Crime Films


THE DRIVER. EMI Films/20th Century Fox, 1978. Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley. Written and directed by Walter Hill.

   Ryan O’Neal plays it cool – really cool – as the eponymous Driver in Walter Hill’s genre bending contemporary Western/crime drama. Although on the surface, The Driver is just another action movie replete with urban car chases, the movie is a multi-layered, yet subtle, re-imagining of the Western film subgenre in which a renegade lawman becomes consumed with bringing an outlaw to justice.

   Enter Bruce Dern, who is known for his seemingly effortless ability to portray unhinged characters. He portrays the Detective who relentlessly pursues the Driver, a skillful, ascetic getaway driver who has been involved in some high profile robberies in Los Angeles. Dern is actually quite effective in this role, and he chews the scenery throughout the film. There’s a goldmine of subtle dialogue sprinkled throughout the movie, much of it the Detective’s acerbic interactions with his colleagues and suspects alike.

   That brings us to the Player (Isabelle Adjani), a gambler who the Detective suspects isn’t exactly truthful about what she witnesses during a casino robbery. Much like O’Neal, Adjani plays it cool with an understated performance that somehow makes the movie even stronger than it would have been had she showed more emotion. The Player is not afraid in getting caught up in the cat-and-mouse game between the Driver and the Detective. She may be mysterious and vulnerable, but she isn’t going to be so easily intimidated by either the cops or the criminals.

   What the movie lacks in character development – seen most obviously in the lack of personal names for the main characters – it more than makes up for in skillfully filmed car chases, most of which take place without any music. Indeed, there is no fanfare to drown out the sounds of revving engines and squeaking tires. All of which serve to remind the viewer that, despite the fact that the narrative could just have easily been reworked for a gritty Western, that this is a car chase film par excellence.


MURRAY FORBES – Hollow Triumph. Ziff-Davis, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted as The Big Fake (Pyramid #97, paperback, 1953).

HOLLOW TRIUMPH. Eagle-Lion, 1948. Re-released as The Scar and The Man Who Murdered Himself. Paul Henried, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, Mabel Paige and Jack Webb. Screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, based on the novel by Murray Forbes. Directed by Steve Sekely.

   Murray Forbes’ Hollow Triumph has an interesting idea for a book: Henry Mueller is a failed medical student and small-time chiseler with an over-sized ego, fresh out of prison when he discovers he bears an amazing resemblance to Viktor Bartok, a prominent psychologist. Readers of this sort of thing will figure at once that Mueller will kill Bartok and take his place, and that’s pretty much what happens, but Forbes gives it a cute twist: Mueller’s impersonation becomes a greater success than he figured on (the American Dream: if you fail at one thing, re-invent yourself as something else) and as time passes, he wins even greater fortune and honor… and he can’t stand the fact that the murdered man is getting all the credit for his killer’s work: Mueller rubbed out Bartok, but it was Mueller who got erased, and his overweening pride leads him to….

   It’s a clever thought, and somebody should write a book about it someday; Murray Forbes just didn’t seem too interested. Time and again he just tells us about things when he should be showing them. So we get lines like “She felt suspicious,” or “He was scared,” which ain’t exactly deathless prose. There are even points where Forbes seems to lose interest entirely, and instead of story-telling, he resorts to synopsis, resulting in passages like, “He went to New York to receive the honor, then came back and continued work with his patients…”

   I kept reading, but I’m not sure why.

   Fans of Old Time Radio may recall Murray Forbes as an actor on Ma Perkins and other programs, but this was his only novel, and in 1948 the Movies bought it, discarded most of the plot, noired up the rest, and released it under the original title and as The Scar, then as The Man Who Murdered Himself, creating an identity crisis to equal its protagonist’s.

   Joan Bennett is quite good here in a softer role than usual, but Paul Henreid’s acting, like Forbes’ writing, is just perfunctory. On the other hand, there’s fine photography by John Alton, and Daniel Fuchs’ script makes intelligent use of a plot twist that would have been a facile punch-line in lesser hands.

   Triumph/Scar/Murdered starts off with Henried/Mueller getting out of jail and leads quickly into a heist of a gambling joint (not in the book) that goes suspensefully wrong, leaving our antihero on the run from gangsters and hiding out in L.A. Things get tight when he’s spotted by the hoods, but when Mueller makes the switch with Bartok they get even tighter as he finds Bartok has a messy personal life, a grasping girlfriend… and is in debt to the Mob.

