The Glass Wall
Cast & Crew
After World War II, the United Nations International Refugee Organization arranges for displaced persons to leave Europe and come to America. Among the refugees arriving onboard a U.N. ship to New York harbor is concentration camp survivor Peter Kuban, who has been placed under arrest for stowing away. Under questioning by U.S. Immigrations Inspector Bailey, Peter reveals that he was born in Hungary and has spent ten years in numerous camps, including Auschwitz, where his entire family was gassed. Bailey informs Peter that because he boarded the refugee ship illegally, his appeal to remain in America must be rejected. Dismayed, Peter points out that a U.N. statute recently voted into law declares that anyone assisting the Allied forces during the war will be granted sanctuary. Peter reveals that just before the end of the war, he escaped from Auschwitz and rescued an American parachutist and cared for him. Pressed for further details by Bailey, Peter admits he knew the soldier only as Tom, a jazz clarinetist, whose home was near Times Square in New York City. Peter pleads for the opportunity to locate Tom, but Bailey refuses. Later that night, while Peter is being held in the brig, his guard gives him a newspaper featuring a full page photo of Peter and the story of his rejection. Overcome with fear of being returned to Europe, Peter knocks over the guard and bolts the ship. Although injuring his ribs in the escape, Peter manages to jump onto the back of a truck and flee the harbor. In the city, Peter makes his way to the subway and, having a little American money, follows directions to Times Square. Back at the immigration office, Bailey remains skeptical about Peter's story, but security officer Toomey suggests that if Peter is telling the truth, they should search for him in Times Square. The ship's captain reminds Bailey that if Peter is not returned to the ship by the departure time of seven the next morning, Peter will be declared a fugitive. Although mesmerized by Times Square, Peter visits several nightclubs looking for Tom. Much later, Peter wearily stops at an all-night cafeteria for coffee and watches as Maggie Summers, an unemployed factory worker, attempts to steal a coat. When the coat's owner shouts for the police, Maggie dashes from the cafeteria. Peter runs after Maggie and, to her astonishment, helps her avoid the police. Peter then asks Maggie to take him to her apartment and, fearful that Peter may turn her in if she refuses, Maggie reluctantly agrees. Exhausted and in pain from his injury, Peter hopes to rest briefly at Maggie's, but they are interrupted by her landlady, Mrs. Hinckley, who demands payment on the overdue rent. Peter offers Maggie his meager amount of money and, startled by his kindness, Maggie accepts. Realizing that he is an additional burden to Maggie, Peter starts to leave, but overcome by fatigue, collapses. Upon reviving, Peter shows Maggie the newspaper article describing his plight. Meanwhile, in the local musicians' union lounge, Tom, the former G.I. and clarinet player, is visited by his girl friend Nancy with the news that she has arranged an audition for Tom with Jack Teagarden and his band during a broadcast performance. Enthused, Tom hurries to clean up, but in the men's room comes across the newspaper carrying Peter's story. Recognizing Peter, Tom tells Nancy that he must try to find him, but Nancy insists that the audition could provide the break Tom needs, which would allow them to marry after five years of waiting. Chastened, Tom agrees and he and Nancy leave for the audition. Back at Maggie's, when Mrs. Hinckley's son Eddie forces his way into Maggie's apartment, Peter comes to her rescue only to be beaten by Eddie. Maggie stuns Eddie by hitting him with a chair, then she and Peter flee. Several blocks away, Maggie pilfers twenty cents from two young street dancers, telling Peter that for a dime, each of them can ride all night on the subway. Having discovered the newspaper story about Peter, Mrs. Hinckley tells the police that Peter assaulted Eddie. Soon, television reports describe Peter as a dangerous and desperate escapee. While the police continue to search Times Square, Tom plays several numbers with Jack Teagarden's band. Then, disturbed by reoccurring thoughts of Peter's dilemma, Tom abruptly departs the audition and goes to the police. In the subway, when police officers approach Peter and Maggie, Peter jumps across the tracks and escapes. Maggie is taken to the local precinct where she meets Tom and the two implore the police to assist Peter. Wandering through the square, Peter stumbles into a burlesque club and asks for Tom. After he is thrown out of the club, Peter collapses in an empty cab parked in the alley. Later, dancer Bella Zakolya rouses the cab driver and is then startled to find the unconscious Peter in the vehicle. After stopping at nearby police headquarters, Bella learns that Peter is a refugee and takes him home. On the way, Peter revives and Bella reassures him by confiding that her parents were immigrants. A little later, at Bella's apartment, her brother Freddie arrives home and, upon learning of Peter's presence, is fearful of being questioned by police. Resting in the bedroom, Peter overhears Bella, Freddie and Mrs. Zakolya discuss contacting the U.N. about him. Determined not to cause further problems, Peter leaves through the fire escape and begins searching for the U.N. building. As dawn breaks, Maggie, Tom and Bailey cruise the streets and then receive a police report that Peter has been sighted near the U.N. Hastening there, along with several patrol cars, the group moves in on Peter, who, panicked, races inside the building through a loading dock. Distraught to find the offices empty and no one to whom he may turn for help, Peter continues to flee his pursuers until he reaches the rooftop. Determined not to go back to Europe, Peter contemplates throwing himself from the building, until Tom and Maggie reach him. When Tom vows to sponsor Peter, he collapses gratefully into his friend's arms.
