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Kluger (Charles McGraw), a cold-blooded killer, breaks out of jail and systemically abducts the people he holds responsible for his arrest - the nightclub singer (Virginia Grey) he thinks betrayed him, the cop (Michael O'Shea) who arrested him and the D.A. who sentenced him. With the help of two henchmen and a hired van driver, Kluger takes his hostages deep into the desert where he intends to dispose of them before making his getaway via a hired plane to Mexico. Even the best laid plans can fall apart though and the relentless sun, scorching temperatures and rising tension between Kluger and his accomplices create an explosive atmosphere which eventually erupts in violence.
From the description, The Threat (1949) might sound like countless other low-budget crime thrillers but don't be mistaken. This one packs a mean punch thanks to Charles McGraw's genuinely unnerving performance as the homicidal Kluger. Like William Talman's equally frightening performance as a trigger-happy psycho in The Hitch-Hiker (1953), McGraw deserves some kind of award for his particular brand of menace. It's his formidable presence and Felix Feist's taut direction that elevate this 67-minute programmer into the ranks of B-movie greatness, rivaling The Narrow Margin (1952) and Roadblock (1951) as unheralded film noir gems.
Charles McGraw was once described by author Eddie Muller (in the book, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) as looking like "an armored car, draped in a pin-striped suit." Even more imposing was his gruff voice, which the author said "sounded like a fist was gripping his larynx whenever he deigned to utter dialogue." Though not well known today, McGraw was a familiar face in B-movie thrillers of the late forties-early fifties (The Killers (1946), Border Incident (1949), His Kind of Woman, 1951). Dissecting his appeal, Muller added that his "broad, blocky presence lent any scene additional heft. As villains, not many players were as physically threatening. As heroes, few conveyed juggernaut determination so off-handedly, or believably. McGraw was simply a natural on-screen. By the early 60's his bluntness had acquired a nicely weathered quality, used to good advantage by Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus ), Anthony Mann (Cimarron ), and Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds ). McGraw's career was tragically cut short by a horrendous fatal accident. He slipped in his shower and crashed through the doors, impaling himself on a huge glass shard. An awful end for one of the great faces and voices of film noir."
Producer: Hugh King
Director: Felix E. Feist
Screenplay: Hugh King
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Music: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Michael O'Shea (Williams), Virginia Grey (Carol), Charles McGraw (Kluger), Julie Bishop (Ann), Frank Conroy (Mac), Robert Shayne (Murphy), Don McGuire (Joe Turner), Frank Richards (Lefty).
by Jeff Stafford