   It’s all done in suitably noir style, but without the artistry that distinguishes films like Night and the City or Out of the Past. Director Steve Sekely had his moments (mostly marginal ones in B movies), and he doesn’t spoil this one, but he never gives it the subversive energy that marks the classics of the genre.

   Fortunately Daniel Fuchs’ screenplay provides some unexpected highlights: Even when the leads fail to convince, the minor characters surprise us with quirky moments we weren’t expecting: A garage attendant starts dancing, a dentist turns loquacious, and a lowly scrubwoman proves to be the most perceptive character in the film.

   The marginal virtues aren’t enough to completely redeem The Scar, but I’ll remember it a little longer for them….

BANK SHOT. United Artists, 1974. George C. Scott (as Walter Upjohn Ballentine), Joanna Cassidy, Sorrell Booke, G. Wood, Clifton James, Bob Balaban, Bibi Osterwald, Frank McRae, Don Calfa. Based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. Director: Gower Champion.

   The names have been changed to protect … who? In the book the leader of a hapless gang of crooks who try to rob a bank by stealing the whole bank is named John Dortmunder, whose exploits filled the pages of several of Donald Westlake’s comic crime novels, with emphasis on the “comic.”

   Why he becomes Walter Upjohn Ballentine in the movie is a mystery to me, one that I’m hoping that someone reading this will come along and explain.

   And while you’re at it, tell me why someone thought George C. Scott has any business playing Dortmunder. I just don’t see it, even with the bushiest caterpillar eyebrows you’ve ever seen on a big time movie star.

   Let me explain about the bank. It’s only a temporary one — a trailer filled with guards overnight, but just begging to be put on wheels and towed away. The movie was intended to be a comedy, but I found myself very quietly not laughing almost all the way through. I permitted myself a few smiles now and again — Scott is a very good actor, and while I don’t believe he did comedies very often, once in a while the perpetrators of this movie came up with a scene that worked.

   See this for the presence of brassy redhead Joanna Cassidy, whose character is financing the deal and who is (unaccountably) madly in lust with Walter Upjohn Ballentine. The rest of the cast, a motley crew at best, I could easily have done without.


SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE. General Films, UK, 1948; Eagle-Lion, US, 1949. Jean Kent, Albert Leiven, Derek de Marney, Paul Dupuis, David Tomlinson, Alan Wheatley, Rona Anderson, Finlay Currie, Bonar Colleano, Zena Marshall, Grégorie Aslan, Hugh Burden. Screenplay by Allan MacKinnon from a story by Clifford Grey. Directed by John Paddy Carstairs.

   An excellent spy story set on a train (and the famed Orient Express at that), a setting I can never resist, with a top notch cast, and an involving and cannily observed Ship of Fools style script and cast.

   The film opens as suave adventurer Captain Zurta (Albert Leiven), in white tie and tails, robs an embassy safe in Paris during an embassy ball, cold-bloodedly kills a waiter who interrupts him, passes the diary he steals on to his associate Karl (Alan Wheatley) waiting outside, and rejoins his beautiful companion Valya (Jean Kent) to leave before they are discovered. Things start to go wrong though, when the next morning the two go to collect the diary and find Karl has double crossed them and fled to sell it on his own, catching the Simplon Orient Express (*) for Venice and Trieste (then a ‘free’ city between East and West whose very name suggested intrigue) and beyond to Zagreb and Istanbul.

   The urgency of catching up with Karl, traveling as Charles Poole expatriate Englishman, is demonstrated by Zurta’s own admission: “Beyond Trieste I’m a wanted man. Beyond Trieste I am dead.”

   Zurta and Valya just catch the train and it’s Grand Hotel of passengers, one of which is their quarry.

   Aboard the train is married divorce lawyer George Grant (Derek de Marney) and the innocent young women he is taking for an illicit holiday Joan Maxted (Rona Anderson); comic Englishman, and former client of Grant’s, Tom Bishop (David Tomlinson); skirt chasing American soldier Sgt. West (Bonar Colleano) and sharing his compartment a bird enthusiast who won’t shut up; a pair of beautiful French girls returning from a shopping holiday in Paris and leaving boxes of hats with all the men on the train to avoid the customs fees; train chef Poirier (Grégorie Aslan) saddled with an English son of one of the line’s board members who wants to learn to cook but thinks boiled cod and chips is a delicacy; and just Poole’s luck, the last minute companion in his compartment, Inspector Joif (Paul Dupuis) of the Paris police, hero of the resistance, and something of a French Sherlock Holmes.

