Showing posts with label Richard Conte. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Conte. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Highway Dragnet (1954)

"First guy who moves gets a belly full of lead."

Jim Henry (Richard Conte) was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jim meets with a fellow Marine in Las Vegas to discuss fixing up his seaside home that's been flooded by rising waters. While in Sin City he meets temperamental model Terry Smith (Mary Beth Hughes). The night after their confrontation at a bar, she winds up dead in her hotel room, the result of strangulation with a strap. The police, led by Det. Lt. Eagle (Reed Hadley) are led to Jim who has an alibi with his Marine friend whom he plans to meet back in California. He's the only one who can prove Jim's innocence. After escaping the police, Jim finds two women stranded on the desert highway: photographer Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett) and model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix). After helping these two with their broken down car, he rides off with them hoping to get back home to find his friend. The two women quickly realize this mysterious hitchhiker is on the run from the cops. Can Jim make it back home in time to prove that he's not the strap killer? Or will the cops catch up with him before he gets the chance?

Released by Allied Artists, Highway Dragnet (1954) is a short B-movie thriller directed by Nathan Juran. It clocks in at 1 hour and 10 minutes and while that may seem rather short the story is fairly simple and straightforward and the time frame worked perfectly for the plot. It's low budget, a bit cheesy but has a great cast in the form of Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix and supporting players like Reed Hadley and Mary Beth Hughes. Fans of Christmas in Connecticut (1945) will recognize Frank Jenks who plays a Marine suspected of being the runaway convict.

This film came out at a time of transition for the three main stars. This was a few years after Joan Bennett's infamous career halting scandal. A love triangle resulted in her husband, producer Walter Wanger, shooting her agent, Jennings Lang, in the groin. Lang survived and Wanger was convicted and sentenced to four months in jail. Highway Dragnet was her return to movies. Richard Conte had recently lost his contract with Fox and the 1950s brought him many B-movie roles. In the following decade his career would take a turn with some small parts in better movies including some of my favorites like Ocean's 11 (1960) and The Godfather (1972). The year Highway Dragnet was released was the same year actress Wanda Hendrix briefly retired from films. After her disastrous marriage to actor Audie Murphy, she decided to step back from acting when she married James Langford Stack Jr., brother of actor Robert Stack. When that marriage fell apart she returned to acting with a handful of parts on TV and a few more movies in the 1960s and 1970s.

Highway Dragnet is famed producer/director/writer Roger Corman's first credited screen role. He wrote a screenplay entitled House by the Sea, a reference to the protagonist's beloved home, and sold it to Allied Artists. Corman didn't realize the transformation his screenplay would undertake at the hands of the filmmakers. Several writers worked on the script including Herb Meadow, Jerome Odlum, Tom Hubbard and Fred Eggers. The end result was far different from Corman's original vision. According to biographer Pawel Aleksandrowicz,

"Corman was so appalled at the difference between the original version and the final product that he decided to produce his films by himself in order to have full control over them." 

He used the funds he earned from Highway Dragnet to produce The Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954). Corman mastered the art of making low-budget movies that entertained audiences and turned a profit. And the rest is history. I would love to read Corman's original screenplay to compare with the final movie. I have some ideas about what was left out or changed.

The relationship between the two female leads played by Joan Bennett (Mrs. Cummings) and Wanda Hendrix (Susan) suggest something more going on in the background. Perhaps this was intended in Corman's screenplay but played down in the final script? Their relationship hints at a romance between the two and they switch gender roles throughout the film. Susan is dressed in a crop top and pants and covered in grease from trying to fix their car, something Jim points out when he meets Susan for the first time. In contrast, Mrs. Cummings is full on glam in a white dress, heels and sunglasses. We learn that Mrs. Cummings is a photographer and Susan is her model. The two have a close relationship that extends beyond their business partnership. When they arrive at the hotel for their poolside photo shoot, the dynamic shifts with Mrs. Cummings taking the lead and Susan being the object of her attention for both good and bad. When Susan develops an affection for Jim, this threatens their relationship. Perhaps romantically but the story focuses more on the dark secret Mrs. Cummings is hiding from everyone except for Susan. The hotel scenes reminded me greatly of the film Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara which also involves women, traveling down a highway on a road trip and a fellow traveler, male, threatens their happiness.

Highway Dragnet (1954) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. They've been releasing DVDs and Blu-Rays of a variety of independently produced/released films from mid-century Hollywood. I encourage you to check out their growing catalog of Kino Lorber Studio Classics, many of which I've reviewed on this blog.

