Cast & Crew
Eddie Rico, owner of a prosperous laundry company in Bayshore, Florida, is awakened early one morning by a phone call from Phil, a member of the crime syndicate for which he had been the accountant three years earlier. Phil only asks for a small favor, but the call upsets Eddie's wife Alice, who worries that Eddie will revive his association with the syndicate. A letter from Eddie's mother, stating that his two brothers, Gino and Johnny, have disappeared, causes further concern for the couple, who hope soon to adopt a child. Gino meets with Eddie and asks for help, as he must leave the country. He says he was the gunman for a gang killing, for which Johnny was the driver, and believes that the organization is after them. Eddie, who does not believe that the organization is out to get them, suggests that he cooperate with them. Ordered to Miami to meet with Uncle Sid Kubik, the syndicate's head, Eddie leaves despite his wife's objections that he will miss an adoption interview. In Miami, Kubik tells Eddie of his concern that Johnny has now disappeared and that Johnny's wife's brother has made a deal with the New York district attorney not to charge Johnny if he cooperates. Kubik professes to believe that Johnny would not squeal, but he insists that Eddie find Johnny and give him money to leave the country. After Eddie goes, Kubik enters another room, where he watches as Gino is tortured. Eddie flies to New York and visits his mother, who once took a bullet in the leg protecting Kubik. She now distrusts Kubik and does not want to tell Eddie the location from which Johnny last wrote; however, when Eddie warns that she will be the cause of Johnny's death, she breaks down and prays before a statue of the Virgin, then says that Johnny last wrote from El Camino, California at a farm belonging to Marco Felici. Eddie finds Johnny there and tries to convince him to leave the country. Johnny's wife Norah, who is pregnant, faints at the commotion and Johnny angrily orders Eddie to leave. At his hotel, when Eddie learns from Mike Lamotta, the organization's boss in the area, that Kubik has ordered Johnny killed, he realizes Kubik used him to locate Johnny. Mike asks Eddie to call Johnny to tell him to go quietly into one of their cars, but when Eddie calls and learns that Norah has given birth and that Johnny has named the boy after their father, Eddie instead advises him to run. Eddie is knocked out, and Lamotta picks up the phone and instructs Johnny for Norah's good to come quietly. After Johnny is killed, Lamotta's hood, Gonzales, is sent to accompany Eddie east by plane. Eddie learns that Gino also has been killed by the syndicate. In a men's room during a layover in Arizona, Eddie knocks out Gonzales and takes his gun. When Kubik learns that Eddie has escaped, an all-out search is launched. In New York, Eddie meets Alice at a rendezvous. He blames himself for his brothers' deaths and realizes he has to fight against the syndicate using his knowledge of their operations. He meets with Johnny's brother-in-law, Peter Malaks, and convinces him to meet him at a bank the next day, where he will withdraw money for Johnny's son, for his mother and for Alice. He plans to have Malaks set up an appointment with the district attorney, and hopes Malaks will see that Alice gets out of the country safely. At the bank, Eddie puts his money into three envelopes and gives one to Alice and one to Malaks. That night, Eddie gives his mother the last envelope. Thinking that Johnny's death is her fault, Mama Rico asks for a reason to live. Eddie tells her about Johnny's newborn son, whom he hopes can live without fear like a decent human being. Kubik arrives and Mama Rico, in a rage, rushes at him and calls him an animal. One of Kubik's men pushes her away and Eddie shoots him. Kubik then shoots Eddie in the stomach, but Eddie kills Kubik. With Eddie's help, the district attorney triumphs over the crime syndicate. Eddie and Alice, armed with a letter from the district attorney, now go to a children's home hoping to adopt a child.
Betsy Jones Moreland
Lewis J. Rachmil
Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE and Other Lesser Known Gems in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 2 on DVD
The collection is a showcase for top noir talent. Forties stars like Glenn Ford, Richard Conte and Fred MacMurray are here, along with new faces Aldo Ray, Vince Edwards and Brian Keith. The tough/tender women in jeopardy include Anne Bancroft and Gloria Grahame; we also witness the film debut of star Kim Novak.
