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Ginger Rogers gets top billing in Tight Spot (1955) as a tough, street-smart gangster's moll who is temporarily released from prison into the custody of U.S. District Attorney Edward G. Robinson, who wants her testimony in the upcoming trial of her gangster boyfriend (Lorne Greene). In a plush hotel suite, Robinson tries to break down Rogers' strong resistance; the fact that several attempts are made on her life makes his job even harder. Brian Keith co-stars as a cynical police detective assigned to guard Rogers, and with whom she develops a romantic attachment. As The New York Times said in its review, Tight Spot is "a pretty good little melodrama."
Based on a play entitled Dead Pigeon by Leonard Kantor (as Lenard Kantor), Tight Spot does have a distinct staginess about it, but director Phil Karlson uses the claustrophobia of the hotel-room setting to his advantage to create an intense experience for the audience. Karlson is best known today for tough film noirs and westerns such as Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), The Brothers Rico (1957), Gunman's Walk (1958), and The Texas Rangers (1951), the latter of which Tight Spot strongly resembles on a narrative level.
The film's screenwriter, William Bowers, was one of Hollywood's best of this period. While he wrote in most genres, he's best remembered for his film noir work, in which his exceptional skill with heightened, sharper-than-sharp dialogue can be heard in movies including Cry Danger (1951) and The Mob (1951). He also contributed dialogue to outstanding noirs like Pitfall (1948), Abandoned (1949), and Criss Cross (1949).
Tight Spot was the second film of a two-picture deal Edward G. Robinson struck with Columbia. The first was The Violent Men (1955), in which he was third-billed after Barbara Stanwyck and Glenn Ford. For the most part, the 1950s found Robinson's career on the wane. He needed any work he could find, so he accepted a string of roles in minor films such as Vice Squad (1953), Big Leaguer (1953) and A Bullet for Joey (1955). As he later wrote: "I entered the 'B' picture phase of my career as a movie star - or former movie star, if that's a better way of putting it, or has-been, if that's still a better way." The famously liberal Robinson went on in his memoir to explain candidly why these modest pictures fell into his path: "I was doomed, both by age and former political leanings, to a slow graveyard." Finally Cecil B. DeMille (who was famously conservative) came to Robinson's rescue and cast the actor in The Ten Commandments (1956). Robinson was eternally grateful: "Cecil B. DeMille returned me to films. Cecil B. DeMille restored my self-respect."
All of that being said, Tight Spot is not a bad movie, certainly nothing for Robinson to have been ashamed of. The Hollywood Reporter was even quite effusive in its praise for the actor, declaring that Robinson "once more proves what a really expert trouper he is. He has a wonderful authority in the scenes requiring it, but it's even more exciting to watch the skill with which he supports and builds the effects of the actors he is working with. His listening helps the audience to listen."
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: William Bowers; Lenard Kantor (play "Dead Pigeon")
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Cast: Ginger Rogers (Sherry Conley), Edward G. Robinson (Lloyd Hallett), Brian Keith (Vince Striker), Lucy Marlow (Prison Girl), Lorne Greene (Benjamin Costain), Katherine Anderson (Mrs. Willoughby), Allen Nourse (Marvin Rickles), Peter Leeds (Fred Packer), Doye O'Dell (Mississippi Mac), Eve McVeagh (Clara Moran).
by Jeremy Arnold