   That sets off the game of musical compartments as Poole tries to get a compartment by himself, briefly succeeds, hiding the diary in the new one, then finds himself ejected as famous and penurious and vain international author McBain (Finlay Currie) and his abused secretary Mills (Hugh Burden) occupy the compartment.

   But they are only on the train until Trieste where Poole can get it back if he can find a place to stay away from Joif and the two hunting him, which is how he stumbles of the illicit lovers at lunch as they try to avoid the obnoxious Mr. Bishop who is a notorious gossip and determined to organize a poker game with Grant, who has other things on his mind.

   And when Zurta kills Poole and frames Grant only to find the diary is missing, all the differing threads begin to come together.

   Screenwriter Allan MacKinnon was not only a first class writer of film thrillers, but a top notch thriller writer in his own right (Cormorant Isle) often compared to Victor Canning and Geoffrey Household (no mean company for comparison). John Paddy Carstairs was a first class British director, and the cast, while devoid of big names save perhaps Kent, is a who’s who of top British and International character actors.

   Unusually the film hasn’t really got a hero per se. Grant, as played by de Marney, is a bit of a heel all too obviously leading the girl on, and her simpering willingness to be fooled detracts from too much sympathy for her character. Bishop, played with perfect obnoxious self centered British satisfaction and obliviousness by Tomlinson (Mary Poppins Mr. Banks), will save the day, but blindly and by butting in where he isn’t wanted.

   McBain finds and tries to save the diary for himself because it will harm a country that has shunned him and his secretary Mills finds it and tries to blackmail him with it, a worm who all too easily returns to worm status. Zurta is a cold blooded killer willing to sacrifice anyone along the way with no moral or political axe but his own need for adventure and money. Valya, is a little sympathetic, but only a little so and rather ruthless herself in pursuit of her ideals. As for Jolif, he is willing to hang whoever’s neck the noose fits, rather like some real Paris policemen I knew.

   That is probably why this one is such a delight. There is no United Nations message of international cooperation like Berlin Express and no dashing hero and spunky heroine like The Lady Vanishes. The train is filled with flawed people, not evil, even Zurta and Valya aren’t evil, just human beings caught up in their own comical and tragic dramas thrown together in an artificial environment and rather savagely, but with British reserve and taste, dissected as pressure is applied. The American is a girl chasing vulgarian (“We are tired of being liberated,” a French Zena Marshall tells him pointedly); the Scotsman is cheap, cruel, vain, and petty; the Brits are all insular and judgmental; and the Europeans all seem bored and a bit rude.

   But it is all so expertly played and written that despite that you recognize the characters as humans deserving of sympathy for all their flaws depending on their varying degrees of innocence.

   Sleeping car or not, no one, certainly not the audience, gets much sleep on this trip to Trieste.

* Just a note, but I traveled on the Orient Express in the seventies, and it never looked more like just another train than here. I suppose something to do with post-war austerity in England. The gilt and red velvet (the film is in black and white, but still …) are gone; there is no sense of the gilded cigar smoking cherubs on the dining car ceiling; and the windows in the compartments only open eighteen inches, not wide like British trains of that period as shown here.

   Granted the train was not its glorious self in 1948, and not fully restored until the nineties (it wasn’t really the famed Orient Express when I rode it, not exactly, still twenty years or so from the full restoration to the glory of the great years pre-WWI and between the wars), but it was still much more cosmopolitan and less British commuter train than it appears here, a small flaw in an otherwise delightful film.


FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS. Blansfilm, UK-Germany, 1967. Robert Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm, Roy Ciao Guest Cast: Dan Duryea, Brian Donlevy, Christopher Lee, George Raft, Maria Pershy. Screenplay Peter Welbeck (producer Harry Alan Towers), based on a story by Edgar Wallace. Director: Jeremy Summers.

