“What’s happened to us is like war… easy to start… hard to stop.”

A wordless intro before the opening titles, so no dialogue until 4:30… and it’s only an 80 minute movie, so that’s significant. Once the action starts, of course, it barely lets up, led by a hero named Griff who talks like a hero should talk (sorta like the host of a news magazine show). The star is Barbara Stanwyck but she’s not in the movie half as much as Griff, which only serves to make her more of a presence when she is around.

Anyway, Griff is one of those western heroes who’s amazing with a gun, unbeatable, but hates to use it, haunted from having killed a guy some years ago. He’s an oxymoronically peaceful bounty hunter with his two brothers in tow – nice-guy Wes who falls in love with a local gunsmith girl and eager Chico who wants to be a gunfighter. Griff swaggers into town as Stanwyck’s unhinged little brother Brockie is shooting up the streets, and busts the violent asshole brother’s nose in one of the baddest-ass western showdowns ever filmed. This and Griff’s humiliating public arrest of one of her “forty guns”, a man wanted for robbery, causes a balance-of-power problem with Stanwyck, who formerly owned this town uncontested. But of course… the two of them fall in love.

Charlie Savage (played by John Wayne’s stunt man) and Brockie (John Ericson of Bad Day at Black Rock):
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John the marshall is a slow-talkin’ goodly old man with bad eyesight whom Brockie shoots (not to death) just for the hell of it, but the cowardly nasal-voiced sheriff Logan and the local judge are friends of Stanwyck’s, so when Brockie is arrested he’s quickly let out. They have a harder time protecting Swain, the wanted man, since he’s got a federal warrant on him, so Charlie Savage kills him in his cell before Swain can say too much. Griff is on the case right away, knowing it’s Charlie because he’s the best shot in town (although why does it take the best shot in town to blast a guy through a prison window?). Charlie sets a trap for Griff, but young Chico interferes and kills Charlie.

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“Now what did I do wrong?”
“Now you’ve killed a man.”

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I’m out of sequence here but it doesn’t matter. Griff and Barbara have a symbolic love scene during a tornado and bond over their wild little brothers. Griff bathes in a barrel (but does not get shot up a la House of Bamboo). The movie breaks into a song about Barbara (“She’s a high-ridin’ woman with a whip”). And whenever a man and a woman are alone, the innuendo cranks way up, higher than I thought it could go in the 50’s (well, I suppose Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter was the same year). There’s talk of the death of the wild west, of a peaceful, civilized future.

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But the kids still wanna play shoot-’em-up. Wes is predictably but still terribly, killed on his wedding day by Brockie, and that’s not the kind of thing Griff can let go. He shames the sheriff, who fails to kill Griff and so loses Barbara. The famed ending, in the writer/director’s own words:

Brock knows Griff loves his sister and surely won’t shoot a woman. He’s wrong. Griff plugs Jessica in the leg and, as she slides to the ground, empties his pistol into the bastard brother.

Griff doesn’t kill Brock out of vengeance. He’s eliminating a cancer that’s terrorizing the community. But he’s disgusted with himself. By resorting to guns, Griff sees the last ten years vanish in a flash, as he becomes the killer he’s renounced.

My original script had Griff killing both Jessica and her brother, stepping over their corpses in a daze, throwing his gun down – this time for good – and walking up the dusty street without a pause. Nothing and no one exists for Griff anymore. The End. That version ran into trouble at the studio…

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Instead Chico ends up marshall and Barbara runs after Griff as he’s leaving town and they ride away. A few months after China Gate (and somehow Run of the Arrow came in between them), the filmmaking is smooth as hell – scenes playing out in single long takes with powerful fast cutting during the action scenes.

Barbara, in her final year as a headlining movie star:
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Fuller again:

My story hinged on America’s pervasive fascination with guns. Hell if I know why people think guns are sexy. I cooked up a helluva lot of sexual metaphors playing with the idea.

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Our gruff hero Griff (far left) is professional tough guy actor Barry Sullivan (The Bad and the Beautiful). Gene Barry (on right, star of China Gate, played a fake Mexican in Red Garters) is brother Wes. Robert Dix (writer/star of Five Bloody Graves) is Chico, and in the light coat is Sheriff Dean Jagger (the beloved major in White Christmas, also in Lang’s Western Union):
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Fuller:

With Forty Guns, I’d really hit my stride. I considered it one of my best efforts so far. Sure, there were some compromises – like the ending, but it came pretty close to my original vision. At the time, very few people were given the opportunity to write, produce, and direct their own movies.