Many thanks to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Highway Dragnet (1954) on Blu-Ray to review!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hotel (1967)

Hotel (1967)

"I'm an old-fashioned innkeeper. I take care of my employees and they take care of my guests. That's the way I want it to be. I don't want it to change." - Melvyn Douglas as Warren Trent

Hotel (1967) follows the story of the fictitious New Orleans hotel the St. Gregory. Pete McDermott (Rod Taylor) is at the heart of the business. As the hotel manager he oversees all staff, attends to any urgent needs of the hotel guests and conducts business with the owner Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas). Although the St. Gregory is the destination for many illustrious guests, it's in serious financial trouble. Pete convinces Mr. Trent to entertain an offer by wealthy hotelier Curtis O'Keefe (Kevin McCarthy). However, O'Keefe threatens to transform the place into a cold moneymaker rather than an inviting hotel with hospitality as it's main focus. O'Keefe brings with him his girl of the moment, a young Parisian beauty Jeanne Rochefort (Catherine Spaak). Jeanne is tired of O'Keefe and soon falls for the charming hotel manager. O'Keefe uses Jeanne and his co-horts to try to seal the deal for the hotel while Pete and Mr. Trent quickly try to find another buyer.

Rod Taylor as Pete McDermott in Hotel (1967)
Rod Taylor as Pete McDermott

Melvyn Douglas as Warren Trent in Hotel (1967)
Melvyn Douglas as Warren Trent in Hotel (1967)

Kevin McCarthy as Curtis O'Keefe in Hotel (1967)
Kevin McCarthy as Curtis O'Keefe

Catherine Spaak as Jeanne Rochefort
Catherine Spaak as Jeanne Rochefort

Then there are the hotel guests who prove to be an interesting bunch of characters, each with their own agenda. Merle Oberon plays Duchess Caroline whose husband Duke Geoffrey (Michael Rennie) killed a child in a drunken hit-and-run accident. The Duchess tries to cover it up but the hotel detective Dupere (Richard Conte) is on to them and tries to extort them. Then there is Karl Malden as Keycase Milne, the resident hotel thief with an impressive collection of room keys. He has his eye on the Duke and Duchess's room and the possible treasures inside. When a black couple book a stay at the hotel and Pete is not around, the hotel turns them away causing a scandal that's splashed across the newspapers. A business deal gone sour, an extortion, theft, a civil rights dilemma, a forbidden romance and an elevator on the fritz, everything comes to a crashing climax. The ending is one that I didn't expect but one that left me immensely satisfied and feeling good about the story's overall message: stay true to yourself.

Michael Rennie and Merle Oberon as the Duke and Duchess
Michael Rennie and Merle Oberon as the Duke and Duchess

Karl Malden as Keycase Milne
Richard Conte as Detective Dupere in Hotel (1967)
Richard Conte as Detective Dupere

Hotel (1967) is a gratifying film to watch on a rainy day. If you don't have any high expectations you'll be pleasantly surprised. It has it's flaws. It's terribly old-fashioned but that's what I liked about it. Taylor and Spaak lacked chemistry and Spaak quite one note to me. Another actresses would have livened up the film. I found everyone to be delightful to watch including Taylor, Melvyn Douglas, Karl Malden, Richard Conte and even Merle Oberon who I don't particularly care for. Jazz singer Carmen MacRae has a small role as the hotel lounge singer. Clinton Sundberg, a regular in 1940s collegiate movies, plays hotelier O'Keefe's personal assistant.

One could see Hotel (1967) as the 1960s answer to Grand Hotel (1932). The film was directed by Richard Quine, someone I have a keen interest in. Some exteriors and interiors were shot in New Orleans most notably in the French Quarter and in the New Orleans International Airport. Everything else was shot on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. Gowns were designed by Edith Head and Merle Oberon wore her own jewelry including a piece that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. The story was based on the best-selling novel by Canadian writer Arthur Hailey. He's also known for his novel Airport which was adapted in 1970 and spawned a series and a spoof. Hotel became a TV series in the 1980s starring Anne Baxter and James Brolin.

I enjoyed Hotel (1967) for it's motley cast of characters, interesting plot lines and for that glorious ending. It also serves as a time capsule of the goings on of a 1960s era hotel. The movie makes me long for a time when morals and personal truths trump greed. I'm drawn to movies about workplaces and this one did not disappoint.

Hotel (1967) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Hotel (1967) to review!

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