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What could make a good cop go bad? A beautiful woman? Lots of loot? A sense of empowerment? For Joe Peters (Charles McGraw), it's all of these things but it's definitely a femme fatale named Diane (Joan Dixon) who first ignites the copper's lust and then his greed. The couple "meet cute" in an airport and wind up sharing a hotel room in Kansas after their plane is forced to make an emergency landing. But Diane makes it perfectly clear from the get-go that Joe is not in her league. She's looking for a wealthy provider to shower her with diamonds and furs, not some working class stiff who wants a housewife. "Once a girl gets the feeling of mink around her shoulders, she doesn't forget it, even if she's in love and tries awfully hard," Diane murmurs seductively to Joe. Before you know it, the once respectable cop is cutting himself in on a lucrative deal with Diane's current paramour, a well-connected racketeer. Their plot - an elaborate railway mail car robbery - proceeds smoothly until the final moments of the heist when a policeman is shot and killed. After that, fate deals Joe a different set of cards - all jokers.
Roadblock (1951) is an ingeniously plotted and tautly directed film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. From the opening title sequence, you know this is no run-of-the-mill B-movie; the credits roll down the screen at a slanted angle over the high beams of a car, traveling at night on a deserted road. Director Robert Aldrich possibly saw this and imitated it in the opening credits to Kiss Me Deadly (1955). And the climactic chase scene in the dry storm drains of Los Angeles (a location which would take on even more iconic associations with Them! in 1954), is an inspired location choice compared to most studio-bound crime films at RKO.
The first half of Roadblock is particularly memorable with Joe and Diane engaging in a form of verbal ping-pong which manages to be both existential and cynically amusing at the same time:
Joe - "What makes you the way you are?"
Diane - "What makes anybody the way they are?"
Joe - "You tell me."
Diane - "Where they got started maybe. I had a lot of jobs - modeling, clerking, secretarial work. I tried hard but it was no go."
Joe - "Does that make a chiseler out of you? Must have been something else."
Diane - "Whenever I got a job there was always a man who wasn't interested in my working ability."
Joe - "I understand that."
Diane - "Really? Coming from you that's a compliment."
In addition to the hard boiled dialogue, Joe's introduction into the film is also cleverly staged and to reveal it here would spoil the fun.
Charles McGraw, who has played both tough cops and menacing criminals in equal measure throughout his movie career, is perfect as the corruptible hero and Lowell Gilmore oozes reptilian charm as the elegant but totally devious Kendall Webb, someone who shares many similarities with George Macready's character in Gilda (1946). Louis Jean Heydt is equally impressive in his role as Harry, Joe's investigator pal, who senses almost immediately that all is not quite right with his weekend hunting partner.
Directed by the relatively unknown Harold Daniels, Roadblock also benefits greatly from the crisp black and white cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca, no stranger to the film noir genre (Out of the Past (1947), The Woman on Pier 13, 1949), who gives the film an added touch of class.
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Harold Daniels
Screenplay: Steve Fisher, George Bricker
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Robert Golden
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Charles McGraw (Joe Peters), Joan Dixon (Diane), Lowell Gilmore (Kendall Webb), Louis Jean Heydt (Harry Miller), Milburn Stone (Egan), Joseph Crehan (Thompson).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford