Cast & Crew
Louis Jean Heydt
After insurance investigator Joe Peters wraps up a difficult case in Cincinnati, he prepares to fly home to Los Angeles. Once on board the plane, he realizes that fellow passenger Diane Morley is posing as his wife in order to fly for half-price, but does not report her. When a storm forces the plane to land in Kansas, Joe and Diane end up sharing a hotel room because of their marital "status." Joe expresses his disapproval of Diane's gold-digging ways, but is nonetheless attracted to her. The seductive Diane rejects Joe's kiss, explaining that he is not rich enough to woo her, and upon arriving in Los Angeles, says a curt goodbye. Soon after, Joe and his partner, Harry Miller, are sent to investigate a fur company robbery, which they suspect was engineered by wealthy racketeer Kendall Webb. Just before Christmas, while spying on Webb at a nightclub, Joe sees a fur-coated Diane by Webb's side. Although Diane claims to have earned the coat modeling, Joe is skeptical and refuses to return her kiss. Joe and Harry's suspicions increase when they see Diane showing off another fur coat in Webb's apartment. Joe still desires Diane, however, and sneaks into her apartment to decorate a Christmas tree for her. Although Diane admits to Joe that she has feelings for him, she maintains that she will never be happy on his paltry detective's salary. Later, Joe reads a memo about an upcoming million-dollar cash shipment that his company is insuring and gets an idea. Aware that Webb controls a vast criminal network, Joe offers him inside information about the shipment in exchange for one-third of the stolen money. Webb agrees to the plan, but on Christmas Eve, after Webb abandons her to spend the holiday with his family, Diane tells Joe that she wants to marry him, rich or poor. Stunned but happy, Joe tries to back out of the heist, but Webb convinces him that, sooner or later, he will need money to keep Diane. After Joe and Webb work out the details of the robbery, which is to be committed on a train by five of Webb's men, Joe and an unsuspecting Diane marry and head for the mountains of northern California, where Joe and Harry co-own a cabin. A week later, on the day of the heist, Joe starts to act nervous and Diane demands to know why. Joe admits all to Diane, who finally sees how her past greed now threatens their happiness. In their cabin, the couple listen to a radio report about the heist and learn that all the robbers escaped with the cash. The next day, Joe is summoned to investigate the theft, but before he goes, he picks up a fire extinguisher in which Webb has sent his share of the loot. In Los Angeles, Harry and Ray Egan, another investigator, inform Joe that, because the robbers knew exactly where to find the money, they suspect an "inside man" was involved. Noting that any one of them could be guilty, Egan runs down Joe's recent activities, including the receipt of the fire extinguisher, and clears him. After the detectives conclude that the robbers escaped with the help of an amphibious plane, they track down the plane and question the pilot, Partos. Partos eventually identifies one robber, De Vita, from police mug shots, and De Vita is hauled in for questioning. Concerned, Joe calls Webb, but Webb informs him that De Vita will never talk, especially if he is roughed up. To assure De Vita's silence, Joe starts to beat him during his interrogation. Joe's uncharacteristic outburst arouses Harry's suspicions, and he shows up later at Joe and Diane's apartment and speculates that Webb, a known associate of De Vita, is probably behind the heist. Convinced that Harry will soon unravel the mystery, Joe telephones Webb and lies that De Vita "sang" and they must now meet. Joe directs Webb to a remote spot, where he knocks him out, shoves him in his car and causes the car to crash and burn. Posing as Webb, Joe then sends a wire to Webb's wife, informing her that she will soon be receiving a parcel, which she is to place in a safe deposit box. Later, after Webb's wife is caught depositing some of the heist money, and Harry and Egan identify some half-burnt cash that was found in Webb's car as part of the loot, they realize that a third of the money is still unaccounted for. Harry then accuses Joe of being the inside man, noting that he, Harry, had recently bought an extinguisher for the cabin and knows that it could easily hold bundles of cash. Joe admits his guilt but flees from Harry before he can arrest him. Joe picks up Diane, and they head south for the border, but are soon trapped in a police dragnet. To save Diane, Joe forces her out of his car along the Los Angeles River bed, then is shot by the police. After Joe dies in Diane's arms, Diane stumbles off to face an uncertain future.
Louis Jean Heydt
Albert S. D'agostino
Walter E. Keller
Lewis J. Rachmil
Roadblock on DVD
The appeal of Roadblock lies in a tight, well-paced plot, killer hardboiled dialogue, and the presence of Charles McGraw, who was never a major star but left strong impressions in film after film due to his imposing presence, scowling visage, and most importantly his unforgettable, gravelly voice. McGraw's persona also made him entirely convincing both as a virtuous cop figure and as a contemptible villain, which is a key reason his transformation here from one to the other is so believable. Among McGraw's many other film noir credits are supporting roles in films like The Killers (1946), The Gangster (1947), Reign of Terror (1949) and Border Incident (1949), and leads in the B noirs Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952) -- an impressive list of noir titles indeed.
