Short Cut to Hell


1h 27m 1957

Brief Synopsis

A professional hitman is hired by a friend to commit two murders. His friend pays him off in what turns out to be stolen money, and the police soon trace the money to him. On the run, he kidnaps the girlfriend of the police detective in charge of his pursuit and threatens to kill her unless the hunt is called off.

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1957
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Pasadena, California, United States; Saugus, California, United States; Torrance, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the film This Gun for Hire written by W. R. Burnett and Albert Maltz (Paramount, 1942) and the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene (London, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

In a run-down hotel room in Oakland, California, Kyle Niles, a hired killer, relaxes the afternoon away with his cat, despite an unwelcome interruption by Daisy, the precocious teenage daughter of the hotel manager. He then calmly goes to the City Engineering Department and murders new buildings inspector Carl Adams and his secretary. Afterward, Kyle retrieves a report written by Adams, which advocates inditing Imperial Contractors, owned by corrupt real estate developer A. T. and his syndicate, for involuntary manslaughter. At a local diner, Kyle then gives the report, which contends that people were killed when one of Imperial's buildings collapsed due to the deliberate use of faulty steel, to Bahrwell, A. T.'s subordinate, and collects his $1,000 pay. Following their meeting, the crooked Bahrwell goes to the police and reports the money stolen, claiming the $1,000, for which he has the serial numbers, was taken the night before from the payroll for his Oakland office. Soon, the police are at Kyle's hotel, as the killer paid his rent with one of the marked bills. After sneaking out of the hotel, Kyle learns from Danny, a piano player at the diner, that Bahrwell's company is based in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Sgt. Stan Lowery, an Oakland police detective assigned to Kyle's case, tries to convince his girl friend, nightclub singer Glory Hamilton, to give up her career, but she insists on going to Los Angeles, where she has a singing engagement. Aboard the Sentinel Express , Kyle and Glory share the same seat in the tourist section of the train. Needing unmarked cash, Kyle tries to steal five dollars out of Glory's purse, but is caught. The young singer mistakenly takes pity on the willowy gunman, however, and even offers him part of her sandwich. The next morning, Bahrwell awakes in his private compartment on the train to see the sleeping Kyle and Glory, and he hastily reports the "payroll thief's" presence to a porter. Overhearing the conductor's plan to have the police board the train in Glendale, Kyle abducts Glory and forces her to get off the train with him when it makes an unscheduled stop so that the Los Angeles police can be contacted. Soon thereafter, Bahrwell is given twenty-four hours by A. T. to find Kyle and kill him. Mistakenly thinking that Glory is Kyle's girl friend, Bahrwell and his henchman Nichols track the singer to the Ruby Room nightclub, and the lecherous businessman invites her to dinner that night at his home in the North Hollywood hills. There, Bahrwell demands to know where Kyle is, but Glory insists that she previously did not even know the killer's name, let alone his current whereabouts. The sadistic Nichols then prepares to torture Glory, only to have Stan, who had been sent to Los Angeles on the case, arrive at Bahrwell's door, looking for his missing girl friend. Told by Nichols that Glory left an hour earlier, the policeman leaves, but Kyle then appears and brutally beats Nichols during a brief struggle. Kyle releases Glory from her binds, but before they can leave Bahrwell's home, Stan returns. After the ensuing chase, Kyle and Glory duck into a Hollywood aluminum factory. Despite being surrounded by forty policemen, they elude detection by hiding in the factory's air raid shelter. The killer then offers to release his hostage, but Glory refuses to leave, knowing it could lead to Kyle's capture. Kyle then horrifies Glory by cold-heartedly telling her how he murdered his abusive father and many others, but the hired killer shows great emotion when he is forced to kill a howling stray cat who nearly gives away their location. The next morning, Stan discovers Kyle and Glory's footprints outside the bomb shelter, but Glory agrees to act as a decoy to help the killer escape. Though a Los Angeles police captain wants to arrest Glory for helping Kyle, the singer insists that Kyle is a killer, not a thief, and is acting the pawn for Bahrwell and A. T. Meanwhile, Kyle sneaks onto A. T.'s estate, but before he shoots Bahrwell, he forces the crooked businessmen to confess everything about Adams' murder, knowing that A. T.'s dictaphone is recording his statement. When A. T. tries to recover the incriminating cylinder, Kyle shoots him, then guns down Bahrwell. The police arrive, and Kyle is mortally wounded in the ensuing gunfight. Before he dies, however, Kyle looks up to Glory, smiles and hands Stan the recording.

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1957
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Pasadena, California, United States; Saugus, California, United States; Torrance, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the film This Gun for Hire written by W. R. Burnett and Albert Maltz (Paramount, 1942) and the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene (London, 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Short Cut to Hell was the only feature film directed by noted actor James Cagney. According to various Paramount press releases, the film originally contained a brief preface, in which Cagney, seated in a director's chair, introduced his two young stars, Robert Evers and Georgann Johnson, to the audience. Short Cut to Hell marked Johnson's film debut. Paramount press releases claim that Cagney cast Johnson in the film after seeing her on the Mr. Peepers television series. Short Cut to Hell was also the feature film debut of longtime nightclub performer Danny Lewis, the father of Paramount comedy star Jerry Lewis. According to a January 28, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Tom Tryon had been cast in a starring role in Short Cut to Hell, but he did not appear in the released film.
       According to the file on the film in the Paramount collection at the AMPAS Library, the film was produced for the very modest budget of $346,669, minus Cagney's directing fees. Studio records contain no mention of Cagney's salary for Short Cut to Hell, and some modern sources, including Cagney's autobiography, claim that he directed the film for free as a favor to his old friend, first-time producer A. C. Lyles, long-time Paramount executive. Other modern sources state that Cagney received a small stipend to direct the film, along with an undisclosed percentage of the film's profits.
       According to Paramount press releases, the film was shot at various locations throughout Southern California, including a train station in Saugus, the Harvey Aluminum plant in Torrance and mansions in Pasadena and the Berkeley Square district of Los Angeles. Early Hollywood Reporter production charts include Valerie Allen in the cast, but it is doubtful that she appears in the released film. Hollywood Reporter new items also include Charles R. Keane, John Benson and George Gilbreath in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       Short Cut to Hell, like the 1941 Paramount release This Gun for Hire, which starred Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake under the direction of Frank Tuttle (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), was based on Graham Greene's novel A Gun for Sale, Although This Gun for Hire's screenplay was written by W. R. Burnett and Albert Maltz, only Burnett was given a "based on the screenplay credit on Short Cut to Hell. In letters to Burnett and the Writer's Guild of America in late February 1957, Paramount stated that it was invoking Article Six of the Producer-Writer Guild of America, West, Amended Minimum Basic Agreement of 1955 in order to remove Maltz's screenplay credit, as the writer was a blacklisted member of the Hollywood Ten. (For more information about blacklisting and the Hollywood Ten, see entry for Crossfire in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50. For more information about the Writers Guild blacklist credits committee, for The Las Vegas Story.) In October 1997, Hollywood Reporter announced that the WGA was restoring Maltz's screen credit for Short Cut to Hell.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 1957

Remade as "Short Cut to Hell" (1957) directed by James Cagney. Graham Greene's novel, originally published in the UK in 1936 as "A Gun For Sale", was published in the United States under the title "This Gun For Hire".

Remake of "This Gun For Hire" (1942), based upon the the 1936 Grahame Greene novel (originally published the same year in the UK as "A Gun For sale"). James Cagney appears in the Prologue.

Directorial debut for actor James Cagney.

VistaVision

Released in United States Fall September 1957