Thu 25 Nov 2010
SIDESHOW. Monogram Pictures, 1950. Don McGuire, Tracy Roberts, John Abbott, Eddie Quillan, Ray Walker, Richard Foote, Jimmy Conlin, Iris Adrian. Director: Jean Yarbrough.
This short black-and-white movie (only 67 jam-packed minutes) has some noirish aspects to it – it’s dark throughout (in the sense of poor lighting) and there are a few sinister scenes taking place behind the outward glitter of a rundown carnival – but in reality it’s only a crime film, and not a very good one – not one I can honestly recommend to you, if you can find a copy.
That’s a big “if.” It’s hard to find, and when you do, it’s likely to be in as rough in quality as the one I have. Both the picture and sound deteriorate noticeably toward the end, but not seriously enough to cause you to throw the DVD away. Not me, anyway. I’m happy to have it.
The real problem is that it’s the story itself that falls apart, the longer it goes. I’ve watched the movie twice, and while there was an improvement the second time around, it’s only at the beginning. The ending is still as much of a mystery to me as it was before. Who, what, when, and especially why – all unanswered questions, even after the curtain comes down.
I suppose it’s time for me to tell you what this movie’s about, isn’t it? The amusement park carnival that treasury agent Steve Arthur (Don McGuire) goes undercover working for is also somehow the means by which a gang of jewel thieves has been smuggling their gems into the US. His job: to find out how.
Dolly Jordan (Tracey Roberts), the hootchy-kootchy girl he first suspects, turns out to be both innocent and then a close ally. (The pearls in the fudge she made were placed there by someone else.) But that leaves plenty of other suspects, some brought in during the last reel, and as I said before, the whole affair doesn’t make a lick of sense. (I am not going to watch it a third time.)
The atmosphere is good, however, including some gritty inside glimpses at sideshow life, and the acting is even better, believe or not.
The hunky Don McGuire, who didn’t star in many other movies, was a lot more successful as a writer (Bad Day at Black Rock, Tootsie), for example, and as a producer and director, while red-headed Tracy Roberts went to become a famous Hollywood acting coach.
Not that you could tell she had red hair in the movie, but I think you can from the poster and at least one of the lobby cards I found for the film.