Armored Car Robbery (1950) Richard Fleischer

 

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.

 

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14 comments on “Armored Car Robbery (1950) Richard Fleischer

  1. Ina simple twist of fate, I posted this today.

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  2. scott wannberg says:

    Richard Fleischer was a frequent customer of mine at Dutton’s Brentwood Books. A very nice man. He wrote the excellent memoir,Just Tell Me When To Cry.

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  3. scott wannberg says:

    and James Flavin as McGraw’s partner.Flavin busily made the circle complete appearing in films such as the original King Kong and coming into home plate with Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood.

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  4. The Lady Eve says:

    ACR was part of a Warner Home Video noir package released last 2010 and was one of my favorite of the 8 B films on the set (also liked Anthony Mann’s Desperate much). Talman and McGraw, as you noted, are very well matched. Didn’t realize Fleischer’s career was so uneven…but when he was good, he was very good.

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    • John Greco says:

      DESPARATE is a very good film (Mann made a lot of good films in both noir and westerns). I was unfamilar with Fleischer’s early noir work until maybe the last ten years or so. I remember liking alot 10 RILLINGTON STREET and THE BOSTON STRANGER but then there were bad films like THE DON IS DEAD, DR. DOOLITTLE, AMITYVILLE 3-D and CHE! It is not that everything he did later on was bad, there were some decent films like the sci-fi film SOYLENT GREEN or the cop drama THE NEW CENTURIONS. Over all, I like his early stuff the best.

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  5. John, this film disappointed me when I saw it a few weeks ago because the deck seemed stacked against the crooks. A procedural like this loses something when the antagonists are as dumb or hapless as Talman’s crew. It picks up toward the end with the reckless attempt to trap Talman, and McGraw is always welcome in a film like this, but ACR is a relatively weak offering in a box set that includes both Mann’s Desperate and Karlson’s Phenix City Story. Fleischer could do good work on a large scale, as both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Barabbas will attest, but worked best with crime films — just not here.

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    • John Greco says:

      Talman’s crew are on the simple side but for me the street location shooting and doc. feel somewhat make up for it as does MacGraw. I jumped back and forth on whether to give it *** (average) or ***1/2 (good) on my scale and went with the higher rating because of those two factors I mentioned here. Believe it or not I have not seen the two non-crime films of his you mention but I do think SOYLENT GREEN was decent.

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  6. Sam Juliano says:

    “Armored Car Robbery” is a nice little heist film, one of the first, in what would soon become a sub-genre of the crime film. A stripped down forerunner of later heist films such as “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Killing,” and more recently “The Bank Job.””

    Indeed, quite agree there John! Samuel Wilson’s very interesting disclaimer nothwithstanding, I’ve always (like you) admired the cinematic economy, which was a trademark in the time when brisk noir thrillers did far more than some contemporary films that padded a basic premise. 10 RILLINGTON PLACE is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen, though it’s craftsmanship and that chilling performance from Richard Attenborough remain bleakly unforgettable.

    ARMORED CAR ROBBERY does boast high contrast photography, expressionistic lighting and superb use of deepp focus, all RKO trademarks back to the period of KANE. Fleischer is indepted to Mann for sure, and Roy Webb contributes a memorable score.

    Outstanding and passionate review here!

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    • John Greco says:

      Sam thanks again. I saw 10 RILLINGTON STREET at the Baronet theater on 3rd Ave. years ago and remember being creeped out by it. Attenborough was terrific. I think TCM has had this on and will have to try and catch it again.

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  7. Dave Crosby says:

    John, another of your reviews making me eager to see the film. I think I know why directors and writers today can’t limit a film to 90 minutes or so (nothing like bragging— I could be utterly wrong). I’ve heard many writers and directors interviewed on the tube and my general impression was that too many of them didn’t study the heydey of Hollywood films. They looked to the previous 10 or 20 years and admired and analyzed films from that period. Of course it’s not true of all writers and directors, but how does one account for films that go on and on and on and have multiple reversals at the ending with the villain dead but then not dead and then dead again but not really. But as I said, I could be utterly wrong about this. And thanks again for your excellent review.

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    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      I think there are definitely some films today can be trimmed a bit and it would tighten them up a bit. Too many run over two hours and I know I leave the theater thinking wow, there are scenes that were not needed and could have been cut. i don’t mind long films as long as the story is there to back up the time spent. Thanks again and I hope you get to catch this film.

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