Fritz Lang studies the relationship of character to fate in 1954's Human Desire, a remake of Jean Renoir's French classic La bête humain, from a novel by Émile Zola. The original film is a prime exponent of Poetic Realism, a French school of films about working-class people betrayed by their own passions. Transposed to the wholesome milieu of Middle America, the tale still convinces thanks to near-perfect casting. Fresh from fighting in Korea, railroad engineer Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) falls in love with Vicki (Gloria Grahame), the abused wife of the older, unstable stationmaster Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford). Carl pressures Vicki to ask an executive -- who molested her as a younger woman -- for his job back, and then murders the man in a fit of rage. Jeff withholds his suspicions about the killing, while Carl threatens Vicki with a compromising letter. Committed to Vicki, Jeff follows Carl to the freight yard, to commit a murder of his own.
Fritz Lang would not have been allowed to film the sordid details of Renoir's story at any American studio. The Production Code demanded the violence be toned down and all transgressors be punished, and the studio insisted that Glenn Ford's play a virtuous working man free of mental illness. No American railroad would cooperate with a movie about murders occurring on their trains. With some of the filming moved to Canada, Lang had to do without Rita Hayworth, his first choice to play Vicki, because a child custody case prevented her from leaving the country. Instead of three flawed characters set on a collision course, Human Desire gives us a psychotic villain, his compromised wife, and a relatively pure hero.
Fritz Lang deftly suggests a few of the original's seamier extremes while stressing his own brand of environmental determinism. Precise montages of trains at work mirror similar fishing industry sequences in his earlier Clash by Night, and POV shots of crisscrossing rails imply that our fate depends on our choices. Lang's masterful direction places his characters in darkened sleeping cabins and forces the lovers to meet in rail yard shacks. But the stylized 40s ambience of eternal night and shadow is gone.
Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame are reunited from the previous year's The Big Heat, where they didn't even share a kiss. Gloria Grahame's Vicki is a needy, battered woman who does seem to love Jeff. But she's not the "right woman" for him. In a nod to healthy values, Alfred Hayes' screenplay holds the virginal Ellen (Kathleen Case) in reserve, waiting patiently for Jeff to come to his senses. Once again, the Production Code's insistence on wholesome values constrains film noir's erotic drive.
As with all the films in this Classics II collection, Human Desire is a picture perfect B&W transfer, enhanced for widescreen. Usually shown full-frame on cable broadcasts, the film gains significantly when cropped to its proper widescreen aspect ratio -- the drama is much more focused.
1954's Pushover reminds us strongly of parts of Double Indemnity combined with Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Once again playing a man seduced into murder for money and a woman, Fred MacMurray reprises his part from the Billy Wilder masterpiece, with the difference that he's now ten years worse for wear and less cocky about himself. Richard Quine's direction disguises the fact that most of the movie plays out in the same two or three sets.Pushover is the debut picture of Kim Novak, who emerges fully developed as a passive beauty guaranteed to inspire extreme male misbehavior.
On the track of bank robber Wheeler and $200,000 in stolen loot, detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) picks up Wheeler's girlfriend, Lona McLane (Kim Novak) in the line of duty. He and his partner Rick McAllister (Phil Carey) keep a 24-hour watch on the McLane apartment. Lona realizes that Paul's a cop and suggests that they do away with Wheeler and run away together with the money. Paul figures a way to accomplish this without his superiors finding out. Meanwhile, Rick is attracted to the woman in the next window over from Lona's apartment, nurse Ann Stewart (Dorothy Malone), but resists getting involved with her while on the job. When the stakeout seems to go wrong, Lt. Eckstrom (E. G. Marshall) takes a more active role in the case, complicating Paul's shaky inside-man scheme.
