Cast & Crew
An anonymous telephone tip to the Boston division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation sends agents trailing Robert Martin, who may be involved with a spy ring. The agents film Martin covertly giving documents to a woman, before making his way to the harbor, where he boards a Polish freighter. Moments later another man, Michael Dorndoff, who is dressed like Martin, leaves the freighter and is detained by FBI agents. Inspector James Belden is assigned to head the investigation. He discovers that Dorndoff is not Martin, who had been under the Bureau's scrutiny since 1939 when he joined a subversive political group that indoctrinated him abroad and brought him back to be a "sleeper" agent, awaiting activation. Belden releases Dorndoff, certain that he will eventually lead the Bureau to other more important contacts. While searching for the woman to whom Martin gave the documents, Belden learns that Alex Laschenkov, a well-known Russian agent, may be involved in the Martin spy ring. Unknown to Belden, Laschenkov arrived in Boston on the freighter that Martin boarded and chastised Martin for working too slowly to learn the details behind a secret U.S. government defense project, code named "Falcon," and extort information from Falcon's top mathematician, Dr. Albert Kafer, working in Boston's Montrose Laboratories. Despite Martin's protests, Laschenkov orders him to return to Russia and takes over the Falcon mission. Laschenkov then meets with undercover agent and florist Luther Danzig, to make contact with the ring's inside agent at Montrose Labs, Nicholas Wilbon. Laschenkov expresses frustration with Danzig's cautious approach, declaring that tentativeness led to Martin's failure. Laschenkov secures false naturalization papers from another member of the ring, funeral director Helmuth, then meets Wilbon's wife, Elaine, another highly placed spy, and later, Gino and Millie, whose cover is running a photography shop. The next day Millie approaches Albert in an outdoor café and presents him with a photo of his son Samuel, who is being held in the Russian sector of Berlin. Albert asks about Martin, but Millie informs him that in exchange for his son's release, Albert must supply his Falcon study results. Albert contacts the FBI, and explains to Belden that Samuel, a scientist, was kidnapped in Berlin. Albert further explains that Martin contacted him, offering to help and claiming to be a representative of a refugee association. Belden asks Albert to pass on phony information to the spy ring, but Albert hesitates, concerned that doing so may harm Samuel. Two days later, Albert receives instructions to meet Millie to give her the information, and he informs Belden. On the night of the exchange, Albert, under hidden FBI surveillance, is picked up by a cab driven by Vincent Foss. He assures Albert that Samuel is unharmed and that his son has asked his father to cooperate and write out his theorems. Albert decides to go along with Belden's request, while the FBI has Foss followed for several days. Then, Foss picks up Albert at another prearranged sight for the papers. After dropping the scientist off, Foss retrieves Millie to give her the information, then abruptly informs her that he wants out of the spy ring. Later, Millie and Gino microfilm Albert's documents, recorded by a hidden FBI camera, and within thirty-six hours, the documents are on their way to Moscow. At home, Foss frets with his wife Rita about his espionage involvement, which stemmed from a youthful flirtation with Communism that he has long regretted. Rita admits to having tipped the FBI to the ring and pleads with her husband to turn himself in. A few days later, Danzig reads in the newspaper that Foss has committed suicide. Meanwhile, Albert celebrates at Montrose when his theorems are proven. Wilbon learns that Albert is to dictate all his notes for the Falcon scientists in Washington, D.C., so there will be no written copies. Albert informs Belden that he received word from the spy ring that they want all of his results, but that he refused to cooperatee until he heard from Samuel. Millie, Elaine and Wilbon are sent to Washington, but Laschenkov secretly sends Danzig to give him reports on their activities. In Washington, Wilbon is part of the Montrose group who have brought Albert's tapes to Falcon's scientists and as they listen, he surreptitiously makes a duplicate recording. Later, Elaine picks Wilbon up and they are followed by the FBI to a meeting place, where Elaine gives Millie the tapes. After the exchange, FBI agents arrest all three spies as Danzig watches. That evening back in Boston, Albert receives a brief phone call from Samuel in Berlin urging his father to cooperate, but the next morning Laschenkov has underground agents kidnap the scientist from his home. Later, Belden learns that Samuel has been located and moved to West Berlin safely. The Bureau turns back to watching the movements of Dorndoff, whose meeting with Danzig is filmed and studied to discern the plans to take Albert out of the country from a small fishing harbor off the New Hampshire coast. After ordering the arrest of all the known members of the spy ring, the Bureau uses a Navy cruiser to intercept the escaping yacht. Upon arresting Laschenkov and the remaining spies, Belden gives Albert the good news that Samuel is on a plane bound for Boston.