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“Every girl is beautiful… until they kill somebody.”

Wowie wow wow, the acting (or the dubbing) by our two leads is terrrrible. But I’ve seen this once before so I knew that and could focus on other things this time. Nice title music by Ennio Morricone, decent camerawork and good shot choices. Ultimately a stupid movie though, not half as good (or half as ludicrous) as Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street. Worth watching only for Fuller completists like myself, or possibly for Claude Chabrol’s loony performance.

Bobby’s silhouette getting nabbed backstage:
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Bobby Di Cicco, who I don’t remember being completely horrible in The Big Red One, is a loser wannabe musician who sneaks into the orchestra every night and watches from backstage. He meets Véronique Jannot at the unemployment office and they decide to take revenge on the agents there who humiliate the two while failing to find them work. First up is a mustache-grooming woman they call Mussolini, then a pervert they call Tartuffe played with campy hilarity by Claude Chabrol.

C.C. wearing funny gloves:
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But when Tartuffe falls out the window (in an incident of neighborly peeping gone wrong) our two hero losers are on the run, assisted by Bobby’s music-shop-owning ex-con buddy and a girl they met while breaking into her dad’s house. These two accomplices (whom our heroes seem to barely know, but are willing to assault cops to help them get away) are nearly as awful actors as our heroes, but they have better voices… his is low and TV-cop-show-like, hers is small and airy.

Oh yeah, here’s Bobby:
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And what’s her name, Veronica:
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Presumably (or hopefully) the accomplices are arrested for being horrible liars. Our couple goes on the run. In a snowy small town rest stop en route to Spain, a loose-cannon ex-cop is introduced only moments before pulling out his gun and blasting away, killing Veronica. Bobby is wounded, somehow makes it back to Paris only to sneak into the orchestra, con his way onstage and die mid-performance… nice.

Movie isn’t a total waste of time – there are a few nuts scenes… some pretend-incest that seems to repulse/turn on landlady Christa Lang… Sam Fuller as “Zoltan” a jewelry fence and death-scene enthusiast with an eyepatch concealing a magnifying contact lens… the outer-space sound effects over Ennio Morricone’s score on the final scene.

Christa:
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Sam:
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Cameo as a brothel madam by Micheline Presle of some Demy movies, The Nun, I Want To Go Home and American Guerrilla in the Philippines:
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NY Times called it “a rather mediocre crime story about a Bonnie-and-Clyde couple.” The video box calls it a tribute to the French New Wave. I’m not sure how, exactly… unless the final shootout in the snow is in memory of Shoot The Piano Player.

One of three TV-movies Fuller made in ’90, a year after his final theatrical film Street of No Return (and I still don’t know where to find the other two).

Earnest photographer Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, Chabrol’s Dr. M) is in the Philippines in the mid ’80’s (soon before the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos) looking for shots of strife and poverty to bring global attention to the local slums. She meets up with her ex, opportunistic photographer Luc Merenda (a vet of 1970’s Italian cop movies who cameoed in Hostel II).

Highlight of the movie is this local kid they meet. He learned hardboiled American gangster-speak from the movies and follows our couple around calling her “doll” and him “frenchy” while keeping them out of trouble. Trouble comes when Frenchy snaps a pic of a military man shooting an old woman in the head for not giving up a rebel camp location. From then on, it’s a chase for that roll of film, with more screen time for Frenchy than Beals, even though she’s the “star”.

Christa Lang plays Mama, who runs a sorta casino-brothel. N. Vera says: “It’s got a good Filipino cast–Behn Cervantes is an old friend of Lino Brocka and a theatrical legend… Pilar Pilapil is (or was) one of the most sensual actresses in Philippine cinema.” Pilar plays a girl forced to “work” at Mama’s until boyfriend Behn can afford to buy her out. They seem sympathetic to our heroes’ cause until the end, when Behn is discovered to be a pro-Marcos spy and is machine-gunned in the middle of a rally by the kid – an event captured by both photographers, getting ’em well-paid cover shots for a happy ending.

Fuller no longer had the budget or prestige for a studio shoot, but B. Krohn calls Madonna and some other late works “great films, despite the loss of control from location shooting.” Functional cinematography except for a fun shootout at a movie house, the action on the screen echoing the firefight in the theater.

