Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
When Della and her little brother Poochie are attacked on the Brooklyn docks by a gang of teenage thugs known as the Stompers, Poochie runs for help to his friend, Jimmy Smigelski, the leader of a rival gang known as the Diggers. After Jimmy and the Diggers drive away the Stompers, Della, who has been away at school for four years, asks Jimmy to accompany her to the Settlement House dance. Later, Joe Brindo, a racketeer who preys on the longshoremen, comes to the printing shop owned by Jimmy's father Pete. Pete blames Brindo for a crippling accident he suffered years earlier while working as a longshoreman and consequently is an outspoken opponent of the racketeer. After Brindo offers Pete $3,000 a year to silence his criticism, Pete denounces the bribe as blood money and throws Brindo out of his store. When Jimmy castigates his father for turning down the much-needed money, Pete angrily strikes him with his cane. At the Settlement House run by Dan Kevlin, Della and Jimmy are peacefully dancing when the Stompers, bent on revenge for their humiliation at the hands of the Diggers, burst in and start a rumble. As sirens signal the arrival of the police, the teens scatter, and Brindo stops Jimmy on the street and invites him to his apartment. Brindo, who is childless, feels fatherly toward Jimmy and so offers to teach him all he knows. When Jimmy returns home, Pete chastises him for his involvement in the brawl, and Jimmy bitterly replies that he feels trapped by the limitations of the Brooklyn waterfront. The next day, when Della asks Jimmy to trust Kevlin, who has been supportive of the community, Jimmy begins to argue with her but then kisses her. Later, at the print shop, Pete and Kevlin urge a group of longshoremen to break with Brindo and form a new local under the leadership of Ferdinand Marchesi, the honest dock boss of pier eighty-five. As the men troop to pier eighty-five, Brindo's thug, Frank Mangus, arrives to threaten Marchesi. When Marchesi refuses to back down, a fight ensues in which Marchesi thrashes Mangus. After delivering the injured Mangus to Brindo's apartment, Jimmy returns home, where Pete calls him a Judas and throws him out. Jimmy moves into the local garage where he works as a mechanic, and Brindo comes to see him and offer his help. When Jimmy learns that the police want to question him about the rumble, he calls Brindo for advice, and Brindo sends Jimmy to the police station represented by the racketeer's attorney, Gotham. After Jimmy is released, Della asks his help in persuading Poochie to go to summer camp and thus avoid the violence of the gangs. As Della and Jimmy stroll the waterfront, they see an ambulance racing to a hit-and-run accident and learn that the victim is Marchesi. At the scene of the accident, the police apprehend two teens who stole Marchesi's wallet and haul them to the station house where they show them a mug book and tell them to identify the hit-and-run driver. After the boys identify Peanuts Bassett, an employee of Brindo, as the assailant, Peanuts is arrested and Gotham asks Jimmy to contradict the boys' testimony in court. Upon learning that the boys were arrested while trying to steal Marchesi's wallet, Gotham uses the information to undermine their credibility and then calls Jimmy to the stand to swear that Peanuts was not the man he saw driving the hit-and-run car. After court recesses for the day, Brindo throws a party in Jimmy's honor and Jimmy's parents come to Brindo's apartment in search of their son. There, Pete accuses Jimmy of lying, then disowns his son and leaves. Upset, Jimmy retreats to his room, and soon after, Poochie comes to his window and asks him to come with him because Della is sick. When Jimmy leaves the building, he is jumped by the Diggers and taken to the garage, where Della threatens to tell the police that she was with Jimmy on the night of the accident, thus proving that he was lying about seeing the hit-and-run driver. Brindo, meanwhile, discovers that Jimmy is missing and assumes that the boy plans to double-cross him. When Della suggests asking Kevlin for help with their dilemma, Jimmy promises to stay at the garage while the others go to the Settlement House. After the teens leave, one of them notifies Brindo that Jimmy is hiding at the garage. When Brindo's goons appear at the garage, one of the Diggers sees them and runs to Pete for help. Pete rushes in to defend his son and is shot in the process. As Jimmy tearfully embraces his injured father, the police arrive to arrest Brindo and his gang. Some time later, Jimmy reconciles with his now-recovered father, who welcomes him into the printing business.
Fred F. Sears
Stephen H. Sears
Robert C. Ross
Freddie Bell And His Bellboys
Rumble on the Docks
The story fairly skillfully combines both elements by having a corrupt union leader take a young gang leader under his wing. Eventually, the youth wises up to the fact that his benefactor is no good (just as the kid's estranged father had warned him), and finds himself threatened by both waterfront thugs and a rival gang.
