Cast & Crew
As a crane truck speeds along a deserted highway in the pouring rain, its five occupants--Eddie, Skeets, Commando, Roly Adams and Frankie--anxiously ponder their future. Upon reaching a railroad signal crossing, the truck stops and several of the men jump out and line the tracks with explosives. At the same time, the driver, Eddie, stations himself above the railroad trestle and jumps on top of the oncoming train. Eddie pumps nerve gas into the cargo car, thus rendering the guards unconscious. After flagging down the train, the others board and seize its cargo--$10,000,000 in gold bars from the U.S. Mint. They blow up the tracks, and after retreating to their hideout, transfer their booty into three separate trucks, which they then load with cargo. As they are loading, Eddie, their leader, outlines the strategy for the 900-mile trek to Los Angeles. Eddie splits them into three groups, assigning Skeets and Commando to the truck carrying coffee. As Skeets and Commando head out, Skeets laments the violent turn his life has taken and dreams of using his share of the loot to start a new life in Rio with his son. Back at the hideout, news of the robbery is broadcast over the radio, after which Eddie gives Roly the signal to start off in the moving van. Finally, Frankie and Eddie climb into the chemical tanker truck and begin their journey to Los Angeles. While nervously chomping on some gum, Roly is stopped at a police roadblock. After searching the truck the police become suspicious and order Roly to pull over. Unnerved, Roly smashes the vehicle into a fence, jumps out and is shot down by the police while attempting to flee. Soon after, Frankie and Eddie approach the roadblock and are cleared by the police. Noticing Roly's truck marooned by the side of the road, Eddie feigns engine trouble and pulls over to investigate, and he and Frankie somberly witness Roly's dead body being transported by stretcher into a waiting ambulance. After hearing the news of Roly's death over the radio, Commando and Skeets pull into a service station to fill up with gas. While the elderly attendant pumps the gas, Commando lifts the hood to check the oil, causing his gun to fall out of his pocket. Spotting the weapon, the terrified attendant begs for mercy, but Commando guns him down in cold blood. While stopped at a roadside café, Frankie and Eddie hear the news of the old man's murder. Skeets, in turmoil, continues on with Commando, and soon after, they come upon a weighing station. When their truck weighs 4,500 pounds more than it should, the police become suspicious and arrest them. Soon after, Frankie and Eddie arrive at the weighing station and learn of their confederates' arrest. Having passed police inspection, the chemical truck drives on and Eddie stops to phone his girl friend Fran in Los Angeles. After hanging up the phone, Fran makes an excuse to leave her office and hurries to a deserted foundry where she ignites a smelter and fans the flames. Soon after, Eddie and Frank arrive, extract the gold from their truck and lower it into the smelter. Once they cast the molten metal into automobile hubcaps and bumpers, a smog control officer comes to cite Eddie for the fumes coming out of his furnace. After the officer leaves, Eddie and Frankie plate the bumpers with chrome and attach them to Eddie's Cadillac. The three then drive off in the Cadillac, headed for the harbor at San Pedro and a ship bound for Portugal. Once they merge onto the freeway, however, traffic slows to a crawl due to a accident. As they near the wreck, a woman driver, distracted by the carnage, rams into the rear of their car, locking her bumper onto theirs. Trying to be helpful, the police rock the two cars to separate them, causing the Cadillac's soft gold bumper to bend. When the police notice the bumper, Frankie pulls his gun on them and is shot. Fleeing, Eddie runs along the freeway and falls to his death while trying to lower himself from an overpass.
E. J. Baumgarten
Harry M. Leonard
Jerry S. Young
Plunder Road on Blu-ray
A fairly unique caper thriller from 1957 is Hubert Cornfield's Plunder Road, a somewhat artsy but very progressive show that carries over some of the existentialist feel of French crime pix. Director Cornfield would later emerge every few years to deliver an awkward but critically debated show like the Sidney Poitier movie Pressure Point and the very odd Marlon Brando crime picture Night of the Following Day. Critic Andrew Sarris pigeonholed the director in the category "Miscellany" and could only say that he thought Cornfield had a European sensibility.
Plunder Road strips the caper concept down to its bare essentials. Five men converge on a train bearing tons of gold bound for San Francisco. Organizer Eddie Harris ('30s light comedy star Gene Raymond) stops the train in a rainstorm, and Roly Adams (Stafford Repp of TV's Batman) uses a crane to unload the boxes of gold ingots into a waiting van. The crooks then divide the bullion between three trucks. Roly takes one truck, hiding the gold under a load of furniture. Eddie and ex- racecar driver Frankie Cardo (Steven Ritch, also the screenwriter) drive a large tank truck. Explosives expert and ex-con Skeets Jonas (eternal loser Elisha Cook Jr.) and middle-aged ex- stunt man 'Commando' Munson (former leading man Wayne Morris) hide their third of the gold in a truck loaded with coffee. The plan is to bluff their way through police roadblocks to a boat waiting in San Pedro Harbor, south of Los Angeles.
