Director Richard Fleischer had a paranoid career as a moviemaker. There was the Richard Fleischer who made all those overblown big studio special effect abominations like “Dr. Doolittle,” “Amityville 3-D,” “The Jazz Singer,” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Then there was the Richard Fleischer who made some of the tightest nifty crime thrillers like “The Boston Strangler,” “10 Rillington Street,” “Follow Me, Quietly,” “The Narrow Margin,” “The Clay Pigeon” and “Armored Car Robbery.” Fleischer was no auteur but he was a solid craftsman. Over the course of his career his output was erratic and his later years films like, “The Don is Dead” were generally poorly received and of deteriorating quality.
“Armored Car Robbery” is a sharp little “B” thriller that starts at a fast pace and never lets up. The film is a short 67 minutes; the pace is swift and relentless. Dave Purvis (William Talman) is pure evil, a meticulous planner, the brains behind an armored car heist that goes wrong. The plan is to rob an armored truck in front of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles; however everything goes bad quickly when the police arrive quicker than anticipated, bullets fly, a cop is shot dead. Enter Lt. Jim Cordell, a gravel voiced hard-ass Charles MacGraw, whose partner was a victim in the shoot-out.
Purvis and his gang of three escape but not much else goes right. One gang member, Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley) was wounded. Benny needed the money to support his trampy, two-timing, stripper wife, Yvonne (Adele Jergens) and her expensive taste. Unknown to Benny, Yvonne and Purvis are lovers with plans to get rid of him in the process. “Ace” Foster (Gene Evans) takes off, and Al Mapes (Steve Brodie) is captured by Cordell. He squeals on Purvis who up until then has managed to keep his identity unknown to the police.
The characters in this film are cold blooded. Purvis coldly shoots Benny as he pleads for a doctor. Benny’s merciless wife is only out for the money; even good guy Cahill is a determined avenger out to get the killers of his partner. It all comes down to Purvis versus Cahill and no two actors are better matched in this kind of dark grim film.
William Talman is sleaze personified as Dave Purvis the mastermind of the botched robbery whose overly precautious personality makes him continually changing his address and cutting out all the labels from his clothes. Paranoia does run deep. Gravel voiced Charles McGraw is perfect as the tough, weary and determined Jim Cordell, a precursor to his role in another Fleischer film noir gem, “The Narrow Margin” made just a few years later. McGraw was a fixture in crime films including “Border Incident,” “T-Men,” “The Killers” and the previously mentioned “The Narrow Margin.” William Talman makes a terrific slimy criminal as Dave Purvis, the mastermind of the botched robbery. He became better known later on in TV for his role as District Attorney Hamilton Burger who always lost his case in “Perry Mason.” Adele Jergens strikes the right cord as Yvonne the sluttish money hungry stripper wife. Jergens career lasted through 1956, though mostly in small roles and some TV.
“Armored Car Robbery” is a nice little heist film, a stripped down forerunner of later heist films such as “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Killing,” and more recently “The Bank Job.” Fleischer location shooting preserves some intriguing views of 1950’s L.A. including minor league ballpark Wrigley Field. This contributes to the gritty and documentary feel of the film and makes you wonder why so many films today cannot accomplish in two and a half hours, what they do here in less than 70 minutes.