Cast & Crew
At the Delta Tire Company, general manager F. L. Rennick and Lt. White discuss how best to catch local loan sharks, headed by Lou Donelli, who lure plant employees into gambling and then beat them up when they cannot repay their loans. At the same time that employee Ed Haines and his friends speculate about who among them is responsible for leading new workers to the loan sharks, his wife Martha "Marty" Haines is visited by her brother, ex-boxer Joe Gargen. Joe, who was unfairly indicted after a man he was fighting fell and died from a head injury, has just finished his three-year prison term. Joe is taken by the beauty of neighbor Anne Nelson, Rennick's secretary, who visits and announces that she has set up a job interview for him at Delta. That night, dinner is interrupted when neighbor Steve Casmer returns home bloodied by a loan shark goon. Against Joe's advice, Steve and Ed plan to organize the plant workers against the loan sharks. Later, Joe bumps into Anne downstairs and kisses her, but is chagrined to see a man enter her apartment. At Joe's interview the next afternoon, Rennick asks him to work undercover to identify the plant's loan shark spy, but Joe, who wants to live a straight life, refuses. He is relieved to learn, however, that the man in Anne's apartment is her brother Paul. Meanwhile, Ed gathers information from his coworkers which suggests that section boss Charlie Thompson is the informant. When Ed confronts his boss, Thompson places a call and Ed then is murdered. As soon as Joe hears about Ed's death, he returns to Rennick and offers to catch the killers, as long as he can do it his own way. Over the next weeks, Joe works undercover in different areas of the plant. Although he becomes friendly with the workers, some spurn him when, in order to make the crooks trust him, he pretends to be nonchalant about Ed's murder. Soon, Thompson introduces him to Donelli, and Joe begins to lose money gambling, while at the same time courting Anne. When a goon tries to beat him up, Joe wins the fight easily and is summoned to see Donelli, who offers him a job "making collections." Marty, Anne and his coworkers discover his new job, and Joe is forced to accept their anger in order to safeguard his scheme. He soon meets the loan sharks's bookkeeper, Walter Karr, and the boss, Vince Phillips. In order to gain more power and move closer to the real boss, Joe suggests a scam in which a fake laundry business will serve as a front to "loan" money to housewives. Within months, the business venture is a success and Joe demands twenty-five percent of the profits. Although Donelli grows more suspicious of Joe, Phillips trusts him more, and admits that Donelli ordered Charlie to kill Ed. Marty denounces Joe and moves in with Anne, who now refuses to speak to him. Although he wants to quit, Joe is determined to catch Ed's murderer, and so when Phillips tests his loyalty by ordering him to beat up Paul, Joe does so. Hearing that Anne plans to turn Joe in to the police, Marty races to talk to him. Donelli listens through the office intercom as Joe turns Marty away and then calls Rennick to ask for help in fingering Phillips. Donelli pulls a gun on Joe, but Joe beats him up. He then visits Phillips and demands $50,000 in exchange for records of their business transactions. When Phillips reluctantly brings Joe to his boss, Joe is shocked to see Karr. Karr pulls a gun on Joe and both he and Phillips chase Joe through his offices above an old theater. While hiding in the box seats, Joe manages to shoot first Phillips and then Karr. At the police station, Rennick thanks Joe by bringing in Anne, who kisses him, now aware of how much he has sacrificed.
Loan Shark -
For a time in the 1930s he was one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood, but by the 1950s his star was on the decline, thanks to a history of clashing with studio bosses, poor choices (he famously passed on two films from 1941, High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, films that launched Humphrey Bogart into movie stardom) and limited range. So when he was offered a three picture deal with Lippert Pictures, an independent production house that delivered films that were bigger and more ambitious than B movies but lacked the star power and budgets of studio productions, he signed on for $25,000 a picture plus 25% of the profits.
Loan Shark (1952) was the first of these pictures. Raft was over 50, past his prime as a leading man but still able to leverage his gravel voice, granite face, clipped delivery and stiffness that would explode into sudden action in tough guy roles. With Raft attached to the film, Lippert gave the film a $250,000 budget, bigger than most of the studio's productions. The film was shot in early 1952 on the RKO Pathe lot with director Seymour Friedman (a veteran of B movies) at the helm and cinematographer Joseph Biroc (who photographed Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life from 1946 and decades later won an Oscar for shooting 1974's The Towering Inferno) behind the camera.
Gail Russell was originally cast in the role of Ann Nelson, the film's love interest, but the actress struggled with alcoholism, an issue that ultimately derailed her career. She was replaced by Dorothy Hart just before production began. Two veteran character actors were cast in major supporting roles. Paul Stewart, a veteran of Orson Welles' Mercury Players (he made a memorable big screen debut in 1941 as Raymond the butler in Citizen Kane) whose husky voice and dark features gave him steady work playing gangsters and villains, plays the debt collector Lou Donelli. And John Hoyt, who played everything from cops and crooks to army officers and politicians, appears as Lou's boss. Hoyt's name may not be familiar but his lean face may be familiar to classic movie fans as the bitter millionaire in the 1951 science fiction classic When Worlds Collide and the disciplinarian principal in 1955's Blackboard Jungle, and as the crusty but lovable Grandpa Stanley on the sitcom Gimme a Break!. And note the presence of Russell Johnson in a small but vital role as a tire plant foreman with a side hustle. Russell kept busy with small roles in dozens of movies and scores of TV shows but a generation of TV viewers know him as The Professor in the sitcom Gilligan's Island.
The film opens with a dynamic pre-credits sequence: a walk down a dark street, a man shadowed by a pair of threatening figures, and a brutal attack in an alley that Friedman punctuates with an optical effect that explodes from the center of the screen, a sign that this was more ambitious than the standard Lippert production. "The director, Seymour Friedman, manages to pace the proceedings at a reasonable clip," noted the film review in The New York Times signed "H.H.T.," which also offered backhanded praise for the star. "For once, Mr. Raft's tight-lipped suavity seems perfectly in order..." Other reviews were similarly positive but guarded. For whatever success it enjoyed, Raft didn't see any of his 25% participation. The film never showed a profit, at least not on paper.
George Raft: The Man Who Would be Bogart, Stone Wallace. BearManor Media, 2008.
"Raft Takes Side of Law and Order," H.H.T. The New York Times, May 12, 1952.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
By Sean Axmaker
Loan Shark -
Although an October 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the picture would be filmed at the Motion Picture Center Studio, it was actually shot at the RKO Pathé Studio. The same article named Mara Lynn as George Raft's co-star. A January 1952 Hollywood Reporter production chart mistakenly referred to the production company as "Bernie Luber Productions" instead of "Encore Productions." Hollywood Reporter news items add Barbara Woodell, William Tannen and Elena Da Vinci to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. In October 1953, Hollywood Reporter reported that director Seymour Friedman sued Lippert, Bernard Luber, Lippert Productions, Lippert Pictures and Encore Productions for the $5,000 in salary still owed to him and the five percent in profits from Loan Shark. The outcome of the suit is not known.