Scandal Sheet (1952)

ScandalshI loved this. Right from the gritty, opening location shoot outside a tenement building to its inevitable, perfect end, I just loved it. A case of watching the right film at the right time, or a film just ticking all the right boxes. The cast- Broderick Crawford (who I’d recently seen in Indicator editions of Convicted and The Mob, but was much better here), the lovely Donna Reed (whoever didn’t have a crush on her from watching It’s A Wonderful Life must be dead inside), Griff Barnett who really impressed in little more than a cameo, and some other familiar faces like John Derek and Harry Morgan – are all great, the script based on Samuel Fuller’s (supposedly semi-autobiographical) novel is full of twists and turns… Phil Karlson’s direction is exemplary… its a great film and one of those great discoveries one sometimes makes, trying a film on a whim (Amazon Prime’s algorithm brought me to it based upon me watching Crossfire a few nights before). Such discoveries tend to give me such a buzz.

Indeed, watching this on the not-so-great stream on Amazon Prime, as the film ended I looked online to see if the film was ever released on DVD or Blu-ray. You know how it is when you see a film you really, really enjoy, so often you just want to own a copy in order to re-experience it, in better quality and possibly (thanks to many DVD/Blu-rays) learn more about it from featurettes etc. Anyway, I was quite surprised to discover that Scandal Sheet had actually been included on Indicator’s Sam Fuller boxset a few years back, since OOP and now available on one of their standard releases in a double-bill with Shockproof, a film that like Scandal Sheet I had never heard of only a week ago. Well I nearly went for the standard release but I managed to find a sealed copy on eBay of the original box-set for a little less than its original retail price (some of the other listed prices were the usual eye-watering ones), and Claire suggested getting it for my Christmas present, so there you go- looks like I’ll be investigating the charms of Sam Fuller’s work in 2021, as a divergence from my noir preoccupation. 

So while I would usually press on with a review of the film here, I’ll just summarise that I really enjoyed it and that I intend to write a proper post about it when I get to re-watch in decent quality on Indicator’s Blu-ray, presumably early next year (where did 2021 go?). Consider this post a teaser for a forthcoming attraction, be still your beating hearts, eh?

Columbia Noir: The Mob (1951)

mob1Well there’s no uncertainty about this one- The Mob is very much a film noir, right from its rain-drenched, night-time opening and to its thrilling, gutsy conclusion. The lighting, the framing, everything screams ‘noir’ from the very start and while the film goes off into an organised crime caper that echoes that of 711 Ocean Drive, the previous film in this second Columbia Noir set from Indicator, there’s something much darker, edgier and pulpier in this offering.

Its possibly because they were generally b-movies and exploitation thrillers, but sometimes these noir feature the unlikeliest, or perhaps more aptly speaking, the most unspectacular, of protagonists as their leads. Conventional Hollywood leading men would I suppose usually be featured in more wholesome, higher-budget dramas and thrillers, so these noir often, it seems to me, feature actors who seem to have lived in the real world more than, say, your regular Hollywood heartthrob (Glenn Ford may argue with me though on that observation). But certainly, Broderick Crawford, middle-aged and overweight and hardly blessed with a face to set women’s hearts a flutter seems both a refreshingly unlikely lead and paradoxically an oddly convincing one. When  this guy turns up on the docks undercover, he looks like a surly trouble-maker and working-class joe rather than a heroic handsome lead- you can believe the workers and thugs don’t imagine he is really a cop. There’s a sense of reality to it, and Crawford is great in the role.

The noir trope of a trapped hero raises its head early on in the film- Crawford plays Police Detective Johnny Damico who late at night stumbles upon the aftermath of a gun fight whilst off-duty. The shooter, face partly obscured by the rain and shadows, identifies himself as Lt. Henderson, a Detective from another Precinct. Surrendering his badge and gun to Damico, Henderson reveals that the dead man at his feet shot a police officer just a few hours before. Damacio suggests that Henderson goes over to an open shop across the road to call for back up, handing Henderson his gun. But while a police car quickly arrives, Henderson doesn’t return, and the patrolmen exiting the car deny being called-in. Damico rushes over to the shop and is told by the owner that Henderson didn’t go to the phone, but instead went out the back and off into the night. It dawns on Damico that he’s been had, which is confirmed when he calls his boss and learns that a Lt. Meary was murdered a few hours before, and his gun and badge stolen. Whoever ‘Henderson’ was, he wasn’t a cop- and Damacio has unwittingly let a killer caught cold-handed get away free.

Damico is offered a chance to redeem himself by going undercover at the waterfront docks to finish what the dead officer Meary was trying to accomplish- to uncover the identity of a mysterious gangland figure who is in charge of racketeering on the docks, who goes by the name of Blackie Clegg- in the grand tradition of Fu Manchu, this criminal genius is an unknown figure that nobody on the right side of the Law has seen or been able to identify.

Its quite an intriguing drama involving gun-happy heavies, mysterious waterfront characters, corrupt cops, and Damico threatened on all sides. Crawford is supported by a very fine cast, which features Ernest Borgnine in one of his very first films, as menacing mob leader Joe Castro, and a very young Charles Bronson in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it early role as a dock worker. I really enjoyed The Mob, and its twists and turns were really very well executed .On top of its very good script and fine cast, the film looks absolutely top-notch, with gorgeously atmospheric cinematography. It really works on all levels and I can’t fault it at all, its a solid film and strong addition to this very fine Columbia Noir set.