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Sunday, July 28, 2013

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (1955)

The real draw of this ‘Perfect Crime’ pic isn’t its lackluster caper climax, but all the location shooting in Reno, Nevada, 1955. The main story comes bookended with tasty real-life interiors from Harold’s Club along with their incredibly cool adjoining car garage. It's automated elevator parking system gets a starring role in the film's final chase. Blunt, efficient helmer Phil Karlson is in his element here, pulling off action scenes and getting plenty of gorgeous high-contrast noir town atmosphere from journeyman lenser Lester White. It’s the rest of the pic that’s a bust. A quartet of superannuated college ‘kids’ (age 29 to 34) visit Reno where Kerwin Matthews, the genius of the bunch, works out a foolproof robbery. Not that he needs the cash, it’s the intellectual challenge he digs, along with his comic-relief buddy Alvy Moore. (Watching these two is like seeing Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis play Leopold & Loeb.) Unfortunately, the main story is all about their dorm pals, Korean war vets Guy Madison & Brian Keith, who get tangled up in the scam. Madison’s really there to woo Kim Novak and to try out as a William Holden replacement for the studio. (Holden was about to wrap up his Columbia Pictures contract with PICNIC/’55 playing against Kim Novak as, of all things, a superannuated college kid!)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You can really see the fast decline in late-‘50s studio house style comparing the rich photography & wide ranging grey-scale of this Karlson pic with his THE BROTHERS RICO/’57 made just two years later. One by one, all the studios switched to a flat, evenly lit standard which became increasingly hard to buck. Even the strong-mined Fritz Lang, also at Columbia at the time, went thru similar grey-scale compression as early as THE HUMAN BEAST/’54. Martin Scorsese thinks that the change had something to do with tv broadcast picture standards, they had to be compatible with the tv monitors of the time. Possibly, but there must be more to the story. Studios were going thru financial crunch time so you can’t overlook cheaper film processing & development techniques as a probable cause. Paramount seems to have been the Hollywood studio that held out for quality the longest while Universal, under the notorious Lew Wasserman, sunk the lowest. Especially in color, where everything was lit like a Movie-of-the-Week right into the early ‘70s.

CONTEST: Spot the iconic shot from this film that Mike Nichols stole for THE GRADUATE/’67 and win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of the DVD of your choice . . . assuming we can get a hold of it. (Our old source, NetFlix, seems to be dropping older film titles by the bushel-full.)

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