   If producer and screenwriter (usually as Peter Welbeck) Harry Alan Towers hadn’t existed, Eric Ambler would have had to create him. Like a typical Ambler hero, Towers was a semi-disreputable, sometimes successful, and usually on the run from his creditors, figure in international cinema, whose output runs from the simply awful (Jesus Franco’s Castle of Fu Manchu) to the damn good (Face of Fu Manchu) and the great middle of not too bad (this, Coast of Skeletons). Always on the fringe of British and international film making, sometimes successfully and more often than not disastrously, Towers’ own story is probably more interesting than that in many of his shot off the cuff, high concept mediocre delivery, films.

   Here he is working with a big budget in pulp country somewhere between his two favorites Sax Rohmer and Edgar Wallace where he was always most comfortable. The setting is Hong Kong, where the international criminal syndicate known as the Five Golden Dragons are meeting — at least four of them are (Dan Duryea, Brian Donlevy, Christopher Lee, and George Raft), as yet the mysterious fifth Dragon from Hong Kong has called the meeting and has yet to show. Anyone familiar with their Edgar Wallace should recognize that set up from a mile off.

   The plot is set in motion when a mysterious man arrives in Hong Kong and is promptly tossed from the 12th floor of a plush apartment building on the Peak (Hong Kong’s prime real estate). Before he dies he leaves an envelope to be delivered to an American named Bob Mitchell staying in Hong Kong, a fact that attracts Commissioner Sanders (no accident that name I’ll wager) of the Hong Kong police (Rupert Davies in Maigret mode) and his top man Inspector Chiao (Roy Ciao) and a chain smoking effeminate killer named Gert (Klaus Kinski).

   Mitchell proves to be an aging, somewhat comic, but charmingly naif playboy (Robert Cummings) who claims he met the dead man in Manila and has no idea what the note that reads Five Golden Dragons means. That might be true, but it spooks the two beautiful women he picked up at the hotel pool, Margaret and her sister Ingrid (Maria Pershy and Maria Rohm).

   When more bodies show up in relation to Mitchell, including Margaret in his locked bedroom under a robe bearing a golden dragon, Mitchell (who variously claims to sell insurance, be a linguist, and a visitor from small town Kansas) ducks the police and goes to ground to look into things himself, led to a nightclub run by the tough Peterson (Sieghardt Rupp) and chanteuse Magda (Margaret Lee) where he stumbles onto the cave like lair of the Golden Dragons.

   Anything beyond that would be a spoiler, though there isn’t much to spoil. Five Golden Dragons is handsomely shot, there are some decent chases, at times it actually is fairly bright, and at other times it tries too hard. I enjoyed it, but if you were looking for much more than a bright colorful diversion you would be disappointed.

   Mitchell under gun point to Peterson: “I thought I’d drop in an ask you to introduce me to your boss, you know, Goldfinger number five?”

   The big four guest stars are mostly wasted, Donlevy, Raft, and Lee have virtually no dialogue, and once Maria Pershy’s Margaret is dead the feather brained Ingrid (Maria Rohm) is poor substitute though Lee provides some much needed sex appeal. The big reveal about Mitchell is no surprise by the time it comes, and the ending, telegraphed from the start, more than a bit of a let down though that, at least, might have come from an Edgar Wallace thriller, in fact it resembles The Crimson Circle more than a little in that aspect.

   On the other hand, if you want a nice tour of Hong Kong circa 1967, with attractive company, a bit of action, a touch of mystery and intrigue, and a few decent quips (“Gert, oh you mean Gertrude, is your fourth man?”) this is a harmless way to kill an hour and a half. For a Harry Alan Towers film that is practically a rave review.


MILDRED PIERCE. Warner Brothers, 1945. Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Bruce Bennett, Lee Patrick, Moroni Olsen, Veda Ann Borg. Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on the novel by James M. Cain. Director: Michael Curtiz.

   I recently saw Mildred Pierce and came away just dumbfounded that anyone – even a Movie Critic – could watch this movie and fail to notice the strong, even idiosyncratic, hand of director Michael Curtiz at work. Take the opening: A mildly-surprised-looking Zachary Scott, seen in a mirror, shuddering under the impact of bullets hitting his frame, even as the mirror splinters and shatters, just as he hits the floor and rolls into full close-up before our eyes. In terms of screen time, it’s only a few seconds, but visually, it’s an incredibly complex blend of deft mise-en-scene and seamless editing, knowingly orchestrated by a master of the form.