Pushover's makers flesh out their derivative storyline with plenty of clever touches. The male surveillance of the females in their apartments is voyeurism plain and simple, with Lona aware of her observers in a way that reminds us of peepshows in movies like Hardcore and Paris, Texas. Lona's scripted behavior is somewhat inconsistent. She instigates the murder idea in much the same manner as does Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, but from then on seems mostly a passive puppet. She follows Paul's explicit instructions to do things like draw Paul's partners away from the crime scene, etc. This "obedience factor" mirrors Kim Novak's sexual compliance in her later classic Vertigo.
Noir critics have commented about partner Rick's use of binoculars to "window shop" for the right girl. Another detective clearly enjoys watching the women disrobe, but Rick keeps things on a professional level. He doesn't tell Ann Stewart what he's doing, even after she responds positively to his he-man treatment of a masher (Paul Picerni).Pushover presents a vision of relationships equally as perverse as those of Human Desire, yet no situations arise that would drop a flag before the Production Code's censors. MacMurray's Paul Sheridan chases the twin dream of money and romance, and is almost clever enough to succeed. The ending reaches for romantic resonance when Paul states that, "Maybe we didn't really need the money." But as venality is what motivates Wheeler, Lona and Paul, we must conclude that the characters are once again fooling themselves.
Trim it of its final two minutes, and The Brothers Rico would be a prophetic masterpiece of modern paranoia to match Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With barely more resources than the average TV show, director Paul Wendkos turns French scribe Georges Simenon's thriller into a vision of the underworld as an inhuman, pervasive social monster. Critics studying fifties' anxieties will find a full statement here: our complacent surface world is completely unaware of an underlying Mabuse-like "empire of crime" that respects no human values. Forties noir icon Richard Conte is perfect as a cog from the old Mafia who believes that the mob will allow him a free and legitimate lifestyle. Not until Francis Coppola's glamorized Godfather films did American movies present the "corporate" transformation of organized crime in such powerful terms.
Ex- mob accountant Eddie Rico (Conte) runs a successful laundry business and with his younger wife Alice (Dianne Foster) hopes to adopt a child. But a call from crime chieftain Sid Kubik (Larry Gates) insists that Eddie locate his younger brothers Johnny and Gino (James Darren & Paul Picerni). The two men have disappeared after performing a mob slaying, and Kubik fears that they might be cooperating with federal investigators. Realizing that his brother's lives are in danger, Eddie rushes to find them. Gino is convinced that he's already a marked man, but Eddie counsels him to do as Kubik says. Eddie must go to New York to get a lead on his youngest brother Johnny. He stops in briefly with his mother (Argentina Brunetti), who doubts that Kubik has her boys' best interests at heart. As Eddie proceeds to the small town in Arizona where Johnny and his new wife Norah (Kathryn Grant) are hiding out, he realizes that he's bumping into too many "friendly" old-time mob associates. Should he be telling Johnny to return to the fold, or to flee for his life?
The Rico brothers are not innocent men, but they became part of the old mob through loyal family ties. Their mother once "stopped a bullet" meant for Sid Kubik, and the older man repeatedly asserts that he considers the Rico boys to be his own. But the "new" mob does not value human relationships. Absolute loyalty is required of members, but every underling is an expendable pawn. Personal freedom is impossible because the mob keeps close tabs on its personnel. Eddie's progress is monitored at every step. He's given a lift by New Yorker Vic (Richard Bakalyan), a wiseguy who pretends he's just being friendly. The Phoenix airport is watched by Charlie Gonzales (Rudy Bond), who glad-hands Eddie with an invitation to a roadhouse casino. When Eddie finally discovers that he's been played as a sucker, it's far too late. "Nothing personal", says Mike Lamotta, a thug who holds Eddie prisoner in a hotel room.
The Brothers Rico seems more relevant now than it did in 1957, provided we ignore its absurd, cheerful epilogue. The mob operates more or less like a modern corporation, independent from meaningful government oversight. Making money is its only goal. A strict internal hierarchy is imposed at all times. Members can't talk about "company business" and will invite suspicion if they don't demonstrate full compliance with company policies. The only difference is that mob employees can't quit. The mob is clearly "too big to fail".