George Roy Hill
Louis De Rochemont Iii
Louis De Rochemont
Louis De Rochemont
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV on DVD
The aptly titled So Dark The Night is an atypical, ambitious picture from the creative Joseph H. Lewis, who had already scored big with Columbia's sleeper success My Name is Julia Ross. Its leading player is actor Steven Geray, a very non-leading man type perhaps being rewarded for his fine supporting turn in Charles Vidor's Gilda. It's Geray's only starring role but he's excellent as a master detective.
Reteaming with cameraman Burnett Guffey, Lewis makes a minor masterpiece from a script by the mostly underachieving writers Martin Berkeley and Aubrey Wisberg. Inspector Henri Cassin (Geray) is an eccentric but brilliant sleuth sent to a French countryside Inn for a fortnight's rest. There he meets young Nanette Michaud (Micheline Cheirel), a small town girl engaged to local farmer Leon (Paul Marion). Nanette's advances overcome Henri's misgivings about taking a much younger wife, and he allows himself to be swept up by romance. But when their plans are interrupted by a series of murders Henri vows to catch the killer. Despite his inspired sleuthing, he soon runs out of leads.
So Dark The Night sees Joseph H. Lewis directing at his peak powers, making the most of a not extravagant budget: a patch of the San Fernando Valley becomes a credible substitute for rural France. Lewis's camera is always on the movie. He introduces characters with fast details, like feet on a sidewalk, and fingers on clothesline. "Wagon Wheel Joe's" predilection for foreground objects is in full force in many shots composed with dramatic depth indicators. Lewis does a fine job of distributing suspicion between several cast members. Is the killer the unhappy maid? (Helen Freeman) The angry father? (Eugene Borden) The hunchback? (Brother Theodore)
Concentrating on Steven Geray's marvelous performance, Lewis contrasts the man's gentle decency with his dogged determination to identify the murderer, complete with Sherlock Holmes- style clues and theories. Meanwhile, the director adds expressionist touches -- deeper camera angles, strange pauses -- to indicate something unsuspected is amiss. A surprise revelation is accompanied by a radical lighting effect cued by emotion alone. The film presents visual hints of "memory sensations", but no tiresome formal flashback to explain the mystery. A doctor's final theory reminds us of the finish of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. A definite film noir for its dark mood and stress on psychological chaos, So Dark The Night is a bold departure from the Hollywood norm.
A front-rank noir, 1947's Johnny O'Clock is the first directing job by the talented Robert Rossen, who would proceed to the classic Body and Soul and earn the Best Picture Oscar for 1949, All the King's Men. The title character is none other than Dick Powell, who here tempers the tough-guy hardboiled talk as he negotiates a path through various intrigues, including murder. The movie also features a trio of notable noir beauties, each in fine form.
Womanizing Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell) lives a risky life. His partner in a swank nightclub is Pete Marchettis (Thomas Gomez), and a crooked, ambitious detective is trying his best to elbow Johnny out. Worse, Pete's wife Nelle (Ellen Drew) still has a yen for Johnny, and recklessly displays her affections. One murder leads to the apparent suicide of Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch), the club's hatcheck girl. When Harriet's sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) arrives, Johnny finds himself seriously falling for her. Meanwhile, Detective inspector Koch (Lee J. Cobb) is sizing up Johnny as a main suspect in the deaths, and Pete Marchettis finds evidence that Nelle and Johnny are a secret item. No matter how Johnny looks at it, he's in a solid frame. His only choice is to try and get Nancy free of the trouble.
Suave and unflappable, Dick Powell's Johnny does daily business with crooks and knows better than to be totally honest with anyone. Catching a poker dealer stealing money, Johnny lets him stay on with the reasoning that the next man hired might be smarter with his thievery. Johnny's personal assistant Charlie (John Kellogg) is an ex-con who otherwise wouldn't have a job; we can't tell if Johnny has a soft heart or likes having somebody willing to break the law for him. Johnny makes a strong contrast with his partner Marchettis, an unschooled brute frustrated that he can't hold on to Nelle, his trophy wife. Given his poor standing with the police, Johnny is surprised that the intelligent and caring Nancy should choose to stick with him. Women are O'Clock's stumbling block, but also his salvation. The film builds to a suspenseful finish.
Johnny O'Clock benefits from fine low-key B&W cinematography by Burnett Guffey, a true noir stylist. Guffey and director Rossen manage a moody tone even in bright cafes and swank sitting rooms. Evelyn Keyes never looked lovelier and Ellen Drew is irresistibly seductive. Nina Foch's role is much smaller, yet she makes a sympathetic impression. In his second film appearance, actor Jeff Chandler has a nice bit as a gambler from out of town.
