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Wednesday, September 21, 2016


John Huston’s much-admired, doom-laden caper pic may be too neatly plotted for its own good, too much the ‘well-made’ play. But it has pace, action, great character acting from its leading players, and captures substrata inner-city crime with less studio stylization, more Neo-Realistic grit than commonly seen at the time. Very well caught by lenser Harold Rosson in grainy, deglamorized style. (Elia Kazan went even farther that year in real inner-city locations with PANIC IN THE STREETS/’50.) Everybody gives standout perfs: jewel-heist mastermind Sam Jaffe fruity & straightforward; enforcer Sterling Hayden psychotic & stoic; safe cracker Antony Caruso chilly pro/tender family guy. The rest of the crew all get the same yin/yang treatment, a curse of the ‘well-made’ play. (There’s also a Production Code sop with a late-innings speech to let us know they've pinched the story’s corrupt cop. Delivered & shot with little conviction.) But even when the story turns mechanical, and the gears show, it’s so involving (and fun!), you may not notice that we never leave the shallow end of this melodramatic pool.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film gave a big break to Marilyn Monroe as shady attorney Louis Calhern’s sweetly dumb mistress. She’s good, too, though her chin looks different here than later and she needs the right angle to look her best. Something cinematographer Harold Rosson knew about, having been married to Jean Harlow.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The trailer is positively loaded with SPOILERS, so beware.

DOUBLE-BILL: Five years later, Jules Dassin would burn all the fat off the caper genre with the brutally honest, game-changing RIFIFI/’55.

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