But McGraw in Roadblock further brings a sense of tender pathos, loneliness, and sympathy to his portrayal of the lovesick Joe Peters, who ignores any sense of reason and instead dooms himself to oblivion, all for the sake of a dishy dame... and it's here that the movie's true "noir" sensibility can be felt. In one scene (set in a room with a Christmas tree), Joe tells Diane, "I want you so bad I can't think straight. You're what I want for Christmas, the day after, the fourth of July, Saturday nights, all the days there are." Diane's classic response is equally emblematic of film noir, and its cruel dames who drive these poor saps insane: "And I want you, Joe... but not as an insurance cop making 350 a month!"
Joan Dixon, who had a short acting career in the 1950s, is better when she's the conniving femme fatale in the first half of this picture than she is as the reformed good girl in the second half, but she gets the job done. (Another sarcastic exchange she has with McGraw: "Someday you'll want something nice and expensive you can't afford." "Like what?" "Like me.") Character actor Lowell Gilmore comes off appealingly as an oily villain, looking like sort of a cross between Otto Kruger and Gary Merrill, and Louis Jean Heydt, as McGraw's 100% honest partner, is convincing.
As directed by Harold Daniels, Roadblock boasts lots of nice location work around Los Angeles, culminating in a car chase in L.A.'s cement riverbed, which in 1951 was a unique idea. Diane supplies a hoot of a line after Joe drives them down onto the riverbed: "Where does this highway take us?" she asks.
Daniels had a very minor filmmaking career -- Roadblock is probably his most notable picture -- but this little film claims four writers with major noir credentials worth mentioning. The story is credited to both Richard Landau, writer of The Crooked Way (1949), and the famous Geoffrey Homes (aka Daniel Mainwaring), writer of Out of the Past (1947) and The Tall Target (1951). And the screenplay is credited to both Steve Fisher -- Dead Reckoning (1947), Lady in the Lake (1947), City That Never Sleeps (1953), Hell's Half Acre (1954) -- and George Bricker, writer of The Whip Hand (1951) and Loophole (1954).
Roadblock has not been remastered for Warner Archive's DVD-R, but picture and sound are acceptable. There are no extras, not even a trailer, but the movie is solid as an anvil, and this is a disc well worth adding to your collection.
By Jeremy Arnold
Roadblock on DVD
Roadblock (1951) is an ingeniously plotted and tautly directed film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. From the opening title sequence, you know this is no run-of-the-mill B-movie; the credits roll down the screen at a slanted angle over the high beams of a car, traveling at night on a deserted road. Director Robert Aldrich possibly saw this and imitated it in the opening credits to Kiss Me Deadly (1955). And the climactic chase scene in the dry storm drains of Los Angeles (a location which would take on even more iconic associations with Them! in 1954), is an inspired location choice compared to most studio-bound crime films at RKO.
The first half of Roadblock is particularly memorable with Joe and Diane engaging in a form of verbal ping-pong which manages to be both existential and cynically amusing at the same time:
Joe - "What makes you the way you are?"
Diane - "What makes anybody the way they are?"
Joe - "You tell me."
Diane - "Where they got started maybe. I had a lot of jobs - modeling, clerking, secretarial work. I tried hard but it was no go."
Joe - "Does that make a chiseler out of you? Must have been something else."
Diane - "Whenever I got a job there was always a man who wasn't interested in my working ability."
Joe - "I understand that."
Diane - "Really? Coming from you that's a compliment."
In addition to the hard boiled dialogue, Joe's introduction into the film is also cleverly staged and to reveal it here would spoil the fun.
Charles McGraw, who has played both tough cops and menacing criminals in equal measure throughout his movie career, is perfect as the corruptible hero and Lowell Gilmore oozes reptilian charm as the elegant but totally devious Kendall Webb, someone who shares many similarities with George Macready's character in Gilda (1946). Louis Jean Heydt is equally impressive in his role as Harry, Joe's investigator pal, who senses almost immediately that all is not quite right with his weekend hunting partner.
Directed by the relatively unknown Harold Daniels, Roadblock also benefits greatly from the crisp black and white cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca, no stranger to the film noir genre (Out of the Past (1947), The Woman on Pier 13, 1949), who gives the film an added touch of class.
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Harold Daniels
Screenplay: Steve Fisher, George Bricker
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Robert Golden
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Charles McGraw (Joe Peters), Joan Dixon (Diane), Lowell Gilmore (Kendall Webb), Louis Jean Heydt (Harry Miller), Milburn Stone (Egan), Joseph Crehan (Thompson).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
The working title of this film was Walk a Crooked Mile. According to an August 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, Don Siegel was originally assigned to direct the picture and Alex Gottlieb was to produce. In August 1950, Hollywood Reporter announced that Harold Daniels had been assigned both to write and direct the picture. Daniels' only confirmed credit is for directing, however. The final car chase scene was shot along the cement bed of the Los Angeles River. Reviewers commented on the uniqueness of the location; the river bed has since become a popular filming site.