Columbia must have liked the title Walk A Crooked Mile as they later released a noir entitled Drive a Crooked Road. But it plays like a re-run of Fox's wartime classic The House on 92nd Street, in which FBI agents infiltrate a Nazi spy ring and discover that they are smuggling top scientific secrets. Now Russian spies are stealing newer formulas out of the high-security Lakeview Laboratory by hiding them in oil paintings. F.B.I agent Dan O'Hara (Dennis O'Keefe) and Scotland Yard 'exchange agent' Scotty Grayson (Louis Hayward) infiltrate the spy network. They barely escape from the murderous Krebs (Raymond Burr), before sorting the innocent from the guilty back at the lab.
The film affects a semi-documentary style that's constantly on the movie, hopping from city to city and from surveillance stakeouts to places as mundane as a laundry service. Director Gordon Douglas gets good footage on the streets of San Francisco. He also manages an exciting FBI shoot-out of the kind that never happened in real Cold War confrontations. The scene reminds us of John Dillinger's mob caught in the fishing lodge in the 1935 Cagney movie G-Men.
The frequently repeated message is that only dedicated F.B.I. agents can save us from the communist conspiracy menacing us from all sides. One loyal immigrant woman sacrifices her life to protect our heroes, as she'd do anything to help America crush the evil she witnessed back in Eastern Europe. The movie also considers scientists as potential enemies. One is an outright traitor and another (Carl Esmond) is blackmailed into espionage work. Curiously, the movie seems to find a woman who did the physical smuggling (Louise Allbritton) innocent because her motive was love. Walk A Crooked Mile's impersonal semi-docu style, with narration constantly explaining everything, prevents us from getting too involved in the characters.
The poetically named Between Midnight And Dawn is really just a straightforward police story. The original title Prowl Car better describes a pro-police storyline that sees two cops on the graveyard shift take on a dangerous underworld figure. Director Gordon Douglas delivers a handsomely assembled thriller, filmed on permanently wet nighttime streets. But the script's idea of a compelling conflict is to make one cop a softie and the other a cynic about criminals and women.
Policemen Dan Purvis (Edmond O'Brien) and Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) go after the slimy racketeer Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka) while romancing Kate Mallory (Gale Storm) the dispatcher whose voice they hear on their squad car radio. Kate's cop father was killed on the job, so she avoids romantic attachments with them. But her mother purposely rents an apartment to the eager Romeos. Intuiting that a gang war is beginning, Dan and Rocky are able to arrest Garris and make the charge stick. But one jailbreak later, the gangster takes bloody retribution, and threatens innocent citizens. Only Danny is in a position to stop him.
The story plays as if it were written in 1935. The police force is predominantly Irish in makeup. The cops marry cops' daughters and an independent girl who wants to break the pattern is humored and harassed until she gives in. The sexism is complete when Kate's meddling mother refuses to let her make her own choices. Dan is secretly angry when Kate chooses the handsome Rocky, but tries to be magnanimous.
The attitude toward organized crime is equally dated. Two lowly patrolmen on the night shift are the spearheads of a major anti- organized crime bust, without really reporting to anyone. What's more, they parade their favorite girl in front of the gangsters, oblivious to the obvious notion that the criminal might strike back at them through her. Interestingly, the woman most threatened is Garris's own girlfriend Terry Romaine (Gale Robbins).
A fresh pace, lively acting (Edmond O'Brien could get any film up on its feet) and sharply directed action make Walk A Crooked Mile an exciting show, even if little or no noir content is evident. The only real concession to postwar thriller conventions is an uptick in violence. The final confrontation sees the rotten Ritchie Garris dangle a young girl from a high window, and threaten to drop her unless the cops back off.
Walk East On Beacon! is a second anti-communist spy drama, released near the end of the cycle in 1952. None of Hollywood's twenty or so contributions to Cold War propaganda were big successes. This one was sourced from an article by J. Edgar Hoover himself, and shapes up as a semi-documentary account of yet another spy ring using an overly complicated system to steal atomic secrets. The noted atom spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg found it so easy to spirit secret formulas away from the U.S. that the aggressive government prosecution of their case can be attributed to a need to cover up gross deficiencies in the F.B.I.'s security policies. Hoover's account of a different case makes it look as if the F.B.I. has battalions of crack agents in reserve, ready to watch and track hundreds of suspects on a 24-hour basis. The story also stresses the importance of informing on one's friends and relatives in the name of National Security.
