Normally, hostage dramas are the last refuge of Hollywood scoundrels, but this little known gem from M-G-M is one tasty ‘B-pic.’ Marshall Thomson plays a catatonic baby-faced killer who’s on the lam from a mental hospital. He coldly kills a bus driver on his way in to town where he fails to find Sam Levene, his court-appointed shrink. He figures to wait it out at a nearby tavern where a motley group of life’s-losers are busy sipping the night away: the spinster on a fling with a chatty married man; an overdressed barfly downing martinis like peanuts; Chuckles, the grumpy barkeep & his jumpy assistant; and an ink-stained newspaperman. They’re all a bit soused, but nobody misses the report on the bar’s newfangled tv about the runaway mental case murderer. Within moments, a cop on the street is shot and someone in the bar lies dead. The hostage crisis is on. Cops, crowds, a tv news crew, even the missing shrink all show up and try to get in on the action. It’s twice-chewed material, but little-known helmer Gerald Mayer, who soon moved on to a long tv career, puts it together with verve and technical sass. The opening scenes are shot almost like a silent movie and he uses lenses and even film stocks with a real creative touch. And while the ending lets everyone off the hook, the use of, and commentary on the early days of tv is very cleverly handled. The acting may veer a bit toward Golden Age television, and Marshall Thompson doesn’t have the technical chops to handle his big apotheosis, but Sam Levene really comes thru as the psychiatrist while William Conrad is close to priceless as Chuckles.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: William Conrad, later known for CANNON on tv, is an absolute ringer for Jack Black in this. Jack! Look out!