Music sounds like the percussion of the backing track to that “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller with some hideous keyboards over it. Fuller wrote the title song (movie’s alt title is Tinikling, named after a game played by street kids in the movie, like jumprope with bamboo poles). Nice lyrics actually, but there’s no adequate performance of it in the film – first the kid belts it out in a moving car, then this guy Samuel Euston puts too much heart and soul and lameness into it.

Oh I forgot to mention this guy Pavel, who’s sorta all over the place trying to cut deals, played by Patrick Bauchau (star of Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse 20 years earlier, also in The Rapture).
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The doll:
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Frenchy:
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Mama:
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Sam Fuller, nearly 80, wouldn’t direct again after ’90, but would stick around as an actor for a few more years in films by Gitai, Wenders and Kaurismäki.
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Since Fantoma is not ever going to release this on DVD (with Christa Lang commentary) like they promised to do, the dirty rats, I found a copy elsewhere and finally watched it. And it’s good! Criterion started our national reappraisal of the great Sam Fuller mid-career with The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor, then moved on to the early films with that Eclipse set, now this week they’re hitting his late period with White Dog, so I’m participating with this pre-Big Red One episode from his forgotten days in the ghetto of television.

This is an episode of a German cop show from 1970 which is still running. I can’t imagine why an American director was allowed to write and direct a German TV episode in English… we’d certainly never invite Werner Herzog to shoot an all-German episode of Law & Order. The producer must’ve been a Naked Kiss fan. Anyway, it’s over 90 minutes long and there’s no indication of regular characters or a running plot or a teaser for next week’s episode, so I’m not sure what format this cop show takes… this played like a standalone film in TV picture-ratio.

I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. It’s technically excellent at times, but when time or budget didn’t allow for excellence they played it loose and fun. Acting isn’t so strong – Christa (Sam’s wife) overdoes it at times, and lead man Sandy (Glenn Corbett of The Crimson Kimono) is generically TV-crappy. I wouldn’t call the incidental music by “The” Can amazing, but has its moments. Fuller (or whoever) gets points for hiring the ultra-hip Can in the first place. The double-agent spy story is pretty cool, but the way it’s pulled off visually is beyond cool. Check it:

How our hero is introduced – he’s the dude in the middle, and that’s his murdered partner on the table:
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How Christa is introduced, walking past a giant poster of Frank… this movie is very clued-in musically:
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Some Citizen Kane hole-in-the-floor cinematography:
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Fuller is having fun with this movie. They watch Rio Bravo, there are characters named Novak and Bogdanovich, and Fuller cameos offscreen as The Senator with a framed picture of Nixon on the wall and a novel by one Samuel Fuller prominently placed on the desk.
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And then there’s this guy, with the fantastic name of Charlie Umlaut. I’m not sure what his deal is – I think he might’ve killed our cop’s partner, then at the end he shows up in a parade in clownface, screaming his own name until he’s caught and killed. Whatever it meant, it certainly livened up the picture.
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Very nice cinematography of German cities (Bonn, Cologne) by Jerzy Lipman, who shot early Wajda films and Knife in the Water.
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Oh right, the plot. Christa works for fey evil rich guy Mensur. She drugs famous people, poses with them in lewd positions, then blackmails them with the photos. Sandy, our cop, shows up far-fetchedly claiming to be in the same business and happening to pick Christa to perform the same job she does for Mensur. Eventually she’s in on his plot and supposedly helping him, but it all gets twisted up, and in the end he’s challenged to a hilariously unconvincing fencing duel in Mensur’s office, which Mensur inexplicably loses.

Mensur, top, is Anton Diffring (of Tusk and Fahrenheit 451).
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Christa:
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Christa:
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Christa!
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1982: the year of Blade Runner, White Dog, Poltergeist, The Thing, Gandhi, Britannia Hospital, Fitzcarraldo, Fanny & Alexander, Tron, the Sting version of Brimstone & Treacle… and this, the legendary Worst Kurt Vonnegut Adaptation Ever. From young hotshot Steven Paul, one of the producers of Doomsday, and I know I just said I wouldn’t waste my time watching anything created by anyone involved with Doomsday, but the Vonnegut connection combined with this movie’s reputation for being one of the worst comedies of the 80’s forced me to watch it out of morbid curiosity.

Laurel and Hardy? The book was dedicated to them.
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Opens with narration by Orson Welles, surely giving even less effort than he did as the voice of the planet in Transformers: The Movie. You can immediately tell that the movie has no comic sense whatsoever. It looks cheap despite the big-name cast, and every “joke” is dead on delivery. The comedy is mostly people falling down, moving fast, talking funny (slapstick, I guess) and it’s badly staged… for instance, the twins are giant-sized, but only when convenient.

