The Syndicate, the organization, the outfit, the rackets, the mob, all synonymous terms used in post-war crime films to identify the criminal underworld. Eventually, terms like crime family, The Family and Mafia would overshadow them all. In 1950, the Kefauver Hearings brought forth the top mob figures of the day right into our homes, via the newest electronic and revolutionary family toy, the TV. These gangsters with names like Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky craved a veneer of respectability, more so than hoods of previous years like Al Capone, John Dillinger or Bugs Moran. Hollywood recognized the mob was changing, just like the rest of the world, and so crime films of the 1950’s began to reflect this new criminal hierarchy, the organization. You see it in films like “The Racket,” and Phil Karlson’s “The Big Combo” where big boss Richard Conte is only known as Mr. Brown. In the “The Enforcer,” a film based on organized crime’s own murder for hire “company,” Murder Incorporated, a term invented by the newspaper media and the title of a 1960 movie with Peter Falk, covered similar ground as “The Enforcer.”
Into this pattern falls “711 Ocean Drive”, the story of the rise and fall of Mal Granger (Edmond O’Brien), a phone company technician who gets involved with some ‘big shots’ running the numbers racket when they realize he can modernize their communications, and he realizes he can make a lot more money by helping them do so. The films begins with an introductory statement, typical in many films of this period, that it could not have been made without the protection of various police departments. Then the actual story begins as we see Lt. Pete Wright (Howard St. John) of the “Gangster Squad” in a squad car chasing after Granger. Wright begins to tell the story in flashback and most of the film remains in this fashion until we get near the climatic ending which takes place at Boulder Dam (eventually it was renamed Hoover Dam).
The film opened in July of 1950 to mixed reviews. New York Times critic Bosley Crowthers said, “711 Ocean Drive” is no more original or revealing than 100 previous gangster films. He is the same evil fellow you have seen countless times before, and the story of his badgering of the hero is as familiar as the palm of your hand. Additionally, the film’s ending is sanctimonious and simple in its preaching about the evils of gambling. Viewing the film today, these shortcomings still stand out however, do not let it deter you from the enjoyment of the rest of the film.
“711 Oceans Drive” has many things going for it, starting with director Joseph Newman, who keeps the film going at a nice swift pace; there really is never a dull spot. Never a topnotch director, Newman is probably best known for directing “This Planet Earth,” does a solid craftsman like job. Visually, it is cinematographer Franz Planer providing some exceptional work here with some fine noirish like lighting. The scenes at the Dam are truly worth the price of admission all by themselves. Planer worked on some other nice noir films like “Criss Cross,” “Champion” and Phil Karlson’s little known “99 River Street.” Other films he contributed to include “The Caine Mutiny,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “King of Kings.” Edmond O’Brien give us one of his best performances with a character that is a far cry from Frank Bigalow in “D.O.A.” released the same year. Don Porter (does anyone remember Porter from the TV series “Private Secretary’ and The Ann Southern Show?), as Mason, the local top crime lord, comes across exceptionally well as the slimy wife beating hood, that it is hard to find any sympathy for when he is executed gangland style, courtesy of arrangements made by Granger. Joanne Dru is Gail, Porter’s cheating wife who falls for Granger eventually trying to escape with him. Finally, there is Otto Kruger as th Mr. Big or the organizaiton, the nationwide boss of bosses who does not like to get his hands dirty but has no problem giving the orders to others to do so.
Overall, the “711 Ocean Drive” film is a decent “B” film noir with some nice touches and a terrific ending that keeps you involved.