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Destination Murder (1950) is a low-budget crime drama and borderline Film Noir helmed by prolific director Edward L. Cahn. The movie was independently produced by Cahn as well, through his company Prominent Features, and picked up for distribution by RKO Pictures. Screenwriter Don Martin was a crime novelist and a veteran story man for such series programmers as Devil's Cargo (1948, from The Falcon series) and The Lost Tribe (1949, from the Jungle Jim series).
The plot machinations and character motivations of Destination Murder are about as murky and complex as they come. Small-time punk Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements) is at the movies with his date when he ducks out between features for a cigarette. This is a cover, because he hops in a car driven by hoodlum club owner Armitage (Albert Dekker), changes into a Blue Streak Messenger uniform, then shoots businessman Arthur Mansfield (Franklyn Farnum) as he answers his front door. The criminals were not aware that Mansfield's daughter Laura (Joyce MacKenzie) fleetingly saw Jackie hop the fence and leave in the getaway car. Laura strikes up a false romance with Jackie to confirm her suspicions about him. She also gets a job as a cigarette girl to infiltrate Armitage's club; here she runs into smooth-talking Stretch Norton (Hurd Hatfield), manager of the club and right-hand man to Armitage, as well as moll Alice Wentworth (Myrna Dell), who is cooking up a separate extortion plot with Jackie. Laura leaves herself open to being discovered, and like most viewers, she does not foresee some of the plot twists to come.
Destination Murder can be termed a Film Noir by virtue of its labyrinth plot, its roster of colorful and somewhat perverse characters, and by a cynical sense that such actions displayed by low-lifes Armitage, Norton and Jackie are the norm. Director Cahn makes little attempt to bring any visual Noir elements into play; most of the film takes place in broad daylight and well-lit sets; the lighting, camera set-ups, and editing are all fairly routine.
A great attraction of Destination Murder is its cast of well-recognized character actors in featured roles. Stanley Clements was a one-time member of the East Side Kids (as "Stash") and a future member of the Bowery Boys (as "Duke," a replacement for Leo Gorcey), when he was given one of the meatiest roles of his career in the film; he is suitably quirky and menacing as the non-comedic punk Jackie. Albert Dekker had been a colorful character actor for years, perhaps best known for the title role in the horror adventure Dr. Cyclops (1940). His single-named club owner in this film, Armitage, is also a quirky fellow. As Robert Porfirio writes in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Dekker's thug "...takes on new and unusual ambiguities...not only does Armitage like good music, own an exquisitely decorated mansion filled with works of art, but he is capable of brutal acts only when accompanied by Tchaikovsky on the player piano. That Armitage refers to himself in the third person indicates that 'Armitage' is merely a persona, a creation perhaps of Stretch Norton's..." Stretch is played by Hurd Hatfield, here very different from the colorless title character he portrayed six years earlier in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Stretch and Armitage represent one of the oddest mobster duos in movie history. As Porfirio writes, "there are hints of both the exotic and the homosexual. Unfortunately, these implications are left undeveloped by a convoluted and often meaningless plot."
Edward L. Cahn began as an editor in the late 1920s, cutting such prestigious films as The Man Who Laughs (1928). In the mid 1930s he was signed as a shorts director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. For the next decade Cahn turned out several in the Crime Does Not Pay and Passing Parade series, and most notably, many of the post-Hal Roach Our Gang shorts. Switching to features he specialized in low-budget crime and mystery dramas, quickly descending from MGM to various "poverty row" and independent studios.
In the mid-to-late 1950s Cahn landed at American International Pictures and other studios which specialized in drive-in fare. He directed dozens of movies during this period including "bad girl" pictures like Runaway Daughters (1956), Girls in Prison (1956), and Dragstrip Girl (1957); he was also responsible for many fondly-remembered horror and sci-fi films, such as The She-Creature (1956), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).
Producer: Edward L. Cahn, Maurie M. Suess
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Don Martin
Cinematography: Jackson J. Rose
Film Editing: Philip Cahn
Music: Irving Gertz
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Set Decoration: Jacques Mapes
Cast: Joyce MacKenzie (Laura Mansfield), Stanley Clements (Jackie Wales), Hurd Hatfield (Stretch Norton), Albert Dekker (Armitage), Myrna Dell (Alice Wentworth), James Flavin (Police Lt. Brewster), John Dehner (Frank Niles).
by John M. Miller