Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

SHACK OUT ON 101, Allied Artists, 1955. Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn, Lee Marvin, Whit Bissell and Len Lesser. Written by Edward & Mildred Dein. Directed by Edward Dein.

   Probably the best movie made that year about commies infiltrating a diner, this is in fact a film of bewitching badness, enchanting ineptitude and the occasional good part that serves accentuate the awful rest of the thing.

   Briefly, Keenan Wynn runs the Diner; Terry Moore works there as a waitress but she’s studying to pass the Civil Service exam so she can get a good job and make her boyfriend proud of her. Said boyfriend is Frank Lovejoy as a Nuclear Scientist (!?!?) who is working on some shady deal with Slob (Lee Marvin) the short-order cook. Whit Bissell is a salesman/old army buddy of Wynn’s who hangs around to pad out the running time.

   Okay, that’s the dramatis personae. As for the plot, well there isn’t much. We quickly learn that Slob, in addition to being a boorish letch, is also a commie spy, buying secrets from Frank. Is Frank really a traitor? Will Slob attack Terry? What about the two chicken vendors who sneak around at night watching the place through binoculars? Or the nasty-looking fish-peddler appropriately named Perch who keeps passing things to Slob in buckets of fish? And will any of this ever amount to anything?

   Actually there’s a rather nice bit toward the end when Slob drops the mask and starts stalking Terry around the dark, deserted diner. But it’s a long time coming, delayed by perfunctory love scenes and stretches where everyone just seems to be killing time. The action (I use the term loosely and with tongue in cheek) stays in and around the same cheap set for the whole movie, and the comedy relief… well the less said the bitter.

   At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “So why bother?” and I have to admit that Shack Out on 101 seemed to touch some childhood chord in my memory; I remembered being a kid in the 1950s and wondering when the Bomb would drop. Hearing about the HUAC hearings and trying to figure out who in my neighborhood was a commie spy: How about my 6th grade teacher? Or the old couple with the foreign accents who ran the musty old newsstand? Could they be Foreign Agents passing secrets in innocent-looking out-of-town papers, and stuff like that?

   Shack Out taps into this collective paranoia with an engaging innocence, terrible in an enjoyable way, with a few old pros and a talented newcomer ignoring the badness and playing out their parts with straight faces and even some energy. Writer/director Dein (who helmed Curse of the Undead — the first vampire-western — and The Leech Woman, and co-wrote The Leopard Man) gets through it quickly and efficiently, and there is that odd glimmer of passable filmmaking that seems to glitter all the brighter for being mired in a film like this.

   And if the character of Perch looks familiar to you, that’s because he’s played by Len Lesser: Uncle Leo on the Seinfeld series.