I don’t think Vonnegut was as mean-spirited towards the Chinese. And of course, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is not of Chinese descent, but better him than Mickey Rooney I suppose. He plays the shrunken thumb-sized ambassador, a reference only understood by readers of the book since it’s unexplained during the movie. Other bits from the book are also rethought and bungled, and the twins are from SPACE now (and return to space in the ridiculous ending). All traces of Vonnegut’s trademark sadness and humanity are lost, unless you consider the sadness of the cast and the releasing studio and the audience. Rogue Cinema points out that the movie’s cast (Khan, Feldman, even Welles) and poster and title (and renaming the doctor “Frankenstein”) aimed to make audiences think that this would be a Mel Brooks Close Encounters parody. That particular advertising lie is probably the most well-thought-out part of the whole film.

Lewis!
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Khan!
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Madeline Khan and Jerry Lewis double-star as both the super-genius twins and their rich, detached parents. Marty Feldman is the butler in the twins’ secluded home. John Abbott plays a guy with a cool beard and Samuel FULLER is the colonel at the Military School For Screwed-Up Boys.

Feldman!
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Fuller!
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One of the last films of Jim Backus (Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s Island, voice of Mr. Magoo), John Abbott, Marty Feldman, and even Jerry Lewis (had starring roles in 6-7 more movies, most of them bad) but Jerry recovered in time to make Arizona Dream. Yes, Slapstick was a mega-career-killer, destroying the respectability of everyone involved! It ruined cinematographer Anthony Richmond, who previously shot the beautiful Man Who Fell To Earth and Bad Timing but went on to shoot Dane Cook movies and Dumb & Dumber 2. And – little known fact – it contributed to the death of Orson Welles and was directly responsible for his never completing Big Brass Ring, The Dreamers or Other Side of the Wind. Orson’s female co-narrator’s career was so thoroughly demolished that the internet has no record of who she was. But on the bright side, the movie helped launch the film career of Pat Morita, who would star in The Karate Kid two years later.

Morita! (he’s the one not looking at the camera)
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Music by Michel Legrand and a song with lyrics by Vonnegut were edited out of the movie after the original release – why?? Assistant-directed by Michel’s son Benjamin Legrand, ending his short career as assistant-director (begun the year before on Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round).

Everybody wants prosthetic foreheads on their real heads? The incest scene doesn’t go very far, because we need a “PG” rating.
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Released around the same time as Scorsese’s awesome King of Comedy, also with Jerry Lewis, though I think this was shot first and shelved for a while. Gene Siskel calls it “shockingly bad” and Ebert calls it offensive but makes a point of not blaming Vonnegut or Lewis. I heard one detectable Jerry joke: “You know, do as the romans do… when in rome, that is – I had it backwards” (it’s all in the delivery). There’s an occasional passionate line-read by Madeline or Jerry, the occasional animated bit of action, but mostly the movie moves mechanically from one laborious scene to the next, a simple motion illustration of a screenplay written by a guy who knows a guy who talked to a guy who once read the Vonnegut novel (which wasn’t one of KV’s best stories to begin with). I would looove to say that Fuller, Lewis and Feldman were excellent and the movie was slightly worth watching, but they weren’t and it wasn’t. I’m not in any hurry to rewatch Breakfast of Champions to decide whether this one is worse, but I think it probably is.

Close Encounters of the Dumb Kind:
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Two or three years ago I completed a holy quest to track down and watch every movie by the extremely great Samuel Fuller. This directly led to the creation of this journal, because it turns out that I don’t remember movies very well when I just watch them one after another and never think about them again or discuss them with anybody so now it’s as if I’ve seen no (or just a few) movies by Samuel Fuller instead of all. Fortunately they’re all worth revisiting (except maybe for Underworld USA or Shark! or Madonna And The Dragon) so they’ll all show up here eventually, and maybe I’ll remember them better this time.

So here’s Park Row… selected by John Sayles, aired by Turner Classic, and digitally botched by Comcast (god, they’re worse than ever). Such a sappy and idealistic little flick for the first 30 or 40 minutes, about a fiery newspaper man (Gene Evans) who dreams of starting his own paper and whose dreams come true when a booze-buddy (vet actor Herbert Heyes) turns out to be a rich investor. His little-paper-that-could is run on honest journalism, ingenuity, and dedicated employees including Italian typesetter Mr. Angelo, linotype inventor Mergenthaler (sculptor Bela Kovacs), reckless bridge-jumping reporter Steve Brodie (George O’Hanlon, voice of George Jetson) and young type-sorter and paper-hawker Rusty.

