Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
Outside the small city of Lordsburgh, New Mexico, the police discover an unusual briefcase in the remains of a car wreck and take the case and contents to federal agent John Williams. After examining the unfamiliar mechanism inside the case, John takes it to the government atomic laboratory at Los Alamos, on a hunch. Scientists confirm John's suspicion that the apparatus is part of an atomic bomb detonation device. Chief of the Security Investigation Division Paul Regan assigns John to head the investigation. John's inquiry leads to Louisiana, where a helicopter pilot with a case identical to the one in New Mexico is picked up by the Army. Shortly afterward, just offshore of Coney Island, New York, another case is discovered tied to a marker buoy. John has this case analyzed and learns it is European-made with galvanized iron and was submerged for approximately forty-eight hours, suggesting it might have been dropped off by a passing ship. All entrances into the country are alerted, and in the next few days, six more cases are picked up, revealing that at least four detonating devices are being constructed. The messengers carrying the cases provide little information. Paul keeps the investigation out of the press, although several journalists begin to grow suspicious. When a submarine arriving from France into the Washington, D.C. harbor is discovered to have uranium soldered to the bottom of the hull, Paul has John go undercover on the sub's return trip as a naval ensign making a training film. In Marseilles, France, John's government contact is civilian Andre. At a popular waterfront bar, Henri's Café, John spots another matching case, used by musician Buzz Olin to store his clarinet. John befriends Olin and his friends, Leo and Margo Wayne and Dave Norton, who John discovers are ex-patriot Americans. The following day, John learns from Norton that Olin has disappeared and begins a search of all the local luggage makers. The maker of the cases is soon located and reveals that the original order, placed by telephone, was for forty-eight cases, which were picked up by a truck. When shown photos of Olin and his friends, the luggage maker cannot identify any of them, but admits that Olin placed an order for four cases, only one of which was fitted for his clarinet. John believes the Waynes are involved in the scheme when it is discovered that they have each been observed near the submarine. John arranges for the submarine to return to America unexpectedly and informs the Waynes at Henri's. The night before the submarine's departure, John and Andre witness Margo approach the submarine with an envelope, but both are struck before they can see to whom she makes her delivery. John manages to rip the coat of their attacker, which identifies the culprit as a naval officer, named Lt. Magrew, aide to submarine commander Jackson. When Magrew and Jackson are followed to Henri's, John brings the luggage maker to the café to identify Magrew as the man who picked up the cases, but the man identifies Jackson instead. Stunned, John nevertheless requests permission from America to arrest Jackson and Magrew, but on board the submarine, he is overpowered by Andre and drugged by the pharmacy mate. In Washington, John escapes from his captors and flees to Paul's office, only to find Jackson and Magrew there. Paul discloses that the entire atomic bomb intrigue has been part of a war games maneuver of which he himself was not aware. Paul explains that John made the connection between Jackson, an atomic expert, and the luggage maker too soon, forcing an end to his role. The number of cases was chosen to represent each state and all the suspects were part of the exercise. When Paul tells John that the forty-eighth man was just apprehended as intended, John asks if it was Olin or Wayne, names Paul does not recognize. John excitedly describes how Olin had four cases made and asks if Margo was involved in the war game. When she proves not to have been part of the official action, a search for her and her husband is made in Marseilles, but the couple is reported missing. John summons the submarine crew, but the pharmacy mate does not return to the ship, thereby revealing himself as Margo's contact. The next day the body of the sailor is discovered in the Potomac River. Almost simultaneously Paul receives a report that Margo's body has been found in a Marseilles apartment. Using Olin's connection with a musician's union, John tracks him to an abandoned rest home in the desert, where, after a struggle, he confesses that Wayne has a complete bomb and intends to explode it in San Francisco. The police and government agents pursue Wayne to a small airstrip outside the city and overpower him. Paul has John, a former pilot, fly the plane toward the desert while he and Jackson struggle to defuse the bomb. Unable to do so in time, they drop the device over a known atomic testing site in New Mexico, where it explodes safely.
