Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Flanagan Boy

I've mentioned before that there are quite a few British pictures from the 1950s that cast an American in one of the leads, presumably with the expectation that this would make it easier to get a distribution deal in the US. In fact, the Hammer studio worked out a deal with an American producer, Robert Lippert, to produce a bunch of these movies. There are a couple of box sets of the noirish films from this partnership that were released which I picked up. Recently, I watched one of the movies off one of the box sets, Bad Blonde.

American Barbara Payton plays the titular bad blonde, but we don't meet her for a while. The movie starts off at a carnival, possibly at one of those fading seaside resorts like we see in The Entertainer. One of the attractions there is a boxing show where the promoter offers average Joes the chance to earn a nice for early 1950s standards payday by lasting three rounds with one of the promoter's ringers. (Something similar is also a major plot device in the early John Garfield film The Made Me a Criminal.) Accepting that challenge is young Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright). Johnny is a capable boxer. Well, he's actually more than that, as he knocks out the ringer. This gets the promoters' attention, and the pair of Sharkey (Sid James) and Sullivan (John Slater) decide to train him.

But if they had the ability to train a truly talented boxer for the big time, they wouldn't be toiling away in carnivals. They need money to put up to offer better training conditions and also attract the attention of the real prizefighters. Enter Giuseppe Vecchi (Frederick Valk), an Italian who somehow made it to the UK despite the two countries having been on opposide sides of that little war less than a decade earlier and who has the money. He buys a piece of Flanagan, and Johnny starts training at Vecchi's nice big house somewhere out in the country.

Vecchi has the money to train Johnny, but he's also got something else: a trophy wife Lorna (that's Barbara Payton). She being a Hollywood beauty (the excuse given for her being in the UK is that she was a taxi dancer), she turns heads, and it's not long before she turns Johnny's head. The fact that Mr. Vecchi says he can't dance and encourages Johnny to dance with Lorna only makes matters worse. Things get so bad, in fact, that when Lorna shows up to Johnny's big fight, he can't think about anything but Lorna's presence, and gets knocked out.

Lorna, for her part, married for money and found out that she didn't love the man she married. With that in mind and knowing her power over men, she fairly quickly sets out to get Johnny to murder Giuseppe, as if there were some chance she could get away with it. At least she has a halfway reasonable plan, which involves Johnny heading out from the country house, giving him an alibi, only to make a detour to the isolated outbilding on the pond from where he can scheme to overturn Giuseppe's rowboat, as Giuseppe can't swim. Thanks to the Production Code, however, you know that Lorna and Johnny aren't going to get away with it in the end.

The big problem that Bad Blonde has is how derivative it is. Multiple reviewers on IMDb mention The Postman Always Rings Twice, and there's certainly a lot of resonance between the two movies. There are some other movies mentioned in the IMDb reviews, and I've mentioned some connections in this post myself. The movie is clearly treading very familiar pathways.

Taken on its own merits, however, Bad Blonde isn't really a bad little movie. It holds up well as a programmer, but it's little more than that. It's nice to see the British twist on American noir, as well as the slightly grittier production values these second-tier British productions seemed to have, as those fit a movie like this well. And if you like the genre, I think you'll like the movie. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking here.

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