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Noir-vember 2013: Time Table

Posted by martinteller on November 19, 2013

“You fool, you crazy fool!  Do you know what you’ve done?  Do you?!”

On a train to Phoenix, a passenger suddenly falls ill.  The conductor speaks to a doctor (Wesley Addy) on board, who examines the patient.  The doctor says he will need access to his bag, which is checked into the luggage car.  Once there, he pulls a gun on the guards, injects them with something to knock them out, and blows the safe.  With no one the wiser, he and the patient and the patient’s “wife” (Felicia Farr) step off the train and into a waiting ambulance… with half a million dollars.  When the robbery is discovered, insurance agent Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) has to cancel his Mexico vacation with his wife Ruth (Marianne Stewart) as he gets put on the case, along with friend and railroad detective Joe Armstrong (King Calder).

There’s much more to this plot, but in the interest of being spoiler-free, I’ll leave the surprises alone.  It isn’t a very original story (listing similar titles would give away too much) but it’s executed beautifully.  Actor Mark Stevens had made his directorial debut two years earlier with the unexpectedly good Cry Vengeance.  I’m inclined to say he tops himself here.  The film absolutely trucks along, barely wasting a moment.  The 10-minute opening heist is wonderfully constructed, and later sequences could rightfully be called classics… if only the movie were better-known.  Again I can’t say too much, but the movie eloquently comments on a theme that runs through some of the best of noir.

The cast is terrific too.  No one besides Stevens and Calder gets a whole lot of screen time, but everyone who shows up makes an impression in a few moments.  Addy is particularly enjoyable, as are brief appearances by Jack Klugman, John Marley and Alan Reed.  The dialogue is crisp and clever (though it doesn’t lend itself well to quick quotes, hence the rather lackluster line at the top of this review).  The cinematography is sometimes perfunctory but often steeped in the look of film noir… Klugman’s interrogation scene is classic noir, for example.  And there’s even a fantastic score by Walter Scharf… the music at the climax is gripping, and the intro is quite unusual in how Spanish guitar almost seems to be doing battle with more traditional orchestration.

I didn’t have much hope for hidden gems this Noir-vember, but I’m thrilled to have found one.  Tight, compelling and firing on the right cylinders.  Looks like I’ll be revising my top 100 noirs this year after all.  Rating: Very Good (87)


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