Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag - ROADBLOCK, CAGED! and WILDCAT BUS ""

Monday, May 5, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - ROADBLOCK, CAGED! and WILDCAT BUS

ROADBLOCK (1951; Harold Daniels)
"It takes two."
Ostensibly a reworking of a DOUBLE INDEMNITY type story, ROADBLOCK stars film noir stalwart Charles McGraw (THE NARROW MARGIN) and features a screenplay co-written by Steve Fisher (who wrote one of my GIVEAWAY - one of my favorite books - among many other things). I've always thought that McGraw's gruff voice and features make him a perfect noir figure. Here he plays a crafty insurance investigator (see also: Fred MacMurray) who meets an even craftier femme fatale (see also: Barbara Stanwyck) in an airport as she pretends to be his wife to get cheaper airfare. McGraw sees her (Joan Dixon) as a "chiseler" right off the bat and he's kinda right on the mark. She very focused on having the very finest things in life asks McGraw "Can happiness buy money?". That kind of says all you need to know about her. And Joan Dixon is quite the cutie too so you just know she's gonna be trouble. She cuts quite a nice frame in a sweater for sure. Definitely the kinda girl you can see yourself contemplating robbing a bank for. This is a solid little noir film though, with a great cameo by the L.A. River. Certainly among my favorite film discoveries of 2014.
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CAGED! (1950; John Cromwell)
I only saw this film for the first time last year and it kind of blew me away. Because it had originally been released as part of WB's 'Camp Cult Classics' group of titles along with things like LAND OF THE PHARAOHS, ATTACK OF THE 50 FT WOMAN and HOT RODS TO HELL, I was expecting to snicker my way through it when I finally saw it. The film I ended up seeing was a stark, jet-black prison noir. It's really pretty intense and powerful stuff. I can see how some folks might find the general milieu of a woman in prison film from this period to be a little campy, with the way characters interact and speak to each other, and the acting style in general, but really this movie is not that kind of thing. The stuff that Eleanor Parker and her fellow gal inmates go through in this film is gritty and sometimes even tough to watch. It's just a hardcore portrayal of the woes of prison life at this time. I'm still trying to determine all the things about the film that made it impact me the way that it did. It certainly does have something to do with the camp I was expecting from it from the outset, but more than that, it's just really well done. I would compare it to something like BRUTE FORCE as far as the starkness and the noir-ness of the film. Really outstanding stuff. Part of the impact certainly comes from the centerpiece performance from Eleanor Parker who is just fantastic in the film. There is just something about her that feels real in just the right way, or real in the context of when this film was made and the prison environment in which it takes place that makes it resonate pretty deeply. Not to mention the fact that the film is quite dark and some very bad things happen to her and to her fellow inmates.  The supporting cast includes Jan Sterling (ACE IN THE HOLE), and Agnes Moorehead (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, CITIZEN KANE). It really is, to my mind, one of the best prison films ever made. 
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WILDCAT BUS (1940; Frank Woodruff)
It's hard for me not to look at the cover of this DVD and wonder if this might have been SPEED for the 1940s. It's great poster art and immediately conjurs up a whole adventure story with an out of control bus at the center. An early disaster film if you will. This strikes a very curious chord in my mind as I am a disaster movie apologist. EARTHQUAKE, TOWERING INFERNO and even the smaller, cheaper movies that Irwin Allen made for TV are quite entertaining for me. ROLLERCOASTER is up there too, that film is a hoot in my opinion. So this movie immediately piqued my interest with that iconography and the act that the lovely Fay Wray stars in it. On top of that, it's a breezy 64 mins!
This movie has more in common with something like WHITE LINE FEVER than SPEED. Fay Wray is struggling as the head of the Federated Bus Lines in this movie and it's because of some evil saboteurs. They steal potential bus riders, cause bus crashes and tamper with the bus engines to decrease performance.  Not nearly as much action as I'd have hoped for, but still and interesting little flick.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw an archive sale recently...what a great collection. These above are no different! So many nice movies to choose from, it's difficult to know where to begin. Nice picks!

Clayton @ Claytonology