Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Glass Wall

I've got too many movies on my DVR to get through before I move, so I've been trying to watch as many as I can. One of my recent watches was a Noir Alley selection, The Glass Wall.

The movie was released in 1953 and was set sometime in the recent past, although it doesn't specify exactly when. The US is still taking in refugees from World War II, but there are also people who haven't gone through official channels. One of those is Hungarian Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) who spent some time in a concentration camp, and apparently helped some Americans after liberation. However, we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Peter decided to stow away on one of the refugee ships, so when the ship gets to New York, Inspector Bailey (Douglas Spencer) of the customs service/INS predecessor rejects his application. This even though Peter claims to know a jazzman in New York named Tom who could vouch for his story. Good luck finding "Tom" in a city of eight million.

And yet, that's precisely what Peter plans to do. He tries to escape from the brig, not even having been permitted to leave the ship. He fractures a rib jumping ship, but somehow makes it to midtown Manhattan with little money or knowledge of the city. The police are hot on Peter's heels, of course, with an ability only seen in Hollywood movies to make this insignificant case front page news on newspaper extra editions and get Peter's face plastered across every TV news broadcast.

The first person Peter finds can't help him very much. Maggie (Gloria Grahame) is similarly down on her luck, resorting to trying to steal somebody else's coat. But since she and Peter are now both fugitives, Peter helps her escape, and she repays his kindness by taking her back to her apartment and trying to tend to his medical issues without revealing hs presence. Of course it's not going to work.

Peter doesn't want to stay there, continuing to look for "Tom" in a race against time: if he can't prove his worth to the US before the boat he was on sails back to Europe, he'll be in really big trouble. So he makes his way back to Times Sqaure and where the jazz clubs are, in the hopes he'll be able to find "Tom".

This being a Hollywood movie, and knowing that Peter is being portrayed as a Hitchcockian good guy with circumstances conspiring against him, you can guess that the movie is going to have at least a satisfactory ending. So it's more about how the movie gets there. The Glass Wall certainly has some plot problems in that there are just too many coincidences that keep the plot running to its inevitable conclusion.

On the other hand, the performances are good, and there's a lot of nice footage of New York as it was in the early 1950s. Jazz fans will also like the presence of some of the actual stars of the New York jazz scene of the time. (At least, I think they were stars of the scene, not being a big jazz fan myself. I vaguely recognize the name Jack Teagarden, but don't know the other jazz names presented here.) As a result, The Glass Wall is definitely worth a watch as a sort of document of the time, although there are better overall movies out there.

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