The Brothers Rico is very cleanly designed by art director Robert Boyle. This is minimalism at its best. Johnny's farm hideout is seen only from one establishing wide shot. When the mob's cars arrive quietly on the roadway outside, the angle contains all we need to know. Until its conclusion, this very chilling film shows no overt violence: the implied threats are enough to hold it together.
Jacques Tourneur (Berlin Express, Out of the Past) returns to noir turf with 1957's Nightfall, a faithful-in-spirit adaptation of the suspenseful novel by David Goodis. Tourneur once again infuses a story of murderous double-crosses with intelligence and poetic effects.
Crooks John and Red (Brian Keith & Rudy Bond) trace commercial artist James Vanning (Aldo Ray) to his Hollywood apartment. Vanning at first thinks that model Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft) has set him up but then relies on her to help him survive his ordeal. The previous Fall in Wyoming, John and Red confronted the vacationing Vanning and murdered his doctor friend. A mix-up with bags left Vanning in possession of the loot, which he buried in the snow. Vanning and Marie must now flee north to recover the money, pursued by the thieves and by Ben Fraser (James Gregory), an insurance investigator convinced that they're all criminals.
Nightfall begins with a romantic title tune sung over Hollywood traffic at sundown, but soon sees its hero James Vanning beaten in a remote oil field. Marie Gregory barely escapes the onerous Red and John at an open-air fashion show on Wilshire Boulevard. David Goodis' book was a feverish first-person account of growing paranoia, but Tourneur and writer Stirling Silliphant back away from Vanning's personal viewpoint without sacrificing tension. As in Out of the Past the hero is at a loss in the dark alleys of the urban setting, but the snowbound Wyoming landscape changes the rules, giving Vanning a fighting chance. Like most films by Jacques Tourneur, Nightfall has its own rhythms and special character graces. Gravel voiced Aldo Ray is excellent as the haunted Vanning, a tough guy who is also believably gentle. Brian Keith must work hard to impress as a threat to the more imposing-looking Aldo Ray. Anne Bancroft is encouraged to give Marie an extra dimension as well; for once the idea of a woman dropping everything to follow a strange man into danger seems wholly credible. Nightfall is the rare 50s American noir thriller that captures the ambience of its hardboiled pulp source.
The surprise hit of last year's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I was Murder by Contract, an effective hit-man tale starring Vince Edwards. Director Irving Lerner's immediate 1959 follow-up City of Fear uses the same producer, art director and cameraman (Lucien Ballard of The Wild Bunch). With a budget that seems even smaller than before, Lerner found other tech talent at the beginning of impressive careers: editor Robert Lawrence (Spartacus, El Cid) and composer Jerry Goldsmith.
City of Fear's pared-down story is more suited to a TV show -- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode The Dividing Wall (1963) used the exact same idea. The script is a collaboration by actor-writer Steven Ritch and Robert Dillon (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes). Escapee Vince Ryker (Edwards) thinks he's stolen a sealed container of heroin for use in medical experiments on fellow prisoners. The unshielded canister, the size of a coffee thermos, actually holds deadly radioactive isotope Cobalt-60. Vince has no idea that his treasure is slowly killing him. Police Chief Jensen, Lt. Richards and Dr. Wallace (Lyle Talbot, John Archer & screenwriter Steven Ritch) are afraid to start a panic by going public, and instead wait for Ryker to trip himself up. Unable to cash in his find, Ryker comes down with flu-like symptoms that won't go away.
City of Fear looks assembled from bits and pieces. While Ryker tangles with unreliable dope contacts, the three authority figures policemen fret and worry. John Archer seemingly repeats his role from ten years back in White Heat. Despite the movie's overall competence we keep wondering why Ryker isn't concerned that his canister can't be opened. Doesn't any drug runner first confirm what he's carrying? City of Fear's camera roams atypical Los Angeles locations like the Melrose district and Sunset Blvd, but its finale appears to have been shot on a studio lot to save money, as had a major scene in Murder by Contract. Without an action conclusion, it's left to Vince Edwards' acting to lend some punch to the downbeat ending. City of Fear shows talented filmmakers making do with a minimum of filmic resources. Jerry Goldsmith's music score, his second theatrical effort, gives the picture a major boost.