   Surprisingly enough, Curtiz manages to steer the film from this dizzy beginning through a palpaceous plot of Mother Love, Teenage Lust and Middle-aged Greed without once letting the pace falter. He keeps it right at the hungry edge of violence, like an addict staring at a needle, for nearly two hours’ fast-paced running time, and gets deft performances along the way from the likes of Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blythe and — inevitably — Joan Crawford.

   Ah yes, Joan Crawford. In the role that revived her career. The cult of her personality, I fear, has always obscured the virtues of this remarkable film, just as Bogart’s cult “obscured” Casablanca: by shining so much Star Power on it that it ceased to be a film, and became instead a shrine, whence the Faithful are called several times a year to bask their idols in adoration.

   Which offers a clue to Curtiz’ critical neglect: He was so good at enshrining major personalities (including Flynn, Cagney, Bette Davis and even Boris Karloff) that their fans always tended to overlook him — forgetting that gods do not exist until someone builds temples to them – and critics never noticed the consistent stylistic complexity that he lavished on even his minor films. Thus he became an “anonymous” director to folks who just wasn’t looking.

   Getting back to Mildred Pierce, though, it’s a lavish blend of Mystery, Soap Opera and even pre-feminist rhetoric, and though the icons who populate this particular temple have remained somewhat critically unfashionable, the showcase itself deserves a fresh look.

LOVE, CHEAT & STEAL. Showtime, 1993. John Lithgow, Eric Roberts, Mädchen Amick, Richard Edson, Donald Moffat, Dan O’Herlihy. Screenwriter/director: William Curran.

   There are some bits and jots of a good film noir story here, along with a bank heist that goes bad — don’t they all in movies like this? — but the pieces didn’t really jell for me. I believe this movie, which I taped off the Showtime movie channel back in 1993, is also available on DVD, but if you want my advice, in spite of some good reviews left by commenters on IMDb, I don’t believe you want to shell out a lot of money for it.

   Here’s a quick outline of the story, or as quick as I can make it. John Lithgow is an older man with a young attractive wife (Madchen Amick), the basis of plenty of good stories already. It turns out, though, that she was once married to a nogoodnik (Eric Roberts) whom she failed to get a divorce from after making sure he was safely in jail. He has now broken out and is coming to find her.

   It also turns out that Lithgow’s father’s bank has been used as a money laundering way station. The men overseeing everyday operations have been working hand-in-hand with the local gang of drug crime lords. Roberts is appropriately slimy — he introduces himself to Lithgow as Amick’s brother — and what can she day to stop him?

   She’s caught in middle, in other words. Does she love Lithgow, or is she really interested only in his money? Is she still attracted to Roberts, her real husband? I will not tell you, but even with the aforementioned bank heist that goes bad, not really interesting happens until the end, which is worth waiting for, but until then the tale is only indifferently — and often confusingly — told.

   A better femme fatale may have helped. In daylight Madchen Amick is quite pretty if not really strikingly beautiful, but indoors and in bad light, she is so physically tiny that the darkness seems to simply swallow her up.

   I would like to go back and see how well the ending — which is a doozy — actually fits, but all in all, one time only is the limit I’ve restricted myself to for this one.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

UNION STATION. Paramount Pictures, 1950. William Holden, Nancy Olson, Barry Fitzgerald, Lyle Bettger, Jan Sterling. Based on the Edgar-winning novel Nightmare in Manhattan by Thomas Walsh. Director: Rudolph Maté.

   Maybe I’m missing something because, as far as I can tell, a lot of my fellow film critics seem to really think that Union Station has a lot going for it. Apart from an exquisitely choreographed gritty chase scene at the end, this lackluster 1950 crime film plods along with uninspiring characters and stale dialogue. There’s some good on location photography and if you like train stations, Union Station does have a lot to offer. But overall the film really just pales in comparison to the myriad other crime films and films noir released in the same era.

   Directed by Rudolph Maté, the movie features William Holden as William Calhoun, a train station police lieutenant. After a passenger named Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olsen) sees two men with guns in the same car as her, she reports it to Calhoun. Turns out that Joyce has stumbled upon a kidnapping plot in which her boss’s blind daughter has been snatched and is being held for ransom.

