way, we learn a little bit about their aspirations and their backgrounds.  These are solemn men with shattered dreams.  There are no chipper personalities in this crew (although Raymond does his best to remain optimistic).  Cook’s wife died while he was in prison, and he hopes to provide a future for his teenage son.  Ritch’s racing career was stopped cold by a minor infraction.

One of the more interesting facets is the reaction by the general public to news of the crime.  No one seems too concerned with right and wrong.  Instead they discuss how they would do it, what they would do with the money, or how stealing was a lot easier in the good old days.  The film leaves discussion of morality by the wayside, and when a murder occurs the focus is primarily on the inconvenience it causes.

While perhaps not quite as impressive as my previous rating implied, it’s a grim and compelling story with a fine cast of little-known actors.  Also very tightly constructed, no “down time” at all.  Rating: Very Good (86)


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