Joseph F. Biroc
C. M. Florance
Herbert L. Strock
George Van Marter
William H. Wilmarth
The Glass Wall
A cross between a dark chase thriller and picaresque view of urban Americana with a colorful gallery of characters, The Glass Wall is a slightly darker view of the ideals behind Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty than usual. It also features a major setpiece shot on location at the United Nations well before Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), while the presence of noir regular Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat , In a Lonely Place ) ensures its thriller pedigree as well. The supporting cast teems with familiar faces from a variety of postwar entertainment venues, most prominently the key role of the elusive Tom played by Jerry Paris, the TV actor-turned-director who gained fame as Rob Petrie's neurotic neighbor Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show; he subsequently went behind the camera for numerous television shows as well as an oddball assortment of feature films including the hip Jacqueline Bisset vehicle The Grasshopper (1970) and one of the last traditional romantic comedies, 1968's How Sweet It Is!
Also noteworthy in the gallery of New Yorkers is stuntwoman-turned-actress Ann Robinson (best known for her leading role in George Pal's The War of the Worlds, 1953), busy character actor Joe Turkel (who went on to immortality in the 1980s as Tyrell in Blade Runner  and Lloyd the ghostly bartender in The Shining ) , colorful Douglas Spencer (also seen in memorable supporting roles in Shane  and This Island Earth ), and a young, briefly-spotted Kathleen Freeman, a seasoned TV actress who went on to earn a Tony Award for The Full Monty while becoming a reliable comedic supporting player in films like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Innerspace (1987).
The film's director and co-writer, Maxwell Shane, was more prolific as a screenwriter than an auteur; however, the strong affinity for urban thrillers he displays here also carried over into two mysteries adapted from cult writer Cornell Woolrich (1947's Fear in the Night and 1956's wonderfully surreal Nightmare). He had written numerous programmers (mainly horror and westerns) in the 1940s, but the small handful of films he actually directed indicate a strong aesthetic sense he sadly left behind in favor of TV.
The Glass Wall was produced by Columbia Pictures, who had found a sudden affinity for postwar noir projects with other releases around the same period like The Sniper (1952) and The Big Heat. Among its technical credits, perhaps the most noteworthy is its cinematographer, Joseph F. Biroc, who started out with Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and stayed with Columbia for far more stylized work with directors like William Castle (13 Ghosts, 1960) and George Sidney (Bye Bye Birdie , The Swinger ). However, most viewers will know him for two of the most popular comedies ever made, Blazing Saddles (1974) and Airplane! (1980), which are a far cry from the gritty, monochromatic starkness seen here.
