Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Lost Continent (1951)

Release Date: August 17th, 1951
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Richard H. Landau, Carroll Young
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Cesar Romero, Hillary Brooke, Chick Chandler, Sid Melton, Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt

Lippert Pictures Inc., 83 Minutes

Review:

“Look at the size of that footprint! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” – Nolan, “I have. Once… in a museum.” – Phillips

Lost Continent has the benefit of being watchable, thanks to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It also has Cesar Romero in it but even the future Joker couldn’t pull this schlock out of the prehistoric muck.

It features a boring tale that finds some dudes in a world ruled by dinosaurs. It’s not all that original and has actually been a tale told dozens of times, even by 1951. It’s like King Kong without King Kong and less talent behind the production.

The dinosaurs look awful and sound more like elephants than ferocious giant reptiles. The effects, in general, are pretty terrible even for 1951 standards.

This is the type of film that could have had a decent story and kept you engaged with some solid hokiness but it fails to do that. I feel bad that Cesar Romero was subjected to this cookie cutter shit festival but he did some pretty bad movies in his day. But for a guy so suave and debonair, he probably deserved a better movie than this. Although, I guess actors need to work, even if that work is acting alongside some kid’s plastic bath toys.

I don’t hate Lost Continent and it is okay enough to get through with MST3K ribbing but there are much better ways that one can spend their time. You could start a new fad diet, learn how to tie some trick knots or hell… you could try Velcroing yourself to the side of a train. All would be better uses of your time.

All things considered, this needs to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

Release Date: August 8th, 1951 (New York premiere)
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Art Cohn, Felix E. Feist, Guy Endore
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran, Lurene Tuttle, Ray Teal, Bobby Hyatt

Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I came to New York from up state. I was gonna be a dancer. I was a brunette. Started on my toes and wound up on my heels.” – Catherine “Cay” Higgins

Tomorrow Is Another Day isn’t a film-noir that is highly regarded or even all that remembered. Like its director Felix E. Feist, it flies under the radar of historical significance but probably needs a bit more light shown on it.

It stars Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, two actors that also probably deserve more recognition than they’ve gotten. They both had pretty good careers and had the chops to carry any picture. This film works so well because of their abilities, their chemistry and all of that being enhanced by the very capable Feist, behind the camera.

This could have actually been a better film than what it ended up being, had it followed the traditional film-noir framework and had a tragic ending. Instead, we get a soft and sweet ending where the two lovers on the lam come out unscathed. This was probably a last minute change due to the darker ending not testing well with audiences. In a way, this film sort of had the same fate as Douglas Sirk’s 1949 film-noir Shockproof. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two films in the happy ending and overall narrative.

Sappy, sweet ending aside, I liked this picture a great deal. Sure, it is mostly a cookie cutter noir and you’ll watch it feeling like you’ve seen this movie a dozen times over but Roman and Cochran are just so good on screen that you’re still lured in.

The sweet family that lives down the street also add a lot to the film. The husband is played by Ray Teal, who usually just had bit parts. Teal got to show his talents here. Teal’s wife is played by Lurene Tuttle, an accomplished actress and very likable here. The couple’s son comes to life through child actor Bobby Hyatt, who was the kid actor featured in more film-noir pictures than any other child in Hollywood.

Tomorrow Is Another Day is certainly better than average but not a classic. It works for what it is, even if it falls flat in the final moments. Still, the building of suspense and the paranoia of the characters was interesting to watch and experience.

Film Review: Strangers On a Train (1951)

Release Date: June 30th, 1951
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, Czenzi Ormonde
Based on: Strangers On a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Patricia Hitchcock

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.” – Guy Haines

Alfred Hitchcock was a bit derailed before the release of Strangers On a Train. While he had had an incredibly successful career up until this point, his previous two films were box office duds. Those pictures were Under Capricorn and Stage FrightStrangers On a Train got the auteur director back on track, however, and it really set the stage for what was to come with a string of incredible pictures throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.

This is also a Hitchcock picture that falls into the film-noir style. It even stars Farley Granger, a guy who worked in several notable noir movies: They Live by NightSide StreetEdge of Doom and Hitchcock’s own Rope.

Alongside Granger are Robert Walker and Ruth Roman, a woman who does not fit the typical Hitchcock female lead archetype, which were almost always stunning blonde women. Hitchcock had reservations about using Roman and he also didn’t feel like Granger was believable as the type of man another man would become infatuated with.

Speaking of which, this is a film with very well hidden gay undertones in it. Robert Walker’s psychotic Bruno Antony was infatuated with Granger’s Guy Haines. While it isn’t explicitly stated, when you understand that this was an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith story, it makes that aspect of the men’s relationship much more apparent. She was known for writing about gay characters and obsessive infatuation in her novels, even if they did come out in a time when the subject was incredibly taboo. It is very clear though when you see later adaptations of her work like The Talented Mr. RipleyCarolRipley’s GameRipley Under Ground and The American Friend.

The story starts with Guy, on a train, as he is approached by Bruno, a complete stranger. Bruno has a weird obsession with the young man and it doesn’t take long to realize that the guy is off his rocker. Bruno suggests that he kills Guy’s soon to be ex-wife and in exchange Guy kills Bruno’s father. It will be a perfect set of murders as neither man has a real motive to kill their victims or any personal association with them. Guy continues to try and dismiss Bruno but Bruno follows though and murders Guy’s wife. He then becomes enraged when Guy doesn’t seem like he wants to return the favor and thus, begins to blackmail Guy and try to pin the murder on him.

