There’s a few stories behind Chicago Syndicate possibly more interesting than anything in the film itself. Twenty-three-year-old singer/dancer Abbe Lane plays Connie Peters, the mistress of the criminal syndicate overlord Arnold ‘Arnie’ Valent (Paul Stewart). Connie is a nightclub performer fronting Benny Chico’s band, and she oozes sensual allure- these nightclub song/dance routines are a frequent staple of noir of this period – nightclubs for criminals were like what football clubs are for millionaires now- and Lane’s is one of the finest I’ve seen. The curious thing is that in real life, Abbe Lane was married to the guy playing the bandleader – Xavier ‘Cugie’ Cugat, thirty-two years her senior. Cugat’s Benny Chico, hopelessly smitten by his singer, looks an unlikely partner for Abbe in the film but there you go- truth proving stranger than fiction. The two would divorce years later, whereupon Cugat went and married a twenty-year-old singer, then forty-five years his junior. That guy had a gift for charming the ladies and a few tales he could tell, I’m sure. Next time I watch the film I’ll keep my eye on him; no wonder he had a swagger and a twinkle in his eye.
According to the excellent Indicator book that accompanies this set, the other female lead in the film, Allison Hayes, suffered horse-riding accidents while making two seperate Westerns subsequent to this film, and suffered ill-health afterwards, eventually dying in 1977 at the far too-young age of 46. She really quite impresses in Chicago Syndicate, playing a woman with a surprise motivation who is much more than she initially seems – a twist that actually caught me by surprise, so it was masked quite well and I won’t divulge it here. In any case, she makes a solid leading lady and romantic interest.
Chicago Syndicate is a pretty good film; the opening narration over the first reel or so, and the preachy script setting things up regards the general plot (a criminal syndicate needs taking down by the good old boys of law and order), proved rather underwhelming, but thankfully things settled down and the film proved quite fun with, yes, some genuine surprises. Interesting characters with some fine acting helped to lift things up too, and its one of those films that just gets better as it goes along. That real-world trivia I noted earlier is really just the icing on the cake which adds a certain spice and pathos to the film.
Dennis O’Keefe (who I’d just seen in Walk A Crooked Mile) makes for a decent, if unremarkable hero, rather overshadowed by Paul Stewart’s villain but he’s hardly the first good guy to have his film stolen by the bad guy: its curious how so many bad guys have meatier background stories and arcs in these movies, something not exclusive to noir but its certainly very common in noir. Somehow I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment whenever the villain comes unstuck in noir movies, they tend to blur our allegiances, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s undone by a woman, another typical noir trope. These guys never learn.