First off, this Robert Wise film written by Abraham Polonsky (using the front name of John O. Kilens because of the HUAC blacklist) has a fabulously fatalistic noir title. Harry Belafonte (also producer here helping drive the film to be made)’s Ingram is a gambler as well to give the set up and title an added layer as well.
Robert Ryan is marvelous as the brooding, scowling Slater. Slater is racist and Ryan’s commanding physical presence aids the performance. Ryan has done this often before with great impact (On Dangerous Ground amongst others). He is angry at the world.
Ed Begley’s Burke is the brains behind a robbery job (he is furious at the raw deal the world has dealt him as well) and he gets the racist Slater to work with Ingram (a black man of course- Belafonte) so this is sort of a riff on 1958’s The Defiant Ones with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as a black and white man literally chained together in a prison escape film. Both Slater and Ingram are desperate of course- although there is no noir voiceover.
A strong scene with Begley’s Burke meeting with the gangster Bacco with Central Park as the backdrop.
Shelley Winters, as she always does, makes the most of her few minutes on screen as Slater’s pathetic girlfriend Lorry. Gloria Grahame and Robert Ryan have a superior scene together (above) where Ryan seduces her. Ryan plays Slater with a hypnotic edge.
John Lewis’ menacing jazzy score is a major triumph- sadly he did not work in cinema often- there are only a handful of credits when the man should have fifty+ films on his resume judging from this one. Lewis’ score fills the space as the tension mounts and the three men wait anxiously before the big job.
Like all good noir, the set up is a vice tightening on the protagonists- “it is going to let us live again”
A few zooms- there were not many used in 1959. One from Belafonte’s character to the door of the bank. One from Begley’s character to Belafonte sort of spying- four to five used total.
There are moral implications as Ryan’s Slater’s distrust of Belafonte’s character turns the axis of the film at the climax.
The ensuing chase at the industrial set piece (hello White Heat) makes for an awesome conclusion – though the little moral “I can’t tell the two bodies apart- which is which?” with the “Stop- Dead End” stop sign social message is a tad on the nose.
Often noted for the being the first noir film with a black protagonist
Jean-Pierre Melville famously touted the film as well- confessing to have owning it and watching it nearly 100 times
This is the last of Wise’s films before his wider aspect ratio 1960s period
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