Fred F. Sears
William R. Klein
Jean Del Val
William A. Lyon
Charles H. Schneer
The 49th Man
Long before his association as a director of underwater and wildlife scenes, Ivan Tors was a playwright who found work after his war service in the script department at Columbia. The first person to show interest in Tors' original story, then called 49 Men, was talent agent Abner J. Greshler. Best remembered for assembling the powerhouse comic duo of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Greshler dabbled in film production in the early Fifties, even directing the silent comedy compilation film Yesterday and Today (1953), released by United Artists. Greshler bought the first option on Tors' property in May 1951, a deal brokered by Ingo Preminger, brother of director Otto Preminger. (At the time, Tors' play Wind Without Rain was running at Hollywood's Circle Theatre, starring Ann Robinson and a young Martin Milner.) A year later, Greshler sold his rights to Columbia, at which time the project was put into the hands of Katzman's Esskay Picture Corporation (later Clover Productions) and assigned to workhorse director Fred F. Sears.
The 49th Man was a star vehicle for John Ireland, a former Columbia contract player who went free agent after his Academy Award-nominated turn in All the King's Men (1949). Ireland enjoyed lead roles in low budget and independent features, including Roger Corman's The Fast and the Furious (1955) and the British whodunit The Glass Cage (1955), a coproduction of Hammer and Lippert Films. Ivan Tors' original story was reworked by screenwriter Harry Essex, who that same year fleshed out Ray Bradbury's treatment for It Came from Outer Space (1953) at Universal. The 49th Man was novel in its day for offering moviegoers a double-twist ending... one that was telegraphed in almost every review of the film upon its release in May 1953. Backing Ireland is a rich supporting cast that includes Robert Foulk, Richard Denning, future Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, Barney Phillips (later the cop on the case in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, 1957) and Mike Connors, still using his "Touch" Connors stage name, a remnant of his days as a UCLA basketball player.
Principal photography for 49 Men lasted just eleven days, beginning on December 12, 1952 and wrapping three days shy of Christmas. The title change to The 49th Man was announced in the trades in early January 1953. The film received fair-to-middling reviews (a glowing exception being The Los Angeles Times), with some critics griping at what they perceived to be an overly complicated plot but most agreeing that it was acceptable second feature material. Coming less than a decade after the first atomic tests within the borders of the United States and well within the initial grace period of denial regarding the consequences of atom-splitting, The 49th Man plays a bit differently to contemporary eyes and sensibilities well-acquainted with the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. The film's synopsis, issued by the Columbia publicity department on Christmas Eve 1952, ends on a chillingly naïve note:
"The giant atomic mushroom spreads its energy harmlessly, a grim warning, however, of the tragedy that might have been."
Hollywood would learn the hard way about "harmless" atomic fallout, with a quarter of the cast and crew of RKO's The Conqueror (1956) succumbing to cancer (among them stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward and director Dick Powell) after filming a scant hundred miles downwind of Operation Upshot-Knothole. Comprised of eleven nuclear tests conducted at the US Government's Nevada Test Site over a three month period, Upshot-Knothole was initiated just as The 49th Man hit the cinemas in the spring of 1953.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Fred F. Sears
Screenplay: Harry Essex; Ivan Tors (story)
Cinematography: Lester White
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Film Editing: William A. Lyon
Cast: John Ireland (Investigator John Williams), Richard Denning (Chief Investigator Paul Reagan), Suzanne Dalbert (Margo Wayne), Robert Foulk (Commander Jackson), Touch Connors (Lt. Magrew), Richard Avonde (Buzz Olin), William R. Klein (FBI Agent in Montage), Cicely Browne (Blonde Woman), Tommy Farrell (Agent Reynolds), Joseph Mell (Box of Taffy Man at Penn Station).
by Richard Harland Smith
The 49th Man
The working title for the film was 49 Men. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that the Cass County Boys were to record music for the film and that one member of the trio, Bert Dodson, was to appear in the film, but his appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed. The film, which was presented in a documentary fashion, utilized stock footage of atomic bomb explosions.
Released in United States Spring May 1953
Released in United States Spring May 1953