   The plot then follows Lt. Calhoun as he and his men, all under the watchful eye of Inspector Donnelly (Barry Fitzgerald), seek to identify and root out the kidnappers. They’re more than willing to play rough and go so far as to threaten one of the criminals with death should he refuse to cooperate. This, unlike the romance between Calhoun and Joyce, gives the police procedural realistic feel to it.

   Overall, what Union Station feels like is a movie with an identity crisis. Is it supposed to be a character study of Lt. Calhoun, a police procedural, or merely a set piece about a train station where the crime story is merely secondary? Although some of my fellow critics seem to regard the movie as a stellar film noir, I must confess that I viewed it as a rather clumsy crime film more akin to late 1930s crime themed B-films than the stellar works of Richard Fleischer and Anthony Mann.

THE KILLING. United Artists, 1956. Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Ted DeCorsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Joe Sawyer. Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, with additional dialogue by Jim Thompson; based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White.. Director: Stanley Kubrick.

   A revolutionary heist film in many regards, and considered by many viewers as a classic. (It has an 8.0 rating on IMDb.) Not Kubrick’s first film, but while it’s one that while it didn’t make a lot of money at the box office, what it did do was to make film critics sit up and take notice of a new guy in town.

   The story is a old one by now, and maybe it was even then: The theft of $2,000,000 in cash from a race track is meticulously planned, and everything goes as smooth as silk when all of a sudden, it doesn’t. What’s distinctive about this film is that it’s shown in non-linear fashion, and I’m willing to wager that in 1956 audiences were not ready for stories told that way, even with some (studio required) voiceover narration to help them out.

   One problem I personally have with this film is that I do not believe for one second that Marie Windsor’s character would stay married to Elisha Cook for five minutes, much less than five years. I only wish she had had more screen time. What a femme fatale she was in almost every movie she made, and she was never more fatale than she is in this one.

   It is the ending that makes this movie pure noir. When he’s forced to improvise, Sterling Hayden, the mastermind of the plot that he sees disintegrating around him, he starts to make mistakes that he might not otherwise. All that effort — and all that money — [SPOILER ALERT] just blowing away in the wind.

THE BROTHERHOOD. Paramount Pictures, 1968. Kirk Douglas, Alex Cord, Irene Papas, Luther Adler, Susan Strasberg, Murray Hamilton, Eduardo Ciannelli. Music: Lalo Schifrin. Producer: Kirk Douglas. Director: Martin Ritt.

   I don’t know where this movie fits precisely into the chronology of Mafia-based crime films, but while there were certainly gangster movies before The Brotherhood was filmed, in terms of realism, none were quite like this one. It was also four years before The Godfather showed up and finally convinced everyone how they were supposed to be done.

   The story has it that when this one bombed so badly at the box office, it took quite a while to convince the people at Paramount to do another one, which of course was The Godfather.

   The reason I bring this up is that, well, first of all, the movie is actually quite good, but if you can’t place it properly in the evolution of Mafia movies, it can be viewed as a whole series of clichés. Kirk Douglas plays Frank Ginetta, an old-fashioned Mafia don based in New York City; Alex Cord is his (much) younger Vince, who’s gone to college, is home from Viet Nam, has just gotten married, and wants to join the “firm.” Big brother Frank is elated.

   But Vince and the other members of the council want to abandon the old ways and start finding new ways to invest their money and talents. This causes all kinds of problems, as you can imagine. Frank also finds out who provided the tip-off that happened many years ago that resulted in the massacre of over 40 members of the Mafia at the time, including Frank’s father.

   Frank does not take this very well, and his actions leave Vince squarely in the middle. Kirk Douglas takes this role and makes it entirely his own. He is an ebullient lover of his family, good food and happy times, and yet he casually and reminiscently tells someone about the first hit he ever made — when he was eighteen years old.

   Alex Cord, in contrast, and perhaps deliberately so, downplays his role so low that you barely know he’s in the film. He’s grim and dour while his brother’s innate nature is cheerful and charming. The ending is perhaps inevitable, but the getting there is not only absorbing, but a lot of fun to watch.

   If the movie didn’t do well financially, perhaps the movie audiences of the day were simply not ready for it. Another possibility, of course, is that I’m the only one in the world who has ever enjoyed it, but I’m fairly sure that that’s not so.

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