Short Takes: The Gangster and Crime Wave

Crime in the streets is this week’s theme. Two low budget flicks that came and went from the screen in the final blink of a dead man’s eye.

The Gangster (1947) Gordon Wiles

Unconventional gangster flick with Barry Sullivan as a hardened, self made, top dog gangster who becomes obsessed with a beautiful dame (Belita). Meanwhile he soon finds himself being squeezed out of his territory by another outfit headed up by the snarly Sheldon Leonard. Each of his weaknesses are slowly exposed, the politicians once in his pocket are no longer there, and other hoods are no longer willing to back him up. His downfall is inevitable.

Sullivan’s character is obsessive and paranoid when it come to his girl and bitter, cold-hearted and cynical toward everyone else.  Despite being a low-budget production director Gordon Wiles paints the sets with a shadowed noirish light. And the sets, though obviously backlot, are very stylized, the shadowy ironwork on the elevated train, the rain soaked streets, the details in the soda fountain shop add an engaging arty flavor. The look and detail most likely stems from director Gordon Wiles background as an art director. There is also a winning melodramatic score by Louis Gruenberg.  Yet for all these nice touches there is something about the film that does not crystallize. All these nice pieces yet the whole does not ring true and leaves you unfilled.

The film represented a reteaming of Barry Sullivan and Belita one year after they appeared in the 1946 oddity, “Suspense.” Supporting cast include Charles McGraw, John Ireland, Virginia Christine, Harry Morgan, Akim Tariroff, Elisha Cook Jr. and Leif Erickson. Also look for Shelley Winters in a small role. The script was co-written by the soon to be blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Continue reading

Pitfall (1948) Andre De Toth

Post war American bliss is shaken to its core in this Andre DeToth tale of the company man’s discontent. The film opens in a “Father Knows Best” environment complete with Jane Wyatt as Sue Forbes, though in a much sterner version than the thoroughly sweet homespun loving wife/mother she portrayed on the 50’s TV show. Making breakfast for her family, she calls up to husband John (Dick Powell) telling him to hurry or he’ll be late to the office. John’s been a good husband providing for his family, even as he grumpily notes at the breakfast table he feels like he is in a rut, a “six feet deep” one.  After all, he married the prettiest girl in school and he was voted the most likely to succeed; he should be doing better, and not just another average guy working for an insurance company.

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