Wednesday, October 2, 2013

LOOPHOLE (1954)

Allied Artists Pictures, 79m 56s


Film noir criminals are not always the notorious gangster types. Frequently they are unremarkable personalities; working-class stiffs who view themselves as unfairly condemned to society's oppressed underbelly. Often they come to the erroneous conclusion that a heist of some kind will provide a way out.

Herman Tate (Don Beddoe, HOODLUM EMPIRE, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) is the type of noir character referenced above. In the hope of securing the long-term attention of blonde bombshell Vera (Mary Beth Hughes, INNER SANCTUM), the milquetoast Tate devises a plan to pose as a bank examiner and rob a teller's drawer of nearly $50,000. The man caught short is Mike Donovan (Barry Sullivan), who not only must cope with being completely discredited, but also endure the old-school approach of bulldog investigator Gus Slavin (Charles McGraw), a cynical ex-cop determined to recover the missing funds so his bonding company does not have to cover the national bank's loss. LOOPHOLE illustrates how quickly our lives can be turned upside down, and how difficult it can be to make things right again.

Gus Slavin (Charles McGraw) is difficult to discourage in LOOPHOLE

Forty-something at the time of filming, top-billed Sullivan (THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, CAUSE FOR ALARM!) cannot pass for a 35-year-old, but delivers an otherwise convincing performance in this "wrong man" noir film. Donovan's heart-of-gold wife is portrayed by Dorothy Malone, the book store babe from THE BIG SLEEP. The gravel-voiced McGraw (THE THREAT, SIDE STREET) is well-cast as the omnipresent force determined to make life hellish for Donovan. Slavin is a relic, a dirty badge iconic of a maturing noir movement. By the mid ‘50s, the investigator who had quit the police force in disgust was less moral and less reliable than he was depicted in the ‘40s. Slavin's instincts are dead wrong, and he is too stubborn to consider alternative viewpoints. This character anticipates similarly flawed protagonists who would emerge (and ultimately sink) in KISS ME DEADLY and TOUCH OF EVIL.

Directed by Harold D. Schuster, LOOPHOLE is set in LA and utilizes a fair amount of location footage. The flat compositions of cinematographer William A. Sickner (KIDNAPPED, CRY VENGEANCE) were the order of the day at this point in noir history. Screenwriter Warren Douglas (CRY VENGEANCE, FINGER MAN) relies a bit much on coincidence, but the end result is entertaining enough, even if the film's title is never put to use.

The DVD available via the Warner Archive is framed at 1.78:1 and looks good.

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