Monday, April 15, 2013

Adult Crime Wave

Last month TCM showed several movies to mark the birth anniversary of actor Sterling Hayden. One of them, Crime Wave, has made it to DVD as part of one of those "noir" box sets, even though the movie isn't quite a noir. Still, for the most part, it's a highly entertaining movie that's well worth watching.

The movie starts off with three thugs: Penny (Ted de Corsia), Hastings (Charles Bronson, still going by the name Charles Buchinsky) and Morgan (Nedrick Young), sticking up a gas station late one evening. Unfortunately, the hold-up goes awry, as the man running the place is able to get his gun and shoot Morgan, seriously wounding him. Penny and Hastings give Morgan some money, and Morgan calls up underworld doctor Hessler (Jay Novello) to treat him.

All of this is bad news for Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson). Not because he was involved in the stick-up at all, but because he's an ex-convict who knew these guys. Steve wanted to go straight after getting out of prison, and to his benefit he's got a wife Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) and a good job as an airplane mechanic. But he's only on parole, and the cops naturally don't trust parolees. So what does Steve have to do with this robbery? He gets involved in it through no fault of his own when Morgan shows up at his apartment begging to be let in so that Dr. Hessler can treat him. Things go from bad to worse when Morgan pulls a gun on Steve and Ellen to force them to comply but, before everything can be resolved, dying. There's a dead body in the apartment of an ex-convict? Oh, surely the cops aren't going to believe anything the ex-con says about it. Sure enough, when the detectives show up in the form of Lt. Sims (Sterling Hayden), Sims would have no qualms about sending Lacey back to prison for a long spell, even though we know he's completely innocent.

Things get really complicated for Steve and Ellen when Penny and Hastings show up at the Laceys' apartment. Penny's got a brilliant idea for a bank robbery that's a can't miss, but there's a catch -- they need an airplane to escape to Mexico. Who can provide them with that airplane? Why, airplane mechanic Steve Lacey of course! So Penny and Hastings proceed to hold the couple more or less hostage, in the way that John Garfield did to Shelley Winters and her family in He Ran All the Way. And to make matters even worse for Steve, Hastings uses Steve's car to drive someplace to commit a crime. The cops are certain to find Steve's car, connecting him to the crime and having no possible alibi. That's bound to make it easier for Penny and Hastings to blackmail him....

Crime Wave is one of those low-budget 50s movies that get lumped in with the noirs, but which I would generally call a "post-noir": movies that have crime themes and possibly some noir-like themes, but have a visually brighter atmosphere often due to location shooting. Gene Nelson does a good enough job as the innocent man who has circumstances thrust upon him, but the movie is really Hayden's. His Lt. Sims casts an even more menacing presence on the proceedings than any of the criminals do. That's down in part to the writing of course, but Hayden also physically looked the part of somebody who could be tough-as-nails. In fact, there were times that I found his character unappealing; he's that much of a prick. Even in the final scene, after the required Production Code-obeying resolution, he still comes across as a bit of a jerk to Steve and Ellen. But it's necessary to the plot, I suppose.

As I said at the beginning, Crime Wave is available on a box set. In fact, there are quite a few good movies I've recommended before that are part of this particular set, even if they're not all noirs.

No comments: