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Noir-vember 2014: Crashout

Posted by martinteller on November 6, 2014

You gotta kill to go free and you gotta kill to stay free.  The first one of you guys forgets it won’t even live long enough to regret it.

Six convicts have escaped prison and are hiding out in a cave, waiting for the search party to move on.  The ringleader Van Morgan Duff (William Bendix), a no-nonsense brute who caught a bullet en route to the hideout.  Pete Mendoza (Luther Adler) considers himself a ladies’ man.  Luther Remsen (William Talman) a.k.a. Swanee Rawlins a.k.a. Reverend Remington is a murderer with an odd sense of religion.  Monk Collins (Gene Evans) is your run-of-the-mill thug.  Billy Lang (Marshall Thompson) is a kid in over his head.  And then there’s Joe Quinn (Arthur Kennedy), who was not invited but caught wind of the plans.  As Duff bleeds out, the others want to move on without him, but Duff promises to lead them to $180,000 if they help keep him alive.

Look at that screenshot.  Talman, Bendix, Kennedy.  Three of the toughest, roughest, slimiest, darkest hoods to grace the silver screen.  If you’re casting a movie about escaped cons, these are the guys you want (Lawrence Tierney and Tim Carey would be pretty sweet too, though they’d threaten to steal every second).  Bendix growls and glares through the role, his character constantly trying to reaffirm his dominance over the others.  Talman is creepy and unpredictable, just as likely to gouge your eye out with a broken bottle as he is to preach at you.  And Kennedy seethes, aware that his role as an outsider means he’s gotta be on alert at all times.  If the others are less impressive, it’s only because they share the screen with three greats.  Adler serves as a sort of comic relief, but it’s offset by a dark edge… his clowning isn’t quite so amusing after he forces his lips onto those of a hostage.  Thompson has the least exciting part as the “good guy” of the group, but he handles it well, without overdoing the naiveté at all.  Evans doesn’t have a lot to do, but he holds his own and makes his presence felt.

There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of brutality, and some gripping use of tension and action.  Things slow down a bit for two sequences involving women.  The first is when Thompson chats up a young lady (Gloria Talbott, All That Heaven Allows) on a train, the second is when Kennedy makes a connection with a single mom (Beverly Michaels) who reluctantly helps them hide out.  These scenes give the film a bit of the existential weight it’s lacking elsewhere (the movie being mostly concerned with how they go about evading the law while dealing with strife within the group) but they also feel like they’re getting in the way a little.  Still, they do add something and aren’t terribly long.

A mean and brutal film, not a classic but it’s put together nicely.  It doesn’t feel like a B movie, it’s got heft to it thanks to the strong cinematography, biting script and lead performances.  Rating: Very Good (84)


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