Blackboard Jungle (1955) Richard Brook

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The pounding beat of Billy Haley’s Rock Around the Clock as the screen darkens got teens of the day up and dancing in the aisles. Theater owners in various cities throughout the country were nervous. Some theaters shut off the sound system during those opening credits fearing teens would quickly get out of control.  Censors, parents groups, religious groups and law enforcement all had their say in speaking out against the film. One censor in Memphis, called the film, “the vilest picture I have ever seen in twenty six years as a censor.” Rock Around the Clock was originally released in mid-1954 by Haley as a B-side to the song Thirteen Women (And the Only Man in Town). It was not until director Richard Brooks wanted the song for the film’s opening and closing credits that it rocked to the top of the charts selling more than two million copies. Rock Around the Clock was not the first rock and roll record, nor was it the first hit. It was the first to hit number one on the record charts. Its social impact was massive, helping pave the way for another southern boy, a sexy, better looking boy than the chubby, curly twirled haired Haley, to explode on to the national scene. Despite the film’s opening and closing credits filled with the early rock classic, most of the soundtrack is jazz. Continue reading

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges

Spencer Tracy can act better than most others with one arm tied behind his back! He proves this in John Sturges terrifically well paced and tense film, “Bad Day at Black Rock.” Sturges paints a picture of a town that is barren, both physically and psychology. It’s a town with a dark secret cancer called hatred and it is slowly eating away at everyone in it.  Into this dust bowl comes John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), a one armed stranger dressed in a black suit and tie which only accentuates his difference even more from the rest of the town. Like Gary Cooper’s Will Kane in “High Noon,” or Alan Ladd in “Shane,”  Tracy’s John Macreedy is one lone man who has to face evil alone. The film takes place shortly after the end of World War II when, for some, the Japanese were still seen as the enemy. Racial hatred simmers underneath the surface of the entire town. Like most racists it is their own fear and insecurities that drive them to action.

Black Rock is a small dusty whistle stop of a town where the railroad (the Streamline) always passes through, never stopping to pick up or drop off anyone. This time, the first in four years, it does stop and the folks in town are suspicious as to who this stranger is and what he wants. Small towns can be curious little places where local folks remain distrustful of outsiders and the outside world. That’s the way it is in Black Rock, it’s an inhospitable desolate place, where it can be cold in many ways other than the weather. Continue reading

Rogue Cop (1954) Roy Rowland

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    MGM was not known for its hard–hitting crime films though in reality they had their share, “Johnny Eager” and “The Beast of the City” to name a couple. In 1954, MGM released “Rogue Cop”, a crooked cop saga that can hold its own against other 1950’s crime films like “The Big Combo” and “Kansas City Confidential.”   The film stars former matinee idol Robert Taylor, along with Janet Leigh, George Raft and Anne Francis. For Taylor, the role of a crooked cop may be viewed as a stretch though he did play a gangster years earlier in “Johnny Eager.” For George Raft, it was a comeback of sorts, a return to the gangster role that he avoided for more than 15 years. The two leading ladies are both gorgeous and hold their own especially the under appreciated Anne Francis who plays Raft’s alcoholic girlfriend.  Her performance is really the standout in the film. The screenplay is by Sidney Boehmn, who wrote such other gripping crime films like “The Big Heat” and “Violent Saturday.” Boehmn’s screenplay was adapted from a novel by William McGivern. McGivern novels were also the source for many crime genre films among them “The Big Heat”, “Odds Against Tomorrow” and “Hell on Frisco Bay.”  Cinematographer John F. Seitz received an Oscar nomination for his excellent black and white cinematography. 

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     While not perfect, “Rogue Cop” is a gritty tough film with Taylor providing a better than usual performance as the corrupt flawed detective Christopher Kelvaney, and George Raft is always at his best when he portrays a criminal. The acting highlight, as mentioned, really belongs though to Anne Francis who is the pathetic victim of Raft’s  low-key but sadistic hood with little so regard, after she misguidedly laughs at him after being beaten up by Kelvaney,  sends her over to some “friends” to have their ways with her. While you never see on screen what happens, the next time you see Francis you can just read her face and easily assume the horror she went through at the hands of  her former lover’s  “friends. “Rogue Cop” is a decent entertaining film noir that will not disappoint you.