“You’re amusing, Mr. Connolly… and hard.
It’s a hard world.”
So like Dial 1119 (1950), this film came on the Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 5. Out of all the films on this set this seems to be the one disliked the most by critics.
To be honest, I just don’t get it.
I didn’t think it was as horrible as everyone else said. In fact I thought it was pretty good and I enjoyed it.
One of the reasons why many people didn’t care for this film (and it’s still not considered a great film noir like it should be) is because it is a bit unusual. This postwar film was written to show the hardships about G.I.s coming back into civilian life, trying to find work, etc; kind of like The Best Years of Our Lives. However, the project was pushed back two years, being premiered in 1950; where that type of story wasn’t as popular. If it has been one year it would have been fine, or more than two years it would have been a “period piece”. But as it came out in 1950, too much and too little time had past.
The film is also set at Christmas, being a Christmas Noir film like Lady in the Lake, and not something a lot of people enjoyed. It is supposed to be a juxtaposition between the “happiest time of the year” fused with the dark underbelly; and while you think that would be a winner, not a lot of people liked it.
Also at this time, studio’s owned actors and actress. This meant that as an employee they couldn’t just make whatever film they wanted to, it was the decision of the head of the studio. These actors were Edmond O’Brien, Virginia Mayo, Dane Clark, Viveca Lindfors and Richard Rober. I thought the actors did very well, but others felt they were too stilted or not suited for the film.
So let’s talk a look shall we?
The film starts out with WWII veteran, Bob “Cowboy” Corey (Gordon MacRae) recuperating in a hospital in the LA area. They never say exactly what happened, but he was injured in the war and has been undergoing several operations; along with some severe psychological trauma.
He and his friend Steve Connolly (Edmond O’ Brien) met in the war and planned on going to California, buying a ranch, and living their days there. That was before Bob had his accident and was unable to begin their dream. Steve comes to visit him at the hospital, suggesting they use their money to buy a gas station while they are waiting for Bob to recover, as who knows how long it will take, but Bob says no, he wants the ranch. What Bob doesn’t know is that the doctors told Steve Bob will have to take it easy for a year, maybe longer. But instead of telling Bob this, Steve agrees to wait and says he will try to find some other work. He tells Bob he’ll be back in a few days. But that is the last Bob hears of him.
Bob has been worried about Steve, and his nurse and girlfriend, Julie Bensen (Virginia Mayo) tries to reassure him, but he just can’t stop thinking that something bad happened to Steve.
Bob has ten days left, and after he receives his clean bill of health he plans to start searching for him.
That night he is asleep when he is visited by an Austrian beauty, Lysa (Viveca Lindfors). She tells him she is a friend of Steve’s and that Steve was injured and is in horrible pain. Should she end it or have him keep fighting? Bob says to wait, he will be out in ten days and can help him. The next morning, Bob can’t tell if it was real, or all a dream?
On New Year’s Eve, Bob is finally released. He says good-bye to Julie as he is out to search for Steve. He hasn’t gone far when he is stopped by Captain Garcia. It turns out that Steve is wanted as he is a suspect in a murder.
Captain Garcia reveals that before the war Steve was involved in all kinds of underhanded things in the underworld and has quite the reputation. Sully Blayne, racketeer, was murdered, shot to death and they believe Steve was involved with it all, but Bob is certain that Steve wouldn’t do such a thing.
Now the film is told in the present time, with a series of flashbacks. We see Sully being killed, but the angle and lighting make it impossible for us to see who the killer is.
Could it be Steve?
Bob is intent on finding out what happened.
Bob move into the room Steve was staying and interviews the cleaning lady. She has a flashback about how Sully would comes to see Steve many times. She also gives him a card that Steve had dropped. It is for a mortician. A mortician?!
Bob heads out to the funeral home and it turns out to be owned by Ben Arno, his old military buddy. Bob is a little weird out about the “dead” thing, but when Ben couldn’t open a nightclub, too much red tape and the bank’s didn’t feel he was a safe investment, he decided to take another route. After all:
I personally don’t get the weirdness about it. Owning a mortuary is a really good business and a sound investment. Arno is doing really well for himself, but people get strange when death is involved.
We then flashback to when Arno bumped into Steve. He went to a boxing match and found Steve there getting pummeled.
After the show he goes to speak to him, and finds out that Steve is getting paid good money to lose the match every day. Arno gives him is card and tries to get him to work for him, but Steve is also creeped out by death and says no. And that is the last Arno saw of him.
Bob goes back to the hotel and takes care of Steve’s charges that he “ran out on”. One was a phone call, and he looks up the number. When he calls he reaches a women at the end and pretends to be Steve and finds out about Steve’s girlfriend Lyssa Radoff. He gets her address and heads to the house.
When he gets there he finds a note about the key, discovers its hiding place and waits. Lyssa doesn’t come, but her roommate, Bonnie Walsh, does. Bonnie tells them how Steve and Lyssa first met.
Lyssa is Lou Walsh’s woman, even though she doesn’t love him.
Part of her duties are singing in his club. Steve left boxing to work for Lou Walsh and as his gofer, he has to fetch Lyssa to take her to Walsh’s private residence. Unlike Walsh’s other men, Steve is always polite and treats all the women (call girls) right. Lyssa begins to fall in love with Steve, and he with her.
