Thursday, September 26, 2013

THE THREAT (1949)

RKO Radio Pictures, 65m 59s


When Arnold “Red” Kluger (Charles McGraw, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, THE NARROW MARGIN) breaks out of Folsom State Prison, LA police immediately go into high-alert mode. Particularly concerned are Detective Ray Williams (Michael O'Shea, VIOLENCE, THE UNDERWORLD STORY) and D.A. Barker MacDonald (Frank Conroy, THE NAKED CITY, LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE), the two Kluger blames for his abbreviated time in the joint. With the less than genteel assistance of Nick (Anthony Caruso) and Lefty (Frank Richards), Kluger captures Williams and MacDonald, as well as Carol (Virginia Grey, HIGHWAY 301, CRIME OF PASSION), the ex he suspects ratted him out.

Nobody is safe when Kluger (Charles McGraw) escapes in THE THREAT

This is psycho-noir at its toughest, featuring a vicious protagonist whose mean streak only gets worse as time passes. Kluger resorts to violence intuitively and without any notion of self-restraint, routinely dishing out impatient slaps whenever he gets the wrong answer. He orders MacDonald to be tortured with pliers, repeatedly manhandles Carol's slight frame, and, most chillingly, attempts to crack open the skull of the defenseless Williams. Kluger even fires repeatedly on an empty chamber at a target who clearly is down for the count. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino had Kluger in mind when Freddy (Tim Roth) cannot stop pulling the trigger at Vic (Michael Madsen) in RESERVOIR DOGS.

THE THREAT was received well by critics and led to a 7-year deal with RKO for McGraw. Director Felix E. Feist helmed the equally gritty THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE starring Lawrence Tierney in the badass role. Feist stages suspense quite effectively, especially when a moving truck causes a motorcycle cop to become suspicious. The Iverson Movie Ranch serves nicely as the desert setting for the final act, where the sweat on the characters is emphasized by notable noir cinematographer Harry J. Wild (MURDER, MY SWEET, CORNERED, THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH, PITFALL, WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER, THE LAS VEGAS STORY).

That distinctly noir moment of recognition has arrived for Kluger (Charles McGraw)

THE THREAT is available via the Warner Archive and demands placement in any serious film noir collection.

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