Friday, June 29, 2012

The Bribe

I mentioned The Bribe a few weeks back when it was getting an overnight airing on TCM. It's airing again this evening at 6:15 PM, and deserves a viewing if you didn't watch or record the last showing.

Robert Taylor plays Rigby, a US agent investigating an international smuggling ring that's taken him to some God-forsaken Central American banana republic, where he's fallen in love with another of the expats, Elizabeth (played by Ava Gardner). The only thing is, she's married, and Rigby is investigating her husband. Not only is an illicit affair a big problem; she just might be guilty too. How did Rigby get himself into this? Well, a flashback will tell us all.

As I said, Rigby is investigating smuggling, specifically smuggling surplus US Army gear that's no longer needed now that World War II is over, but which presumably any number of groups in Latin America would love to have. Rigby was sent to meet Elizabeth precisely because the US government suspected her husband, Tug, played by John Hodiak. (They presumably didn't expect their agent to fall in love with the guy's wife. They should have watched Notorious first.) Anyhow, Rigby goes down to Central America where he meets Elizabeth, but also gets waylaid by the mysterious Mr. Bealer (Charles Laughton). Somehow, Bealer knows the real reason Rigby is down there, and offers Rigby a cool $10,000 to stop the investigation -- that was a lot of money back in the late 1940s, especially in some banana republic.

Obviously, there has to be somebody else in on this whole thing. But who? One obvious place to look would be at the other expats, which is where the businessman Carwood (Vincent Price) comes in. Rigby suspects him and, posing as a vacationer here for some serious sport fishing, goes out on a boat trip with Carwood. Carwood rather dumbly tries to knock Rigby overboard "accidentally", which is a sure sign that he must be guilty of something else. And I don't think we'd get this movie over with in under two hours if that something weren't the same arms racket that Tug is involved in.

Alfred Hitchcock said that the "uranium ore" that Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman were investigating in Notorious was really just a macguffin -- they could have been investigating anything, as long as there was some excuse to use her as a spy to get at Claude Rains. To be honest, a lot of what happens in The Bribe feels the same way to me. Investigating arms smuggling is really a pretext to have a movie about... well, I'm not quite certain what it's about. Forbidden love, of the sort that Dana Andrews felt toward Gene Tierney in Laura? Or maybe it's a character study. Or perhaps my feelings about there being a macguffin in The Bribe are simply wrong, and MGM was trying to make a crime movie without any ulterior motives.

As far as crime stories go, The Bribe is moderately entertaining. Robert Taylor feels mildly miscast here, much the way he was as Johnny Eager several years earlier. I supose that could just be a problem with the fact that The Bribe is MGM's attempt to make a high-minded crime picture. Ava Gardner and John Hodiak are also OK. I've never really thought of Hodiak as the greatest of actors, so his being just serviceable is not a problem. Gardner, I suppose, should have been better. Vincent Price is always enjoyable to watch, and Charles Laughton is the real treat. His character is somewhat reminiscent of the one played by Sydney Greenstreet in Flamingo Road, only with a little more vitality. As you can see from my constant mentioning of other movies, The Bribe feels a lot like something that's been done a dozen times before, but is done reasonably well.

The Bribe got a release to DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection, so you can still see it if you miss today'showing.

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