Bonnie starts to question Bob, and when she leaves to make coffee, Bob runs out. Shortly after Bob leaves, Bonnie is shot, murdered by the unseen Walsh.
Captain Garcia brings Bob and Julie in, claiming that they are messing up the investigation. He blames Bob for Bonnie’s death, telling him he should have called and given him the phone number instead of leading the killer right to her.
But before Garcia could continue his wringing out, they receive a call about Walsh’s wounded butler, Quong. Quong claims that he has information on Steve’s whereabouts, and everyone runs out to see him. Quong is suffering from a bullet wound, but starts to give his testimony in another flashback.
Quong didn’t buttle for Walsh, but his girl Lyssa, in the extravagant home that Walsh bought her. To keep her safe and from any other men, Walsh instituted Steve as Lyssa’s bodyguard. But this caused the two’s love to grow and grow.
After Sully was killed, Walsh told them both to remain in Lyssa’s house as they would be safe there. That night Lyssa and Steve declared their love, planning on running away together. Steve left Lyssa to go tell Walsh as he doesn’t want to do any double dealing to the man he owes for all the help he has given. However, unbeknownst to them, Walsh heard and saw everything and releases the parking brake of the car outside, so that it rolls down the driveway and crushes Steve.
Walsh calls a doctor to come visit and care for Steve.
Quong was shot by Walsh, as he knew too much. The police try to get an address out of him, but it is too late. He’s dead too.
Afterwards Bob and Julie are talking about what they found out when Bob wonders why Walsh would call a doctor when he wanted Steve dead. Julie points out that he did it for Lyssa, who thought it was an accident and not attempted murder. After Julie goes home she gets an idea and calls Mrs. Blayne, Sully’s wife, to see what doctor came to check on him. She tells Julie that it was Dr. Herbert Anstead.
Julie goes off in her nurse’s uniform and breaks into the doctor’s office by telling the janitor that she is one of Anstead’s nurses. While there Anstead returns and Julie has to hide from him. Anstead is about to destroy Steve’s file, when he is interrupted by the janitor asking when he and the nurse are leaving.
Anstead tries to find the nurse, while Julie attempts to smuggle out the file. Unfortunately, she is caught by Andstead. Julie yells at Anstead telling him he will become an accessory to murder and Anstead shocked at this, locks Julie in the closet and calls Bob to let him know where Steve is. But Anstead is interrupted by Walsh, and killed.
Man bodies are dropping everywhere. Paraphrasing Angels with Filthy Souls:
Don’t gimme that! You’ve been killin’ everybody! Sully, Bonnie, Quong, etc.
Bob rushes over to the address the doctor gave him and meanwhile Julie is let out by the janitor and calls the police, relaying the murder and the address.
When Bob reaches the house he finds Walsh and it is none other than his old pal……………………….
It is actually Ben Arno.
Ben couldn’t have the nightclub as Ben, so instead he led this double life of Lou Walsh. Steve was boxing because he owed Sully money, Ben paid him off and gave him a job. Bob is trying to find Steve, but Ben doesn’t believe him. Ben thinks that Bob is in love with Lyssa and trying to get her.
Ben is obsessed with Lyssa and can be the only one who has her. He did everything he could to make her happy; clothes, jewelry, house, etc. But Lyssa didn’t love him.
On the night he injured Steve, he called the doctor to save him for Lyssa, as Lyssa thought it was an accident. However, when she found out there was nothing wrong with the brakes on her car she wanted to leave Arno. But Arno didn’t want her to go and strangled her.
When one is obsessed they will do all they can to have that person. Even kill them.
Bob asks why he didn’t just kill Steve as that is the one he doesn’t like, but Arno couldn’t have him be a martyr and he needed someone to talk to about Lyssa; everyone else was dead. Steve doesn’t know that he killed her, he thought she just ran off on them.
While they are talking, Steve has very slowly walked down the stairs as his body is covered in braces. Arno is about to shoot Bob, and Steve jumps on him, saving him just in time.
Arno gets up and Bob tells him the police are almost there, and we can currently hear the sirens. Arno decides that if he can’t have Lyssa, Alyssa’s house, and someone to talk about her then he doesn’t want to live and runs out shooting at the police; getting shot himself (as he intended). Pretty high body count…
In the next scene we see that Steve is alive and has recovered. He is leaving the same hospital that Bob was at. Bob and Julie pick him up and take him to their new ranch, Happy Ranch.
I REALLY liked it. I wasn’t quite sure who Walsh was but I never thought it would be the mortician. That was an excellent twist.
I also really liked how the theme of “backfire” played well into the character of Steve. He was always trying to do something good, honorable, or better and yet it always seemed to backfire.
I really liked the actors, and I loved the flashbacks. I thought it was all extremely well done.
Plus the filming was amazing. We have some great angles when hiding the identity of the Walsh, the use of shadows on the wall telling the story, etc.
It was some good watching.
I highly recommend it.
To start Horrorfest V from the beginning, go to Who You Gonna Call?: Ghostbusters (1984)
For the previous post, go to Heroes are Not Born, They’re Created: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
For more on the Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5, The Mad Killer: Dial 1119 (1950)