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Saturday, September 14, 2013

THE RED MENACE (1949)

A note on this Olive Films DVD states that this Anti-Communist programmer, a pet project for Republic Pictures’ boss Herbert Yates, was ‘Taken seriously only by a few,’ giving the impression of a risible piece of Red-Baiting Propaganda. And, to some extent, it is; but there’s more to it than that. The main story follows a disgruntled G.I. vet (Robert Rockwell) who’s recruited (stalked is more like it) for a hook up with a local Communist ‘cell.’ He soon falls for the group’s foreign-born beauty (Hennelore Axman, sporting Garbo’s hairstyle from NINOTCHKA/’39), unaware she’s being blackmailed to stay in. Alas, they turn out to be such a boring pair that the film wisely turns its attention to more interesting members. A Jewish writer who chafes at toeing the Party Line; a lapsed Catholic who doesn’t realize she longs to get out; a young, African-American office clerk who thinks fellow travelers will look past race; a handful of smooth talking leaders putting the Mob into Marxism; and a jealous, unstable true-believer always on the edge of hysteria. The last is Betty Lou Gerson who goes ballistic in a mad scene, as if auditioning for her greatest role as the voice of Cruela De Vil in Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS/’61. Republic house helmer R. G. Sprinsteen directs to uneven effect with the film alternating between the flat staging & look of serial tv and sharp, noir stylings shot on tasty L.A. locations. The film is no hidden gem, and not without crudities (the wrap up is decidedly groan-worthy), but it’s no wash-out and holds obvious historical interest.

DOUBLE-BILL: Watch Sam Fuller use similar elements to make a masterpiece in PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET/’53.

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