Strangers On a Train is a dark and twisted movie that showcases the great and intelligent Highsmith story with respect and care. It is a film that has a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. Superb direction, stellar photography and believable actors that pull you along for this wild and intense ride. Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense” and this movie is a perfect example of how the director earned that moniker.

There are some incredible shots in this movie. Most notably, the scene where Guy’s wife is being strangled to death and you see it from the perspective of a reflection in the lens of her glasses, lying on the ground. The special effects shot of the carousel spinning wildly out of control is another great shot and in fact, that whole big finale is a visual delight.

Strangers On a Train is not my favorite Hitchock motion picture but it is really high up on my list of his best.

Film Review: On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Release Date: December 17th, 1951
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino (uncredited)
Written by: A.I. Bezzerides, Nicholas Ray
Based on: Mad with Much Heart by Gerald Butler
Music by: Bernard Hermann
Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, Ed Begley

RKO Radio Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk! I’m gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why?” – Jim Wilson

What an opening score! The theme by Bernard Hermann over the opening credits really gets the energy in this film flowing from the get-go. And to be honest, this is one of my favorite scores he’s done alongside Psycho and Citizen Kane. The rest of the film lives up to the great score but the music has a lot to do with the energetic pulse that this classic film-noir has. In fact, part of this score was used as the opening theme to the hit television show Have Gun Will Travel in 1957.

This was directed by Nicholas Ray whose work I really loved in the pictures In A Lonely Place and They Live by Night. Like those films, this noir has a lot of spirit and a talented cast that gives it real gravitas.

It is also been said that Ida Lupino directed some of this picture, which is probably true as she went on the be very good behind the camera when she wasn’t stealing men’s hearts on the silver screen.

Along with Ida Lupino, the film stars Robert Ryan and Ward Bond. Ed Begley Sr. even has a brief role, as a police chief.

Ryan plays a mean New York City cop, Jim Wilson. After hurting a man he was questioning and having a history of losing his cool on the job, his chief sends him upstate to catch a murderer in a small town. He is sent to cool off, literally, as the place is covered in snow and even referred to condescendingly as “Siberia”.

While there, Wilson teams up with Walter Brent (Ward Bond), the father of the victim who was murdered. The two quickly find the killer but he runs off towards a house. When the two men get there, they meet the blind Mary Malden (Ida Lupino). It is revealed that she is the sister of the murderer and we also learn that her brother, the killer, is a young boy that is mentally challenged. Wilson feels for the boy and he develops romantic feelings for Mary. He is pitted against Brent, who is bloodthirsty and on the hunt for justice.

The dark and brooding New York City and the snowy countryside have a very strong contrast to one another and it is in that bright countryside where Wilson finds himself and becomes a changed man.

The outdoor scenes are majestic and well shot. Visually, this falls into the noir style while also giving a fresh spin on it with the snowy environment. It looks familiar but it also looks fresh.

One thing that makes this picture stand above most film-noir is just how emotionally touching it is. Ray also accomplished this in his other noirs, most specifically In A Lonely Place. Initially, you don’t like Jim Wilson but as the film rolls on, you connect with him and alongside him, fall for the sweet and soft Mary. You begin rooting for Jim and you want to see Mary find real piece of mind and to feel safe.

On Dangerous Ground was a nice surprise. I didn’t expect anything exceptional but I should’ve known better with Ray behind the camera, as I haven’t seen a film of his that has disappointed me yet.

Film Review: The Prowler (1951)

Release Date: May 25th, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo), Robert Thoeren, Hans Wilhelm
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes

Horizon Pictures, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.” – Webb Garwood

The Prowler is a film-noir with a strange twist, the femme fatale isn’t femme at all, it’s actually a man and a jerk cop to be exact.

In this picture, a woman calls the police because she notices a peeping tom outside her window. The cops show up and one of them is immediately infatuated with the woman, who just happens to be married to a rich radio personality that is never home at night because he has a show to do. The cop starts showing up every night and seduces the woman into falling in love with him. All the while, the cop is planning to murder the woman’s husband, marry her and get the money from the dead man’s insurance policy.

This is typical noir type stuff but the evil puppet master is not a woman this time. Maybe one could argue that this was the first socially progressive film-noir. It didn’t seem to be playing off of the fear that women having power over men would lead to evil. I’m not sure if the twist was intentional or if the writers didn’t really put that much thought into it. Still, it provides a unique story nonetheless.

Ultimately, the film is incredibly effective. For one, it is really unpredictable and goes in unforeseeable directions. Even if you are thinking the worst, it swerves in ways that are still shocking. It’s a pretty nasty film for what it is. It has a certain grit that just feels dirty, even for a film-noir.

The camerawork is quite stellar and the outdoor expanse in the final act of the film is well captured and presented. The overall production design and interior sets are equally impressive. The house of the woman, where the bulk of this picture takes place in the first half, is both attractive and alluring while also being cold and haunting. It is like an opulently dressed void that reflects luxury and emptiness.

The sexual misconduct of the main characters isn’t anything new in a film-noir but somehow the actors are able to make it feel dirtier than what the audience is used to. You don’t immediately see the cop as a figure of evil but there is still an underlying sinister edge to his words and actions. Van Heflin is just as much a macho seducer as he is a conniving creeper.

There are a lot of interesting layers to the picture, most of them dark. But it really stands out amongst a sea of film-noir. I’m not saying it is one of the best pictures in the genre but it is a different experience than what one would expect and it did catch me by surprise.