Cast & Crew
During World War II, Jim Vaus, an army electronics specialist, is serving a prison sentence for having stolen equipment from the army. Because Jim has arranged for released prisoners to mail letters he has written to his girl friend, Alice, Alice thinks that he is still on active duty. When the war ends, the prison chaplain informs Jim that the President has reviewed his, and others' cases, and that he is to be released. The chaplain, aware of Jim's letters to Alice, strongly advises him to tell her about his past. However, when Jim returns to Los Angeles, he buys a captain's uniform and some medals, then goes to visit Alice, her mother and younger sister Helen and lies that he has just finished active service. Jim then opens a small business as an electronic engineering consultant, but soon becomes discouraged, as he is not earning enough to marry and support Alice. One day, when Alice is visiting the shop, a driver for Charles Rumsden, a powerful attorney, brings Jim a radio to repair. Alice is shocked by Jim's dishonesty when, after the driver leaves, Jim fixes the radio in a few seconds after having told the driver it would be an expensive repair. When Jim delivers the radio to Rumsden's house, he is asked to repair an electric doorbell. While under the house checking cables, Jim discovers that the house is "bugged" with a concealed microphone. Rumsden, who is the brains behind various vice and gambling rackets, then hires Jim to find out who is eavesdropping on his conversations. When Jim tells Rumsden that the police have been tapping his phone, Rumsden offers Jim a large amount of money to set up a wiretapping operation to incriminate a rival vice operation. Although Jim points out that wiretapping is illegal, Rumsden says that he is doing it as a favor to the police. Jim agrees to install the equipment and, after Rumsden tips off the police, the competing call-girl racket is shut down. With the money Jim has earned, he is able to marry Alice and buy a house. As they move in, however, Jim receives a phone call from Rumsden asking him to tap the phone of a politician who is bothering one of his clients. As Jim realizes that blackmail is involved, he is reluctant to help, but Rumsden offers him two thousand dollars for the job and he accepts. After doing another favor for Nick Castro, an associate of Rumsden, Jim gives Alice a new car, but she is troubled by his involvement with gangsters. One night, Alice takes Jim to a church social, but he forces her to leave immediately upon seeing that the guest speaker is his prison chaplain. On their way home, Jim finally tells Alice about his prison sentence and, after Alice forgives him, she tells him that she is pregnant, causing Jim to promise to sever all connections with Castro and Rumsden. However, Castro refuses to allow him to quit the mob and, several months later, Jim is prevented from attending the birth of his daughter because he is busy defusing a time bomb found outside Castro's house. After Castro gives Jim a tip on a fixed horse race that goes wrong, causing Jim to lose a lot of money, Herbie, one of Castro's henchmen, gives Jim the idea of creating a system whereby the horserace results, wired from the track to bookies' offices, are delayed for a minute or two, permitting someone to make a late bet on a known winner. Months pass as Jim works on the device to delay the teletype and Alice becomes pregnant again. When Jim perfects the system, he double-crosses Rumsden and Castro and enters into a partnership with Tony, another of Castro's henchmen. They operate very successfully for several weeks, but eventually fall afoul of Castro and Rumsden, who kill Tony but let Jim live so that he can set up the system in St. Louis and other cities. When Jim is ordered to be ready to fly to St. Louis the next evening, he again lies to Alice about his trip and drives her to her mother's. On the way, they pass a large tent where evangelist Billy Graham is holding a crusade. Alice convinces Jim that they must attend and, as he listens to the preacher's powerful message that he can leave the tent that evening with all his past forgiven, he makes the decision to be "born again." Jim and Alice return home and, although he fears prison and she worries about what Castro and Rumsden may do, Jim decides to quit the mob and face Rumsden and Castro when they come to his home. After Jim tells them that he is through and attempts to explain his religious conversion, Castro wants to shoot him, but Rumsden persuades him to let Jim live after which they both leave. A relieved Jim embraces Alice and tells her that a crusade counselor had shown him a passage from Proverbs: "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him."
John Nickolaus [jr.]
T. T. Triplett
Wiretapper was produced by a unit within Billy Graham's evangelical ministry. Due to the biographical nature of the story, the following title card appears in place of the standard disclaimer: "For understandable reasons certain names and events have been altered to protect the lives and careers of actual persons." Although contemporary reviews list the film's running time as 80 minutes, the print viewed ran 83 minutes. From April 1955, the film played in churches and auditoriums across the United States, including the Shrine and Philharmonic Auditoriums in Los Angeles, prior to being acquired for theatrical distribution. The Variety review erroneously states that the film was also billed as The Jim Vaus Story. That was a qualifying title used in the film's earlier, non-theatrical advertising campaign. It was not part of the advertising for the film's "commercial" release, nor was it used as a substitute for Wiretapper.
Some sources, including the film's pressbook, incorrectly list Richard Benedict as playing "Rumsden's chauffeur." In fact, Benedict plays "Nick Castro," while Ric Roman plays the chauffeur, "Romano."
A December 30, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item added Scott Lee, Marvin Press and Steve Coit to the cast, however their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed.
James Arthur Vaus, Jr. (1919-1997), the subject of Wiretapper, was born into a minister's family in Los Angeles. After military service, he became a wiretapper for Los Angeles-based mobster Mickey Cohen. In 1949, he had a spiritual awakening while attending Billy Graham's Los Angeles Crusade. For nine years thereafter, Vaus and his wife Alice traveled throughout the world speaking in churches and schools. In 1958, Vaus founded Youth Development, Inc., a small, storefront youth club, in the heart of New York's Spanish Harlem and led many gang members away from a life of crime. Later, he organized many youth outreach services in different cities, including a national crisis hotline, from new headquarters in San Diego, CA. On a donated property in the mountains of Virginia, Vaus later established a camp retreat for inner city youth.