Sunday, February 21, 2010

Noir City Northwest: Cry Danger (1951)/The Mob (1951)

It’s good to see your money at work.

The Film Noir Foundation takes its mission seriously, funding restorations of movies that would otherwise be lost. Organization capo Eddie Muller explained the many hurdles in the process before the Northwest premiere of the Foundation’s latest effort, done in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Because Cry Danger was produced independently by star Dick Powell, it was at genuine risk of disappearing. The FNF’s intervention has given this underrated film – and VKDC favorite – a new lease on life.

Powell’s Rocky Mulloy is released from prison after serving five years on a robbery charge when a witness resurfaces to back up Rocky’s claim of innocence. That the witness has never seen Mulloy before and alibis him only in the hope of making a few bucks is the first indication that Cry Danger isn’t going where you expect. Rocky looks up Rhonda Fleming, his ex-flame/current wife of his still-in-stir pal, and sets his sights on the man behind the frame, the “now 60% legit” Louie Castro (William Conrad).

William Bowers’ script is a marvel of construction, especially as it was written with producer Powell looming over his shoulder. (“We just lost another fifty grand from the budget. Cut something.”) Cry Danger’s greatest asset is the character of Powell’s unlikely savior DeLong, a bibulous one-legged Marine and thinly-veiled self-portrait of Bowers. Richard Erdman gives what I rank as one of the greatest supporting performances of all time, abetted by classic dialogue. (“Occasionally, I always drink too much.”) Erdman is not only still acting, he has a recurring role on NBC’s Community as one of Greendale CC’s more mature students. Amazing considering his career began with Mr. Skeffington in 1944. Cry Danger is a terrific film well worth saving.

Bowers and director Robert Parrish next collaborated on The Mob. I saw this film for the first time last year and was floored by it. Eddie explained why it’s not better known: when Columbia’s On The Waterfront became a hit, their earlier, lower-budgeted effort about corruption on the docks was forgotten.

Time for some blasphemy: The Mob is better than On The Waterfront. It’s faster, funnier, more suspenseful and less ... psychological.

Broderick Crawford is a cop sent undercover to investigate the rackets. (“I gotta go underground. You know, like gophers and Communists.”) On his way to identifying mysterious kingpin Blackie Clegg he’ll tussle with an authentic rogue’s gallery: Neville Brand, Ernest Borgnine, John Marley. A young Charles Bronson turns up for a scene. And Bowers’ treatment of Richard Kiley’s character, a too-friendly longshoreman, is an object lesson in screenwriting. A sensational double-bill.