F.B.I. operative James Belden (George Murphy) handles a major spy investigation mostly by telephone. An anonymous phone tip soon leads agents to a Soviet spy ring. The ruthless mastermind Alex Laschenkov (Karel Stepanek) secretly directs dozens of deep-cover agents, two of whom steal information that leads the gang to math genius Dr. Albert Kafer (Finlay Currie) of a secret government scientific think tank. They motivate the old man into coughing up secrets relating to a special project called Falcon, by kidnapping his son Samuel in Berlin. The loyal Kafer instead informs the F.B.I., putting in motion a slow process to identify and capture all of Laschenko's many embedded spies.
Columbia's film hews closely to the semi-documentary form but director Alfred Werker isn't as adept as was Gordon Douglas at instilling ordinary street scenes with drama and tension. With its many locations and dozens of characters (some with double identities), the film's twisting plot must have left many audiences behind. Characters are seen just once or twice and disappear, but their names keep popping up later. One of two deep-cover husband and wife teams runs a florist shop, and an undertaker is also useful because he has a small printing press. There are far too many characters to keep straight.
British actor Finlay Currie's brave old professor becomes an unlikely double agent for our side. He takes a personal risk to deal personally with Vincent Foss (Jack Manning), a thuggish taxi driver working as a courier-spy. Foss turns out to be an anguished fellow coerced into spying "because of his foolish earlier associations with student radicalism". His own wife informs on him, as do many people in J. Edgar's version of events. Hoover's 'true' story also manages to finish with a standard action scene as the Navy helps nail the atom spies on the high seas.
Obscure trivia hounds take note: future director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and his wife Louisa Horton play husband & wife traitors, but have only a few seconds of screen time together. Director Alfred Werker is credited on the superb docu-noir He Walked by Night. He actually left that film early to work on a film for producer Louis de Rochemont, who produced Walk East On Beacon! as well.
The title, by the way, is part of Dr. Kafer's instructions when he's sent on foot to turn over documents to the Soviet blackmailers.
The TCM Vault Collection's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD set gives each title a separate disc. As with most all Sony transfers, the films are immaculate and have beefy, clear audio. The only drawback is that TCM discs normally do not carry subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired. The viewing public for these 60 year-old movies skews a little older than that for contemporary films, and many older folk need the subs.
TCM's good extras include galleries of film stills and posters and occasional text essays. Martin Scorsese offers a relaxed video introduction for the collection, while Eddie Muller's essay dodges definitions of film noir by encouraging that we debate the status of films not immediately recognized as part of the style. Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV presents two top-notch thrillers, a good police drama and two unusual Cold War relics. Fans of the noir style will definitely want it.
By Glenn Erickson
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV on DVD
Walk East on Beacon
FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had been shopping for a filmmaker for years to tell the story of the Bureau in documentary form. He had disowned Warner Brothers' earlier 'G'-Men (1935), which told of the organization's early years as a satellite branch of the Justice Department, when federal agents were not allowed to carry firearms or to cross state lines. (Hoover later had a change of heart and a 1949 re-release bore a new prologue in which 'G'-Men is shown as an FBI training film!) With De Rochemont, Hoover felt he had found his man.
Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1899, De Rochemont had built a movie camera from a plan published in Popular Science magazine and made his first newsreel by the time he was 12 years old. Shooting silent in 35mm on the streets of his hometown, De Rochemont convinced a local movie theater to show his films, attracting patrons with the promise of potentially seeing themselves on the big screen. The use of actual locations and real people was an aesthetic of which De Rochemont would never tire. A flinty New Englander with no particular taste for Tinseltown, he later set up camp among the mill towns of New Hampshire, and shot three films there or near there (among them, the controversial race drama Lost Boundaries, 1949).
From 1935 to 1951, De Rochemont directed the monthly March of Time newsreels that kept American moviegoers abreast of current events. Hired by Twentieth Century Fox, he brought movie cameras aboard the US aircraft carrier Yorktown during the Second World War to shoot The Fighting Lady (1944), which won the 1945 Academy Award® for "Best Documentary." Hoover no doubt saw in De Rochemont the perfect combination of patriotism, pluck and a penchant for factuality. Its wartime track record had emboldened the normally tight-lipped Bureau to share some of its surveillance secrets: the midget cameras and microphones, the wiretaps and forensic sciences that allowed agents to keep tabs on persons of interest and to trace physical evidence back to the guilty parties. These details and gadgets would be ported over to Walk East on Beacon. The 1952 production began with an article, "Crime of the Century," penned by J. Edgar Hoover and published by Reader's Digest in May 1951. De Rochemont paid Hoover $15,000 for the rights to the story (an account of the leaking of Manhattan Project secrets to the Soviets). With an adaptation by Look magazine writer Leo Rosten, Leonard Heideman (who had written wartime short subjects for the Department of Defense) and his wife, Virginia Shaler, De Rochemont assigned the production to Alfred L. Werker (who helmed De Rochemont's Lost Boundaries and the 1948 docu-noir He Walked by Night).
