The great Chan (Sidney Toler) has his unruly assistants (Manton Moreland, Benson Fong) unpack the car they’ve spent hours packing “tighter than toothpaste”, so that he can assist a young lady whose father is wrongly accused.
Ex-cons are going up for bank robberies that take place years after their release. Fingerprints are irrefutable, the crimes are identical, the men were nowhere near the places, they say.
Chan’s client was in a theatrical warehouse on a fool’s errand to meet a dead man. Investigation reveals stuffed cats, statuary and props.
The mystery of the fingerprints is finally solved at a police lab after various tries, Chan’s “very beautiful theory” is nursed and dies and suddenly regains its health.
Adumbrations of To Catch a Thief filter through the positively brilliant script, with an expert comedy theme that parallels the main action.
Kansas City Confidential
This is the film noir as it has passed through the hands of John Huston in The Asphalt Jungle, but given a geometric precision by Karlson that’s like watching a surveyor at work, or an artillery range officer, with Preston Foster in the second half anticipating Monsieur Hulot’s Vacation. The invention never ceases, and the elements of the composition are administered in exact quantities, like the colors of a Mondrian.
The poker player Karlson is plays a fast, clean game, and takes the pot with a surprising feat: the subtlety of the dramatic underpinnings at the close is made to depend entirely on the facial resemblance in close-up of Foster to Coleen Gray as his daughter (Jack Nicholson draws on this via Chinatown for The Two Jakes). That’s the sort of thing that wins a reputation.
For the rest, it’s a quiet pinball game of whizzing ironies, sly violence, and frenetic observation on a theme spilled by the less confidential British title: The Secret Four.
99 River Street
A most solid nightmare, couched in film noir for the duration, as surreal as anything but perfectly rigid in its adherence to the dogma of type. The result is exactly the substance of a dream, and the hero is wounded for that slow-motion heaviness of form in the dockside scene.
That is the main point to be considered on the formal side (with a touch of Hitchcock in that scene as well).
The nightmare figure is a heavyweight contender who loses the bout, now he’s a cabbie with a disgruntled wife, suddenly she’s in the arms of a jewel thief and dead in the back of the cab. An actress has killed a man at an onstage audition, the cabbie offers to dispose of the body, only a rehearsal.
The jewel thief has a disruptive fence in a pet shop with two hoods, so it goes, the dispatcher was the prizefighter’s trainer, and so on.
5 against the House
Nobody, but nobody, has the analytical powers of Karlson in the opening sequence, where they set up the perfect realm of the automated parking garage in Reno “or any fraction thereof”.
The long central development leads toward a college prank at Harold’s Club, but one of the five pulls a gun.
They miss their train, he takes the loot and hides in the automated parking garage.
The object lesson is that serious things can’t be taken lightly, or the other way around, lest you wind up filed in the very system you’re trying to beat.
The Young Doctors
Pathology as the court of last appeal, review or diagnosis (opinions are many and various, as pointed out here), “ghouls” probe the failed cases, “the dead instruct the living”.
The countertheme is medicine as a “business”, the available metaphor “a leg to stand on” (cf. notably The Stratton Story, dir. Sam Wood).
“Glib and standard drama”, said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, well up to his.
The great lesson is on not playing the angles, says Karlson on Curtiz. After the Three Stooges joke of the Cream Valley signboard, he plays a flourish on Grogan’s fight camp out of Kansas City Confidential, testing his instrument, then opens up for nothing-up-the-sleeve action largely in dialogue punctuated by images such as the Model A found in the barn and restored by Galahad to the amazement of onlookers, it has “character”, that means very little among these Catskills roustabouts. The musical version benefits from these wide open spaces, as the very keen songs float freely onto the scene. There is a gentle joke in Grogan’s Bronx sister taking Galahad in tow from garage to altar rail.
Matt Helm, magazine photographer and sometime agent for Intelligence Counter Espionage (ICE). His latest covers are over the bed, Western Trails (cowgirl), Bait and Tackle (fisherwoman), Slaymate (lady with foil). He dreams them and slides into his bath with Lovey Kravezit, confidential secretary.
Big O, headed by Tung-Tze, wants to blanket the Southwest with radiation by sending a missile from White Sands into a bomb test underground at Alamogordo, Operation Fallout he calls it.
The top operative in Big O is codenamed Cowboy, she is Tina, once partnered with Helm and assigned to him on this case.
Beautifully inept Gail stumbles into the caper, is she a foreign agent?
Cyd Charisse a crucial contact at a nightclub in Phoenix, Nancy Kovack a Big O assassin, Robert Webber likewise on the keys of a self-propelled organ bar at hotel poolside (Richard Devon, Arthur O’Connell, Roger C. Carmel, his colleagues), Daliah Lavi the traitress, Stella Stevens the klutz, Victor Buono as Tung-Tze, and James Gregory as MacDonald, head of ICE. Dean Martin croons the interior monologues.
The Wrecking Crew
The joke is that a shipment of U.S. gold is stolen in Denmark. That one went right by the New York Times.
Lola Medina the gypsy (Tina Louise), Wen Yu-Rang the Bombay crime mistress (Nancy Kwan), and Linka Karensky the current interest (Elke Sommer), are all more or less under the thumb of Count Massimo Contini (Nigel Green), who’s engineered Operation Rainbow.
Matt Helm is assigned a British intelligence agent undercover as a Danish Tourist Bureau guide (Sharon Tate), to keep the British pound and American dollar in good shape.
Dean Martin sings the voiceover commentary, as for instance,
If your sweetheart
puts a pistol in her bed,
You’d do better
sleepin’ with your Uncle Fred.
Hugo Montenegro’s score is continuous and delightful.
This is rather like other films in the genre of lone agent behind the lines organizing resistance. In this case the fighters are children, and so you have a precedent for The Cowboys.
And all of it set in color on her own turf for Sylva Koscina.
One reviewer called this “a terrifying image of Nixon’s silent majority at work,” and whatever such a statement reveals (if anything), what you have is a great film on rat ass justice, served up by Karlson and Crosby to be worn where fitting.