Sony's DVD collection Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II contains nigh-perfect enhanced widescreen transfers of these rewarding late-period noir thrillers. Each film comes on its own disc and includes an original theatrical trailer. The other extras are limited to short interviews with Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Emily Mortimer. Scorsese offers a few useful comments on The Brothers Rico but the other two spokespeople mostly communicate their personal reactions to the movies. We know that the changing market for DVDs has caused most companies to cut back drastically on their extras, but we still miss the expert commentaries on the first set of Columbia Noirs. Our interest increases with each new release of arcane and eccentric Noir titles.
For more information about Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, visit Sony. To order Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE and Other Lesser Known Gems in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 2 on DVD
The Brothers Rico
Hollywood was quick to cash in on the escalating public interest in organized crime and shifted focus from the moody film noirs of the postwar era to fact-based (or at least fact-flavored) tales of corruption in high and low places. Warner Brothers' The Enforcer (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart, was the first major studio release to capitalize on these compelling current events; the producers milked the film's topicality for all its worth, to the point of including an opening narration spoken by Estes Kefauver. The torch of topicality was carried through the ensuing decade by The Mob (1951) with Broderick Crawford, The Racket (1951) with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, Hoodlum Empire (1952) with Brian Donlevy, The Big Heat (1953) with Glenn Ford, The System (1953) with Frank Lovejoy, On the Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb, Chicago Syndicate (1955) with Dennis O'Keefe and Paul Stewart, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) with Richard Egan and Dan Duryea, The Garment Jungle (1957) with Lee J. Cobb and Kerwin Mathews and Underworld USA (1961) with Cliff Robertson. While the majority of directors tackled the subject as they would have any studio assignment, a select few made the choice to specialize. One filmmaker who distinguished himself from the pack during this time was Phil Karlson. Starting in 1952, Karlson turned out an impressive handful of crime and gangster films, beginning with Scandal Sheet (1952) and including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Five Against the House (1955), Tight Spot (1955), The Phenix City Story (1955) and The Brothers Rico (1957).
For this adaptation of a 1952 short story by French crime writer Georges Simenon, Karlson and director of photography Burnett Guffey (All the King's Men , From Here to Eternity ) take a flat, matter-of-fact approach to the story of one-time Mafia accountant Eddie Rico (Richard Conte, nearly a decade out from Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway ) whose escape into legitimacy and suburban conformity is compromised when his hotheaded younger brothers Gino (Paul Picerni) and Johnny (James Darren) are involved in a gangland slaying. Advised by his former capo and mentor, Sid Kubik (Larry Gates, from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956) that his siblings must be executed, Eddie must choose between playing it safe and protecting his nest egg or opposing the villainy that has paid for his piece of the American Dream. Until the last act of The Brothers Rico, Karlson eschews onscreen violence for the most part to establish the banality of modern day syndicate crime (personified by the avuncular Kubik) and its psychological toll on the agonized Eddie, who is unable ultimately to save his brothers from their fates. Screenwriters Lewis Meltzer and Ben Perry (working with an uncredited assist from a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo) swing wide of the downbeat Simenon model (in which the hero sucks it up and accepts the received wisdom that les frères Rico had it coming to them), sending Eddie out to settle the score with his erstwhile godfather boss in a .38 caliber heart to heart that goes down in the claustrophobic confines of a Little Italy candy shop.