The youth in question is played by James Darren in his film debut. The handsome Italian-American from Philadelphia studied acting under legendary coach Stella Adler. Although an actor of some skill, he got trapped in the teen idol category, notably as the character Moondoggie in a string of Gidget movies (each with a different actress playing the titular heroine). He also had a couple of hit records in the 50s. Later in his career he had success with regular roles in such TV series as The Time Tunnel, T.J. Hooker, Melrose Place, and as the lounge singer hologram Vic Fontaine on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
By this point in his long career, producer Sam Katzman had moved from the exotic (but usually cheap and cheesy) period adventures that earned him the nickname "Jungle Sam." In 1952, Time magazine ran an article about him, noting a remarkable track record of nearly 125 films over the course of 21 years, all of them moneymakers. (He would keep that record up for another 20-plus years and close to double that number of films.) It helped, of course, that Katzman never spent more than a half million dollars on a movie. He had an unerring knack for jumping on a hot news topic or popular trend, slapping a catchy title on it, then writing a story around it using a well-trodden formula. The results were quickie programmers that reached the public with lightning speed, playing to audiences before the topic or trend had time to fade. He found the perfect theme in his youth exploitation films of the 1950s, which along with a series of sci-fi movies, carried him successfully through the decade. This being a Katzman B picture, no one would expect to find major Hollywood names on the cast and crew list, but viewers will certainly recognize a young Robert Blake. After a good run as a child star beginning in the late 1930s in the Our Gang comedy shorts, Blake found life more difficult and roles less rewarding as he got older. Nevertheless, except for a two-year armed services stint completed not long before this production, he continued to work steadily. His biggest success later in life came from the TV series Baretta, although sadly he's probably better known today for his trial for the murder of his second wife, for which he was acquitted.
The union boss's thug, Mangus, is played by notorious character actor Timothy Carey, who has since become a cult figure for his portrayals of heavies and crazies in films ranging from The Wild One (1953), East of Eden (1955), and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) to a spoof of his own psycho screen image in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). A favorite actor of actor Jack Nicholson and director Quentin Tarantino, he tested for the role of crime boss Joe Cabot in Tarantino's debut film, Reservoir Dogs (1992). Although Tarantino ultimately decided Carey was wrong for the role, he ended up dedicating the movie to him. In his later years, Carey made his living as an acting teacher in addition to the occasional film and television role. He died of a stroke on May 11, 1994, at the age of 65.
Viewers will likely not recognize the name today, but the group that performs "Get the First Train Out of Town," the obligatory rock and roll tune in the film, was once considered a rising act in the emerging music genre. Katzman snapped them up for an appearance in what is considered the first true rock and roll picture, Rock Around the Clock (1956) and quickly cast them here as well. According to some sources, the relatively unknown Elvis Presley saw them performing the Big Mama Thornton song "Hound Dog" in Las Vegas in 1955 and became inspired by their movement and style. Presley made a hit of the song in 1956, just a couple of months prior to the release of Rumble on the Docks. Although one of the first American rock and roll acts to tour the UK, Bell and the Bellboys never had a top hit record and faded into obscurity.
Cinematographer Benjamin Kline was a longtime industry veteran (since 1920), mostly on B pictures. After this production, Kline stayed pretty close to television, but he had a certain amount of credibility for a project like this, having lensed the aforementioned Rock Around the Clock and the film noir classic Detour (1945).
The movie was based on a novel by Frank Paley, whose real name was Palescandolo. As teen gang violence grew, particularly in Brooklyn, between the end of World War II and the mid-50s, it became the subject of a number of journalistic exposés and government investigations. Paley's novel was a pulp dramatization of the true-life bloody warfare that was plaguing the Red Hook section of Brooklyn at the time.
Director: Fred F. Sears
Producer: Sam Katzman
Screenplay: Jack DeWitt, Lou Morheim, based on the novel by Frank Paley
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Editing: Jerome Thoms
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Cast: James Darren (Jimmy Smigelski), Laurie Carroll (Della), Michael Granger (Joe Brindo), Robert Blake (Chuck), Timothy Carey (Frank Mangus)
By Rob Nixon
Rumble on the Docks
Although a March 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Robert Kent was to produce the film, onscreen credits only list Sam Katzman as the producer. A July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item places Michael Marks in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Assistant director Willard Sheldon is listed as William Sheldon in Hollywood Reporter production charts. A July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that the waterfront scenes were filmed in San Pedro, CA. Rumble on the Docks marked the screen debut of actor-singer James Darren.