Producer: Ivan Tors
Director: Maxwell Shane
Screenplay: Ivan Shane, Maxwell Shane, Ivan Tors
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Music: Leith Stevens
Film Editing: Stanley Frazen
Cast: Vittorio Gassman (Peter Kaban), Gloria Grahame (Maggie Summers), Ann Robinson (Nancy), Douglas Spencer (Inspector Bailey), Robin Raymond (Tanya aka Bella Zakoyla), Jerry Paris (Tom), Elizabeth Slifer (Mrs. Hinckley, the Landlady), Richard Reeves (Eddie Hinckley), Joseph Turkel (Freddie Zakoyla), Else Neft (Mrs. Zakoyla), Michael Fox (Inspector Toomey), Ned Booth (Monroe, the Taxi Driver), Kathleen Freeman (Zelda, the Fat Woman with Coat), Juney Ellis (Girl friend), Jack Teagarden (Himself, Musician), Shorty Rogers (Himself, Band Leader).
by Nathaniel Thompson
The Glass Wall
Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1 - BAD GIRLS OF FILM NOIR, Volume 1 From Sony Pictures
Sony's 2-disc set Bad Girls of Film Noir Volume 1 shows Columbia filling marquees with name stars in titles promising sex and murder, even when little of either is on display. The "Bad Girl" name does fit, as each movie features a bona fide noir icon: Evelyn Keyes, Lizabeth Scott and Gloria Grahame. The films chosen also demonstrate how noir thrillers formerly concerned with psychological states and existential dilemmas, were broadened to promote progressive social ideas ... in a manner unthreatening to the status quo.
1950's The Killer that Stalked New York looks suspiciously like an attempt to replay Elia Kazan's arresting noir from earlier in the same year, Panic in the Streets. In both pictures a criminal carries a deadly disease into an American metropolis, forcing the police and health experts to find the malignant carrier. Diamond smuggler Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes) is the luckless vessel for smallpox, infecting everyone she meets: a mailman, a cute child, a randy nightclub owner (Jim Backus) and jewel thief Matt Krane, her duplicitous husband (Charles Korvin). Sheila has personal problems with a disapproving brother (Whit Bissell) and a vindictive landlady and is crushed to discover that she has been betrayed not only by Matt but also by her own sister, Francie (Lola Albright). One out of three who contract the disease dies a horrible death. The trail of extremely sick people is traced by a dedicated doctor and nurse (William Bishop & Dorothy Malone). Before the cops and the medical authorities finally compare notes and locate the source, Sheila has forced the mayor to begin a crash program to immunize the entire population of the city.
The script by Harry Essex has been redirected into a feature-length public service message. A stentorian narrator (Reed Hadley) breaks in frequently to explain how Sheila is spreading death by actions as simple as using a water fountain in a children's park. The real-life threat in th actual 1947 incident on which the film is based was quickly stopped because the carrier was identified and quarantined early. Yet a gigantic immunization program was put into effect, just as shown in the movie. As in many films from this period about political threats, the voice-of-doom narration promotes the idea that an epidemic may strike anywhere, at any time. Because Sheila remains unaware of her killer status, the interior drama of her situation is not allowed a chance to develop. Instead, the impersonal narrator treats her only as a menace to be eliminated.
The beautiful Evelyn Keyes breaks out in a sweat but never takes on severe, disfiguring smallpox symptoms. The Energizer Bunny of disease carriers, she keeps right on ticking even after many of her casual contacts have perished. With so much time given over to Public Health scare tactics, the film shortchanges the personal side of the story. Noir perennial Art Smith has a good bit as an "ethical" fence, but the talented Lola Albright, after a promising scene, is dropped from the picture without even a farewell.
Earl McAvoy's good direction is lost in an editorial puzzle of stock shot montages. Even the finale is fudged, with downtown L.A. standing in for New York City when Sheila Bennet is cornered atop a tall building.
1951's Two of a Kind could well have started life as a radio play. The stock characters and pat ironies of its storyline are instantly forgettable, and the mostly talented cast marks time. Despite an instance of perverse self-mutilation and the presence of not one but two potential "bad girls", there's really nothing very noir here. Henry Levin's direction is anonymous but Burnett Guffey, the camera talent behind Columbia's best films noir, gives the film a fine polish.
Ambitious schemer Brandy Kirby (Lizabeth Scott) connives with crooked lawyer Vincent Mailer (Alexander Knox) to cheat a rich, elderly couple, the McIntyre's (Griff Barnett & Virginia Brissac) out of a fortune. The McIntyres have been searching all their lives for their son, lost at the age of three in Chicago. After extensive research, Brandy locates the perfect shill to pass off as the grown McIntyre boy: Lefty Farrell (Edmond O'Brien), a shady gambler raised in a Chicago orphanage. The plan is to arrange a "coincidental" family reunion by introducing Lefty to the McIntyres' niece, Kathy (Terry Moore). But Lefty must first have two joints of one finger amputated: the lost boy had already sustained such an injury in an accident.
