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The Hoodlum

The Hoodlum(1951)

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Tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney is enjoying a renewed popularity thanks to last summer's Film Noir 2 releases from Warner DVD. A good actor who spoiled a promising career with arrests for boozing and brawling, Tierney was a genuine bruiser and all-around dangerous character.

The Wade Williams Collection presents a rather beat-up copy of The Hoodlum, an inferior crime melodrama distributed by United Artists in its first year of reorganization. More a continuation of the Eagle-Lion label than the Chaplin-Fairbanks-Griffith tradition, UA in 1951 was a home for all manner of independent films. Some were artistic, and a lot weren't.

Synopsis: Against the strenuous objections of the prison authorities small-time hood Vincent Lubeck (Lawrence Tierney) is paroled after serving half of a ten-year armed robbery sentence. Bitter and maladjusted, he rejects the kindness of his mother (Lisa Golm) and grudgingly pumps gas for his brother Johnny (Edward Tierney). Vincent is soon seducing his brother's girlfriend Rosa (Allene Roberts) while planning a major armored car holdup. As part of his scheme he also romances Eileen (Marjorie Riordan). She works at the bank across the street, and knows of some large cash shipments coming up.

The Hoodlum begins intriguingly with a sweating Vincent Lubeck being taken for a ride in the dead of night to the city dump. It then flashes back to retrace a gangster plotline already twenty years out of date. Ma Lubeck has two boys, one an honest garage owner and the other a vicious criminal. Ma's special pleading wins Vincent an early release from jail but the hardened thug has no intention of going straight.

Sam Neuman and Nat Tanchuck's simplistic screenplay leans heavy on the proposition that all prison inmates should remain locked up for the protection of society. Selfish and violent, Vincent boasts that he's learned a lot in prison and is ready to go for a big score. He flies off the handle when anybody tries to give him advice. He's just an angry guy, as seen in an unintentionally silly scene where he loses his cool over some innocent guff from a dissatisfied customer. "What's in it for me?" is his basic motto.

Director Max Nosseck had helmed Tierney's breakthrough picture Dillinger but returned to poverty row productions after only a few bigger studio assignments. His clumsy direction keeps The Hoodlum at a comic-book level. We have to believe that Lawrence Tierney directed himself - his hammy theatrics at the tearful ending will give some of his ardent fans second thoughts. The other actors are left to their own devices. "Helpless old lady" specialist Lisa Golm (So Ends Our Night, A Place in the Sun) overacts ridiculously as the suffering mother. Billed as a new "discovery," Edward Tierney has almost nothing to do. He was the third Tierney brother to try his luck as an actor. The second was Scott Brady, who ended up with the most satisfying career.

Although cameraman Clark Ramsey's lighting is consistently good, the movie looks cheap. Audiences in 1951 must have laughed derisively at the scratchy 1930s-vintage stock shots of police vehicles and gangster action. The big robbery set piece is ineptly staged - it looks as if a dozen people are shot dead but we lose track amid the confusing coverage.

(spoilers) A potentially interesting romantic angle is woefully undeveloped. Vincent uses bank employee Eileen in his robbery scheme but she has already used her charms to tap her boss for expensive luxuries and is too slick to be taken in by his games. We never find out the full extent of Eileen's conniving. Given slightly more time is a subplot in which Vincent seduces his brother's sensitive girlfriend Rose, who becomes pregnant and suicidal. From the standpoint of the Production Code, it's odd that the makers of The Hoodlum would billboard out-of-wedlock pregnancy and suicide as key plot points, after being so careful to maintain a conservative take on law and order. One can almost see where Southern parishes would have made their censor cuts.

Image and Corinth's DVD of The Hoodlum is from the Wade Williams Collection; he provides some awkward package copy. The splicy print is regularly interrupted with breaks that lop off a word or two and occasionally create glaring jump cuts that bounce actors around the frame. We're told (through the IMDB) that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences restored the film in 1999 but the copy on this disc is mediocre. There are no extras.

For more information about The Hoodlum, visit Image Entertainment.

by Glenn Erickson