To have heard Phil Karlson tell the story, his apprenticeship for a career in movie crime began during Prohibition, where he worked as a lookout for a Chicago bootlegger. Born Philip N. Karlstein in 1908, he saw his first mob rubout before he was old enough to shave. After studying painting at the Chicago Art Institute, Karlson conceded to his father's wish that he should be a lawyer and enrolled in the pre-law program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Earning money for tuition at nearby Universal Studios, Karlson worked his way up the studio ladder as a prop man, second assistant director and editor before becoming a first assistant director on such prestige pictures as Great Expectations (1934) and Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935). He also wrote the occasional joke for Universal funnyman Lou Costello, who got Karlson his first job as a director. For the Monogram Pictures musical comedy A Wave, a WAC, and a Marine (1944), he was billed as Phil Karlstein. A year later, he signed the name Phil Karlson to The Shanghai Cobra, the sixth "Charlie Chan" film produced after Monogram took over the long-running franchise from Twentieth Century Fox. Given the subject matter to which Karlson would turn his hand in the 1950s, he would have been a natural for the advent of film noir but his lot at Monogram and elsewhere was squarely franchise fodder (the Shadow mystery Dark Alibi, the Charlie Chan whodunit The Missing Lady [both 1946]) in addition to the occasional serious drama, such as Black Gold (1947) with Anthony Quinn. The full color film was Monogram's first bid for respectability after changing its name to the tonier Allied Artists.
In 1959, Karlson directed The Scarface Mob for producer Desi Arnaz. The two-part installment of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse served as the pilot for the CBS series The Untouchables (1959-1963), starring Robert Stack as mob-busting "G" man Eliot Ness. (Although Karlson had warned him against doing a weekly TV series, then considered the death knoll for any film actor, Stack took the plunge, emboldened by a twenty percent profit share.) Karlson's output slowed during the ensuing decade. He made the soap opera-like melodrama The Young Doctors (1961) and the Elvis vehicle Kid Galahad (1962) for United Artists and helmed two installments of Columbia's lowbrow "Matt Helm" films - The Silencers (1966) and The Wrecking Crew (1968) starring Dean Martin. Closer to vintage Karlson was the offbeat war film Hornets' Nest (1969), starring Rock Hudson as an American paratrooper whipping a cadre of Italian war orphans into a fighting unit and Walking Tall (1973), a fact-based tale of corruption and redemption in Tennessee. Karlson's penultimate film was an unexpected cash cow for Bing Crosby Productions and the distributor Cinerama, spawning two sequels, a 1978 made-for-TV movie, a short-lived series and a 2004 remake that shed the "sixty percent accuracy" of the original film. Phil Karlson died in Los Angeles on December 12, 1985, at the age of 77.
Producer: William Goetz, Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: Lewis Meltzer, Ben Perry; Dalton Trumbo (uncredited)
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: Robert Boyle
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Cast: Richard Conte (Eddie Rico), Dianne Foster (Alice Rico), Kathryn Grant (Norah Malaks Rico), Larry Gates (Sid Kubik), James Darren (Johnny Rico), Argentina Brunetti (Mrs. Rico), Lamont Johnson (Peter Malaks), Harry Bellaver (Mike Lamotta), Paul Picerni (Gino Rico), Paul Dubov (Phil), Rudy Bond (Charlie Gonzales), Richard Bakalyan (Vic Tucci), William Phipps (Joe Wesson).
by Richard Harland Smith
Phil Karlson interview by Todd McCarthy and Richard Thompson, Kings of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System, edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn
Crime Movies: An Illustrated History by Carlos Clarens
Film Noir Reader, edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini
A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking by Samuel Fuller
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
e-mail from Alan K. Rode
The Brothers Rico
The novel, translated as The Brothers Rico, was published within the U.S. in a collection of three works by Georges Simenon, entitled The Tidal Wave (Garden City, NY, 1954). According to news items, the rights to the book, which was a best-seller, were purchased by William Goetz Productions in September 1954. Peter Viertel was scheduled at that time to write the screenplay. A July 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Humphrey Bogart turned down the male lead, causing the production to be postponed. At that time, Robert Parrish was set to direct, but had to bow out of the project because of a previous commitment. A television remake, entitled The Family Rico, was broadcast in 1973. It was directed by Paul Wendkos and starred Ben Gazzara.
Released in United States Fall September 1957
Completed shooting December 27, 1956.
Released in United States Fall September 1957