The rather lightweight Two of a Kind generates sparks early on as noir icon Lizabeth Scott seduces the suspicious Lefty into taking part in a highly unlikely con game. The problem is that the film insists that they become a conventional hero and heroine. Little tension develops because we know all will turn out fine. Any noir possibilities evaporate with the introduction of Terry Moore's flighty niece, an eccentric who reforms "bad men" through romantic means. The character is more suited for a screwball comedy and Ms. Moore's acting is wholly inadequate. Although the con escalates into a murder attempt, the film wraps up as an inconsequential farce. The only really memorable moment comes when Lefty nonchalantly allows his little finger to be crushed in a car door, and then strolls into a medical clinic as if to have a splinter removed. He impresses the cool blonde Brandy by barely registering the pain. If Two of a Kind were a serious noir this odd, masochistic moment might have offered an insight into a twisted relationship. As it plays now, we wonder if Japanese audiences considered the unlucky gambler Lefty to be some sort of American yakuza.
The previous picture may be borderline noir but the laughable drama Bad for Each Other has nothing whatsoever in common with the noir style. Horace McCoy contributed to this utterly unoriginal tale of medical ethics, along with the prolific Irving Wallace.
The pure soap plotline sees Army Medical Colonel Tom Owen (Charlton Heston) returning to his small Pennsylvania mining town to face a moral dilemma. Should he become a rich city practitioner, pushing pills at wealthy hypochondriacs? Or should he put his talent to work studying miner's diseases with his old mentor, the poor but dedicated Dr. Scobee (Rhys Williams)? Lured by Helen Curtis (Lizabeth Scott), a champagne socialite eager for more money to spend, Tom becomes an associate of a doctor with the richest clientele in the city. But Tom's ethical nurse Joan Lasher (Dianne Foster) objects when Tom willingly performs "ghost surgeries" for his partner, who has been coddling his customers so long that he's neglected his professional skills.
Tom directs his old army buddy Jim Crowley (Arthur Franz), now a socially minded young doctor, to help Dr. Scobee up at the mines, and Joan quits in disgust to join him. Seduced by Helen and his growing bank account, Tom doesn't see reason until a mine disaster strikes compels him to rush back to his hometown to help in the rescue efforts.
Bad for Each Other could be a story from a Women's Magazine of the fifties, minus the sexuality. The real entertainment value here is seeing Charlton Heston's consistent overacting. A supposedly experienced and principled Army doctor, Dr. Tom is easily steered toward the easy money. He shuns the True Path offered by Nurse Joan as if he were Moses just prior to enlightenment. All of Heston's gestures are big and broad -- he almost knocks people down when he makes a dramatic exit from a cocktail party.
The film promotes the somewhat insulting notion that wealthy people don't need medical care, and that a doctor from a mining town is betraying himself if he doesn't bury himself in poverty treating the poor. Dr. Tom's rare surgical skills will be going to waste in Coal Town. Why doesn't he continue his lucrative practice while using his money and influence to fund a clinic in his hometown and supervise its research efforts?
Irving Rapper can't do anything with Bad for Each Other, which over-uses stock shots of a mining disaster. Naturally, Arthur Franz's second-string ethical doctor should have checked his billing before going down in that rickety mine shaft. His abrupt exit opens a romantic opportunity for the humbled Dr. Tom.
Classic noirs about immigration problems deal with gangsters sneaking into the country, or other notorious adventurers trying to return to the land of their birth. 1953's The Glass Wall is a rather forced attempt to express a Big Liberal Message, in this case to create sympathy for Displaced Persons who want U.S. citizenship. The well-intentioned issue picture marks an attempt to import Italian star Vittorio Gassman (Bitter Rice) for American audiences. The film's trailer urges us to welcome this new personality -- his wife Shelley Winters loves him!
Hungarian refugee Peter Kaban (Gassman) smuggles himself to America, only to be stopped at the New York docks by the immigration authorities. Kaban tells skeptical investigator Bailey (Douglas Spencer) that he saved the life of a wounded American G.I. named Tom, and thereby qualifies for immigrant status under an article of the law. As he has no proof, Peter is told he'll be returned to Europe, where he claims he'll be murdered by the new Hungarian regime.