Shooting over the course of 14 weeks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, Werker and his crew moved 70 times between the various locations. De Rochefort again indulged his preference for unfamiliar performers, apart from the central casting of George Murphy as the FBI man safeguarding Domestic Intelligence. (The New Haven-born actor and future Governor of California was known primarily as a dancer and light comedian until he played an undercover cop who dies horrifically in the line of duty in Anthony Mann's Border Incident in 1949.) Imported from the United Kingdom, Finlay Currie plays another of his patented dodderers, this time out a vaguely Einsteinish physicist blackmailed by Soviet agents into turning over secrets connected to the fictional "Project Falcon."
Future film director George Roy Hill appears in a small role as a government scientist unwittingly wed to a Soviet mole (Louisa Horton, his real-wife at the time). Hill would, of course, go on to greater glory as an Emmy award winning TV writer (A Night to Remember) and a director for Broadway (Look Homeward, Angel, Period of Adjustment) and Hollywood (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , The Sting ). J. Edgar Hoover appears as himself. Critical notices for Walk East on Beacon were decidedly mixed, with The New York Times riding the middle road by proclaiming it "swiftly paced" but "something less than awesome." In The Nation, Manny Farber cracked wise about Finlay Currie's emigrant egghead: "Looking like a huge Edam cheese topped by a flowing Jean Harlow hair-do, the scientist fits the De Rochemont formula for heroes in that he is pure and innocent and spends his time lifting the lids from high-powered machines and reading numbers from them with a mysteriously joyous tone." Who knows what the average moviegoer thought of this piece of nationalist agitprop back in the day but now it's tempting to regard Walk East on Beacon as a bit of patriotic camp... or perhaps a cautionary tale. The internal flaws, the hubris, the disregard for constitutionality and the questionable ethics plaguing the Bureau to this day, which hindered its anticipation of and response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are hinted at here, as is the sin of self-satisfaction.
On a purely critical level, Walk East on Beacon makes the mistake of etching its Soviet nogoodniks as far more interesting than J. Edgar Hoover's legion of Brylcreamed Eddie Attaboys. Led by the granite-faced Karel Stepanek (who looks like the love child of Conrad Veidt and Eddie Constantine), the Soviet spies exchange halves of torn photographs and trade cool passwords ("How do you get to Trinity Church?") to identify one another and hide microfilm under innocuous-looking postage stamps. However patently evil these men may be, they come off as inventive, resourceful and (with a couple of exceptions) fearless. Even more compelling is that their interactions with female spies (namely Horton and Virginia Gilmore) feels charged with a palpable sexual energy all too lacking on the side of the angels. It's amazing Walk East on Beacon, for all its dire stentorian warnings about the Soviet Union's schemes to subvert democracy, didn't convert thousands of horny American teenage boys to the sexy cause of Communism.
Producer: Louis De Rochemont
Director: Alfred L. Werker
Screenplay: Emmett Murphy, Leo Rosten; Leonard Heideman, Virginia Shaler (dialogue); J. Edgar Hoover (article "The Crime of the Century")
Cinematography: Joseph C. Brun
Art Direction: Herbert Andrews
Music: Louis Applebaum
Film Editing: Angelo Ross
Cast: George Murphy (Inspector James 'Jim' Belden), Finlay Currie (Prof. Albert Kafer), Virginia Gilmore (Millie aka Teresa Zalenko), Karel Stepanek (Alexi Laschenkov aka Gregory Anders), Louisa Horton (Mrs. Elaine Wilben), Peter Capell (Chris Zalenko aka Gino), Bruno Wick (Luther Danzig), Jack Manning (Melvin Foss aka Vincent).
by Richard Harland Smith
Crime Movies: An Illustrated History by Carlos Clarens
Portrait of Louis De Rochemont by Borden Mace
A New History of Documentary Film by Jack C. Ellis and Betsy A. McLane
The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy During the Cold War by David Caute
J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry
Walk East on Beacon
The film's production company, the RD-DR Corp. was also known as Producers of Readers Digest on the Screen and Dramas of Real Life from Reader's Digest. Onscreen credits describe the film as "a drama of real life." As noted onscreen, the film was shot on location in New England, including Boston. Walk East on Beacon marked the acting debut of George Roy Hill (1921-2002), who later became a prominent director.