The Threat (1949) Felix E. Feist

One of Charles McGraw’s best known roles was as one of two hit men, the other being William Conrad, who comes to a small New Jersey town to kill former boxer, now a gas station attendant, known as “The Swede.” It’s a small, though significant role that stands out long after he is no longer on the screen. Whether McGraw plays an evil assassin on the wrong side of the law, as he does in “The Killers” or he’s a gruff cop like in “The Narrow Margin” or “Armored Car Robbery,” his graveled voice and solid rugged looks created one of the most distinctive and memorable performers on screen. Though McGraw has appeared in a variety of films over his career, westerns like “Blood on the Moon,” “ Saddle the Wind” and “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here,” he is best known for his roles in film noir works including “T-Men,”  “Brute Force,” “Side Street,” “Road Block,”  “Border Incident”  and a minor gem called “The Threat.”

Released late in 1949, “The Threat” is a low budget film from RKO Pictures directed by Felix E. Feist who is probably best known for films like “The Devil Thumb’s a Ride,” “The Man Who Cheated Himself” and “Donovan’s Brain.”  The script is by Dick Irving Hyland based on a story by Hugh King who also produced the film.

The tale itself is nothing new, even back in its day, it was not unusual. A tale of a convict, “Red” Kluger (Charles McGraw) who escapes from Folsom prison and vows to get even with the people he believes are responsible for putting him there. They are Barker McDonald, the District Attorney (Frank Conroy), police detective Ray Williams (Michael O’Shea) and Kluger’s former girlfriend, Carol (Virginia Grey). While Michael O’Shea and Virginia Grey get top billing, it is third billed Charles McGraw as the nasty killer with veins as cold as ice who steals the movie. McGraw is vicious, cold blooded, plugging each his victims not once but four and five times.

He boldly kidnaps the District Attorney right out his office. The detective is quickly taken outside his home and his girlfriend right outside the club she works at. The plan is to head to Mexico with the help of Kluger’s former partner.  They hold up in a rundown shack in the middle of nowhere where they wait and continue to wait for the plane ride from Kluger’s former partner that never comes.

With a running time of about 66 minutes, “The Threat” moves along at a quick and exciting pace, there are no dull moments, thanks mostly to McGraw’s outstanding performance. Sure there are holes in the story, and a weak character or two that are a bit hard to swallow, but the film moves at such a quick clip you hardly notice. One of the weakest written characters is Joe Turner (Don McGuire), a partner in a trucking business and unlucky enough to be forced to help Kluger and his two goons on the trip. Turner had multiple opportunities to attempt an escape, and even had the opportunity to kill Kluger with a hidden gun, but unconvincingly is talked into giving up the weapon by Kluger. He pays severely for this mistake dearly with four bullets.

Also in the cast are Julie Bishop at Detective Brown’s pregnant wife, Anthony Caruso and Frank Richards as Kluger’s two stooges, and Robert Shayne as police inspector Murphy. Shayne is most likely best known to baby boomers as Lt. Henderson in the 1950’s TV show “Adventures of Superman.”

“The Threat” is one of those small B films that prove crime does not pay, maybe not, but Charles McGraw sure makes it entertaining. The film opened in New York at the RKO Palace on Broadway where it shared the bill with 8 Vaudeville acts both lasting just one week, it then move on to the bottom half of a twin bill and quickly disappeared.

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6 comments on “The Threat (1949) Felix E. Feist

  1. Took a while watching noirs before I recognized McGraw as someone I’d seen a lot — Marcellus the gladiator trainer in Spartacus, one of my favorites back in the day and a picture I still can enjoy most of the time. I enjoyed the actor’s incongruously craggy voice and his “I like you” spiel but for long failed to identify the bearded character with the usually clean-shaven actor. I assume Anthony Mann picked him for the part since the training scenes were the only ones he got to shoot before Kirk Douglas replaced him with Kubrick. Since I’ve gotten to know the name and the man better I look forward to his appearances as I discover older films.

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    • John Greco says:

      McGraw made his share of films. He even had a small role in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, and made a lot of TV shows in the 60’s and 70’s but his really shines in crime films.

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  2. Ooh – this sounds good. Thanks for reviewing!

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  3. John Greco says:

    Your welcome, hope you get to see it.

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  4. Matt says:

    I just noticed something that I thought was a bit strange. Last week I watched The Threat (Dir. Felix Feist, 1949). In it there is a scene where the baddies are trying to cleverly escape town, along with their hostages, secured in the back of a moving van. They come to a roadblock, but just get through. The scene is of the side of the van moving along as the cops wave them through. In this scene, you can just see the end of the moving company name “-Tee” painted at the end of the van as it passes the roadblock.

    This morning, I am watching Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, and at about 23 minutes into the film, the three main characters are listening to a radio broadcast in their car about roadblocks being set up throughout the west in order to stop them (or at least the man holding them hostage). As that radio broadcast plays, the film goes through a variety of short clips of typical roadblock scenes – one of which is the very same scene from The Threat – just the few seconds of it where the van passes through the roadblock.

    Besides just being surprising, my question is, was it common for films to use scenes taken directly from other films? I see both films were released through RKO Radio Pictures.

    Thanks,

    –Matt

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    • John Greco says:

      Matt, Studios used what they called “stock footage” a lot of times. Scenes of police cars with sirens blaring or fire trucks running down a street. With low budget films this was a fairly common practice. And studios have been known to take a clip from one film and insert into another film. I can’t give you a specific film where this happened but I do remember reading that this happened. Hope this answers your question.

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