Peter jumps ship, breaking a rib in the process, and searches Manhattan for "Tom", who identified himself as a clarinetist in a New York nightclub. Hunted by the authorities, Peter stumbles through Time Square until he's befriended by Maggie Summers (Gloria Grahame), an unemployed factory worker on the edge of desperation. Peter's picture has made the evening papers; little does he know that Tom (Jerry Paris) is in town and has seen it. But Tom puts off informing the authorities because he's fixated on an audition for a top swing band.
A desperate man on the run is a recurring noir theme, and Peter Kaban is definitely under a great deal of strain. But The Glass Wall is too interested in making grand humanistic gestures to realize that it undercuts its own premise. Millions of foreigners seek the opportunity of a better life in the U.S.A. but simple reason indicates that few can be allowed in. Peter Kaban is held up as a deserving individual who qualifies under a law extending possible immigration to "those who fought with our troops" in key areas of the war. I doubt that such a law applied to thousands of partisans and others who gave aid to our troops, and in fact it sounds like a loophole designed to sweep "special cases" through Ellis Island red tape, most likely individuals nominated by the Pentagon. To be thoroughly cynical, what's to prevent a foreigner and a G.I. from inventing an incident that would qualify?
The Glass Wall ends with a big dramatic scene at the new United Nations building, to emphasize the theme of humanitarianism across national boundaries. Yet we can't help feel that Peter is just a special case really representing only himself. Gloria Grahame's sympathetic working girl comes to his aid, along with a Hungarian-American stripper (Robin Raymond) who takes him home to momma. Character actor Joe Turkel has a nice bit as the stripper's streetwise brother.
Peter's fate ultimately lies in Tom's hands. The musician's girlfriend Nancy (Ann Robinson) doesn't see why he should make the effort, but the grateful ex-G.I. wants to repay Peter for saving his life. The sentiment that "we're all in this together" doesn't change a thing -- policing immigration is a necessary function.
Although film boasts that it was filmed on location in New York, many scenes are accomplished through rear projection. Mr. Gassman stumbles through Times Square in footage filmed from a hidden truck, but it's obvious that doubles for the main cast members are used in the finale at the U.N.. Alfred Hitchcock was refused permission to shoot at the U.N. for North by NorthWest; perhaps this is the film that precipitated the filming ban.
Vittorio Gassman plays the entire picture with the same pained look on his face. Three films later, he was back in Italy to stay. Gloria Grahame is quite good as the penniless Maggie, trying to steal a coat from an automat. The coat belongs to the young actress Kathleen Freeman, who is identified in the cast crawl as "Fat Woman". So much for the film's overall sensitivity.
Each of the films in Sony's Bad Girls of Film Noir Volume 1 is a spotless B&W transfer with solid audio and English subtitles. Original trailers are also included for each title. An unusual extra is The Payoff, a 1956 Ford Television Theater drama written by Blake Edwards and starring Howard Duff as a private eye picking up a mystery envelope for dangerous Janet Blair. It plays like a warm-up for Edwards' TV show Peter Gunn. Accompanying Two of a Kind is a new career interview with actress Terry Moore. A second volume of "Bad Girls of Film Noir" is being released concurrently, featuring Night Editor, One Girl's Confession, Women's Prison and Over-Exposed.
For more information about Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1, visit Sony Pictures. To order Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 1 - BAD GIRLS OF FILM NOIR, Volume 1 From Sony Pictures
The cast lists in the opening and closing credits differ slightly in order. Some scenes in the film were shot in New York City. According to New York Times, The Glass Wall was the first film to use the newly constructed United Nations building as a location. Additional news items reported that director Maxwell Shane shot footage of people on the New York streets to make the film look more realistic. According to a Los Angeles Daily News article, a subway motorman named Arnold Skeene was given a speaking part because of his authentic look. However, Skeene's appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. The film originally was to be released by United Artists, according to news items. The Glass Wall was the first film Italian actor Vittorio Gassman made in the United States. Modern sources include Kenner G. Kemp and Frank Mills in the cast.
Released in United States Spring April 1953
Released in United States Spring April 1953