Friday, October 4, 2013

711 Ocean Drive

A search of my blog claims that I haven't done a full-length post on the movie 711 Ocean Drive before. Oh, I've mentioned it a couple of times as being a movie that fits into various themes, but never a full-length post. It's airing tomorrow morning on TCM at 8:30 AM.

Edmond O'Brien, who seems to show up in several other interesting noirish movies, plays Mal Granger. He's a telephone lineman, at a time when people working for the phone company don't make very much money, if they ever did. So he's tried to make some money by playing the horses, which has earned him notice from the criminal underworld that runs the betting rings. They need people who work in communications, to get the results from the tracks to the network of bookies. Vince Walters (Barry Kelley), who runs the wire in California, wants Mal to work for him. Mal rather stupidly accepts.

I say "stupidly", since you know in a code-era movie that crime can't possibly pay. But without such stupidity, we wouldn't have a movie. So Mal accepts -- besides, he needs the money -- and proceeds to do a good job for Walters. In fact, he does such a good job that he makes himself more or less indispensible to Walters. This indispensiblitiy gives Mal what he naturally thinks is a trump card: what will the wire syndicate do without him if they don't give him more of what he wants? In fact, it's not so much a trump card as it is hubris. Sure, Male is good at what he does. But that doesn't mean that he's going to be good at running the syndicate. And besides, this is only the California branch of the wire syndicate; there are still national leaders above Mal who would be able to put him in his place if he gets too big for his britches. But just as with Mal's stupidity, we wouldn't have a good movie if it weren't for Mal's hubris. And so Mal uses his power for his own aggrandizement.

When Walters eventually gets offed, Mal takes over, and does a good enough job that the aforementioned national syndicate notices, and sends an emissary in the form of Mr. Mason (Donald Porter) to "invite" Mal and his California syndicate into the national syndicate. Mal eventually accepts because Carl Stephens (Otto Kruger, whom you'll remember as one of the bad guys in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur), the head of the national syndicate, realizes that one of Mal's weaknesses is women, and uses Mason's wife Gail (Joanne Dru) to get to Mal.

At this point, things begin to go south for Mal. He learns that the national syndicate is cheating him, while he's also falling too much in love with Gail, who for her part is getting slapped around by her husband. Mal's attempt to hire a hitman fails, with Mal having to murder the hitman, which means he's now a murderer and will have to escape, for which he needs more money. And he's got a great plan to get that money, and give the shaft ot the national syndicate. Mal, with that expertise in telephone electronics, develops a plan to have the clocks in the Vegas branch go slow, so that Mal can substitute a taped call of one of the horse races, meaning that Mal will already know the result and will be able to make big money by betting on it. Well, he's going to have to send underlings to do the wagering, which means that there's a conspiracy, and we know that in a movie like this the conspiracy is ultimately going to fail. Mal is forced to flee again, and this time winds up at Boulder (Hoover) Dam for the climax.

The more I think about 711 Ocean Drive, the more I realize that I can't think of anything particularly new here, as opposed to something like O'Briens DOA from the same year which feels fresh and unique. We've got the same themes of a man's own greed and hubris driving him to his ultimate doom, with some help from lovely women along the way. Most if not all of the typical noir boxes seem to be ticked here. And yet, none of that stops 711 Ocean Drive from being an immensely entertaining movie. Most everything pretty much makes sense, in terms of Mal's motivation and the way the others in the crime syndicate get him to do their bidding, while fitting together neatly in a way that some other films don't necessarily do. The movie doesn't have the biggest stars, but everybody does a professional job in their roles. All in all, 711 Ocean Drive is a more than worthwhile movie.

711 Ocean Drive is also available on DVD.

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