Cornfield and Ritch's picture might have been called Pockeful of Losers. The five thieves are nearing or already in middle age and each wants to escape a life of chronic failure. Skeets has lost his wife and daydreams of taking his grown son to Brazil, to "walk on sidewalks made of colored mosaics." Commando is a nice guy too old for Hollywood work; he seems to like some advice he hears about "finding one thing and sticking to it." Nervous Frankie Cardo is depressed about being blackballed from car racing for a mistake made in a big competition. The calming influence is Eddie Harris, who has a clever (if grossly impractical) scheme for smuggling gold that he feels cannot fail. Eddie's self-confidence may be due to his loyal girlfriend Fran Werner (Jeanne Cooper of The Intruder, Black Zoo and TV's The Young and the Restless), who loves him so much that she's willing to roll the dice on his all-or-nothing long shot. The only other woman in the picture is a truck stop waitress who gives Gene Raymond an extra-big smile. She's Nora (Naura) Hayden, the sparkling redhead best known from the Sci-fi attraction The Angry Red Planet.
Without preparation, the story drops us into the heist as it is happening. For a few minutes our crook heroes are all but anonymous, their faces hidden under stockings. Each eventually gets an opportunity or two to explain himself during the long truck rides, but they say little or nothing to each other as they work. Director Cornfield takes the time to simply observe their faces. Obvious similarities abound between Plunder Road and H.G. Clouzot's suspense classic The Wages of Fear. Elisha Cook Jr.'s Skeets stares at the unstable nitroglycerin capsule suspended on shock-absorbing springs; the middle of the movie is a nervous trek avoiding police roadblocks. The aura of failure around Cook is so strong that we wonder why Commando is willing to drive with him, even though Skeets proves to be the only one of the five who doesn't screw up royally.
Plunder Road raises the concept of fate in film noir to cosmic dimensions. Everything about the robbery is such hard work and such a psychic strain that we almost feel the men deserve their hard-earned loot. Unlike other caper pictures, Eddie's master plan goes like clockwork. When things go wrong, it's because of stupid mistakes, some of them linked directly to Eddie's supposed safeguards. Plunder Road is similar to Stanley Kubrick's crime classic of the previous year, The Killing, in that it observes its thieves with an almost complete emotional detachment, as if they were mice in a maze of their own making. The film features Kubrick's Elisha Cook Jr., and Jeanne Cooper serves the same function as The Killing's Coleen Gray. The conclusion is similar as well. Remember the annoying old lady at the airport in Kubrick's movie, the one with the toy poodle? She has an equivalent in Plunder Road, a woman in dark glasses on the freeway who doesn't look where she's going.
Then again, any crook that expects the L.A. freeway system to cooperate with his getaway plans is a fool begging for trouble. The last scene uses the iconic image of a jammed freeway to express the cruelly comic nature of fate. Cornfield's final crane shot prompts us to remember the ultimate meaninglessness of all human strife and struggle.
We remember the faces of the thieves as reality pulls the rug out from under their dreams of a life of ease. Once a big name star, since 1950 Gene Raymond had been working almost exclusively in Television. The much younger Steven Ritch broke out of acting work for only a few years, writing for TV but also for Irving Lerner's modest noir City of Fear. Elisha Cook Jr. continued being one of the most recognized vintage faces in film, always standing out in supporting roles. The most soulful of the crew is Wayne Morris, once a Warner Bros. contract player specializing in happy-go-lucky nice guys. Morris had been a decorated combat soldier on Guadalcanal, an experience that seems reflected in the weary face of 'Commando', a guy trying to steal back his self-esteem. Morris would pass away just two years later, of a heart attack.
It appears that author Ian Fleming was a big fan of crime movies, for more than one of his James Bond books recycles ideas from classic noir thrillers. As if criticizing the Cornfield movie, Fleming's 1959 novel Goldfinger notes the impracticability of stealing gold bullion with trucks, as the metal is so heavy that a single vehicle can't carry very much. We tend to agree, when we consider the fact that Eddie's getaway plan doesn't take into account the function of highway truck weighing stations. But much more notably, Fleming seems to have been impressed by Eddie's fanciful method of smuggling pure gold in a Cadillac sedan. The idea is too exciting to be nixed over a little thing like practicality.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Plunder Road is a high-quality HD transfer of a Regal Films production. Some dirt and scratches are present, but after the title sequence the show is basically clean. The disc is also the first opportunity most of us will have to see the show in its full "Regalscope" width; the pan-scan job inflicted on previous TV prints and VHS tapes made the film almost unwatchable.
A dynamic title sequence by editors Warren Adams and Jerry Young superimposes the credits over nighttime shots of lines on the highway blurring past the camera. We can tell that the final sequence was partly filmed on an incomplete section of freeway because of the lack of painted road lines. Many second-unit shots of trucks in motion were filmed out on the open highway, but other 'country roads' have concrete curbing, indicating that they were probably filmed in Los Angeles' very large Griffith Park.
By Glenn Erickson
Plunder Road on Blu-ray
The working title of this film was The Violent Road. The opening credits of the picture are superimposed over a road-level view of the white divider lines on a highway. Steven Ritch, who wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story, also appears as "Frankie," and Michael Fox, who appears as the smog inspector in the picture, also served as assistant to the producers.
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1988
Released in United States Winter December 1957
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1988
Released in United States Winter December 1957