The movie doesn’t show or narrate the events… it reports them. Sam was a newspaper man, a writer, photographer, and a war vet… and all of those come out in this movie, as the second half turns into a war between Evans and his rival paper’s editor Charity Hackett, and not just of wits… wagons run off the road, news stands destroyed, fist fights, even bombs thrown through windows, highlit by an awesome tracking shot that Sam reportedly created by strapping the camera to a man’s back and having him run after Evans, weaving through the movie’s single street set. The movie’s still corny, and at the end Charity admits defeat and offers to fold her paper, in love with the uncompromising Evans. But the grittiness and the sentimentality ramp up simultaneously and complement each other in a way Sam wouldn’t manage again until “The Naked Kiss”.

Excellent movie. It sneaks up on you.

Thirty.

“Stop being melodramatic” – Harry Wesson to Jenny Marsh… in a Douglas Sirk movie!

Did I even have to be told that Samuel Fuller wrote this, when the lead character is named Griff?

Jenny Marsh (Patricia Knight, Cornell Wilde’s wife of 14 years, career fell apart after their divorce soon after this movie came out) is a bad girl just out of jail. She went there covering for her boyfriend Harry Wesson (John Baragrey, appealingly slimy, pretty much a TV actor except for this movie). Gets out and meets parole officer Griff Marat (Cornell Wilde, kinda big star in the 40’s). Trouble ensues.

To keep an eye on the girl, Griff naively hires her to live/work at his house and care for his blind mother. She still visits Wesson on the side and schemes to fake falling in love with Griff to corrupt him and ease her situation. But of course they really fall in love, and she shoots Wesson in a struggle. She’s back in trouble, and Griff will be in trouble if he’s found out for marrying a parolee, so they escape to an oil town to start a new life (leaving behind blind mom and super-irritating younger brother). “But the strain of poverty and fear of apprehension begin to corrode” and they turn themselves in. In a suspiciously happy twist ending, a recovering Harry Wesson lets them both off the hook and they live happily etc.

Tight little 80-minute noir drama. I don’t know much about Sirk, but the Fuller element is there in traces. Fuller’s own debut, I Shot Jesse James, came out the same year.

IMDB reviewer points out: “The title, by the way, seems basically meaningless but to have been chosen for its purely abstract, noirish resonance.”

Second time seen, but first time with proper cinemascope ratio. Imagine this cropped:

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Interesting to use cinemascope on a picture that mostly takes place on a cramped submarine, actually. Even more interesting that this was one of the first cinemascope films.

Richard Widmark, after both Night and the City and Pickup on South Street, is an experienced former submarine commander who is called back in for a secret mission: to escort a nuclear scientist (who disappeared from the public eye weeks earlier) and his scientist daughter (we don’t find that out until the end) to an island offshore of some bad country (China?) who’s developing a nuclear bomb, which they’ll drop from a plane disguised as a U.S. plane to get us into war with some other bad country (Russia?).

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Sam Fuller directs in the hard, solid style he’s known for. Movie gets slowed down a couple times by preachy moments and the scientist repeats his line about “each man having their own reasons for living and their own price for dying” about two times too many, but for the most part it’s an engaging 100 minutes with some really good parts. They capture a Chinese fighter and lock him down below, then fake that their own Chinese officer is another captive… beat him up and throw him down with the first guy to get information out with a hidden mic. The evil Chinese catches on and beats the good guy to death with a pipe before the others can stop him. A harsh price to pay for information, but worth it because it leads them to discover the nuclear plot just in time. It’s a badass scene that really sticks out in my memory from the first time I watched this.

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The good Chinese guy was in Steel Helmet. Widmark is alive and retired, but his co-star Bella Darvi committed suicide at 43. The cinematographer did House of Bamboo and Pickup On South Street and lots of famous late 40’s noir.

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Showed to Jimmy. Hope he liked it. Tight 80-minute twisty little noir about pickpocket who accidentally steals secrets about to be traded to the russians. Cops were monitoring the switchoff to pounce on the head commie, so now cops, commies and the girl stuck in the middle are all after the pickpocket, who remains supercool in the face of danger. Richard Widmark and Jean Peters star, and Thelma Ritter plays Moe, the tie salesman / informant. Everyone in this is perfect. The girl gets shot, but she lives, and Widmark gets her in the end.

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