Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Bullet For Joey - Review

Recently I've unexplainably been on a kick of Film Noir themes in my life. I've been replaying Max Payne for the PC, I've started adding a bunch of Film Noir movies to my Netflix queue (become a fan and see), and I've even started writing my own Film Noir-esk detective story in my spare time. When I get the rough draft finished I will be posting it on here by chapter to see if you geeks and geekets like it. Soon I expect to be having soliloquies in my daily life if I'm not careful. They didn't know. They would never know. How could I live with the secrets waiting to break the blockade and the deluge of truth flow into the light? ... I'm sorry, what was I saying? Well to get me in the mood to write I play some Max Payne and watch a Film Noir movie. So if you are a regular reader of the movie reviews don't be too surprised if you start seeing a bunch of Film Noirs get posted.

A Bullet For Joey

When he wasn't being hulled in front of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, Edward G. Robinson somehow decided to star as the hero in this film. You can tell Hollywood has changed a lot since 1955 because Robinson is not the heartthrob that a Ben Affleck of today is. It would be as if William Conrad from "Jake And The Fatman" TV show were to have a very intimate love scene with Angelina Jolie. I know, it's almost as bad as seeing Dennis Franz butt and I apologize for both mental images you might now have. Although Robinson doesn't have a love interest in the film it is still odd to think that he was one of the main characters thrown on the screen. You have to remember too, I was watching this on a smaller screen then the people who went to the theater in 1955 and decided to watch this movie on the big screen. Robinson's big round face and big sucker fish lips must have pushed the audience back into their seats with a feeling that they would get sucked into those lips of his.

Lewis Allen directs this movie and while many label it a Film Noir, it's hard to recognize it as one. I'll get into that more below. Joey Victor (George Raft), a former crime boss, has been exiled from the US and is living in Europe. He is trying to survive but he misses his life of luxury he once knew. He is contacted by a group of people who ferry him over to Canada where they pay him $100,000 dollars plus expenses to do a job that a lot of money back then. He gets his new employer to "get the band back together" and he is reunited with his old gang. He also strong arms his former lover, Joyce Geary (Audrey Totter) to help him; there's always a dame involved. His job is to kidnap atomic physicist, Dr. Carl Macklin (George Dolenz) and smuggle him out of the country. However Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Raoul Leduc (Edward G. Robinson) is following the bodies left by Victor and his men and his employer. All the murders revolve around Dr. Macklin and Leduc and the RCMP try and track down the killers. Joey finds out the men he is working for are communists and he might have to tell Hell to prepare for an ice storm because he might have to work with the police to save his beloved America from the Russians and their nefarious plans.

First of all, this movie struggles to be called a "film noir". The typical thought is either some detective who walks the fine line of right and wrong or some anti-hero you're suppose to root for. I don't know if Joe Victor is even the main character let alone someone you are suppose to care about and root for. From the description of the film's plot, it made me think that Joe and Leduc would team up to stop the Ruskies once he found out who they were. That doesn't happen until the last seven minutes of the movie. Also, the movie doesn't make it clear that the people who hired Victor are Russian, let alone communists. This movie has several glaring plot holes on top of this, as well as some fine '50s cheese.

The movie doesn't tell you what Dr. Macklin actually does or why he is so important to the Russians. Also, if Dr. Macklin is working on atomic technology for the Americans why is he in Canada and why doesn't he have military protection surrounding him?

Mobsters of the '50s must have attempted to be smarter in their capers than those of today. If you want to kidnap someone today all you need is about four men and a van. Heck, with the protection that the Mounties provide Dr. Macklin in the film all you need is a .22 and a car.

"Get in the car, Dr. Macklin." brandish the .22. Dr. Macklin gets in the car. Drive to docks. Get paid.

Here, Joe and his gang devise some elaborate plot to earn the doctor's trust by having hard-looking blond, Joyce, seduce him and one of his other men seduce the doctor's secretary to find out what he is working on and where. His handlers aren't in a rush at all either and the amount of time they spend goofing around with this cockamamie plan takes so much time that the Iron Curtain could have fallen by the time he carried out his kidnapping plan.

Let me talk about how idiotic this plan is by wrapping it up. Dr. Macklin falls in love with Joyce who tells him she's leaving to go back to America. He offers to drive her to the airport. He comes over and because Joyce isn't ready to leave yet, the housekeeper offers him a drink which knocks him out. The person pouring the drink is the same guy who is hiring Victor and his men for 100 G's! Why didn't the guy just invite the doctor over for a glass of sherry and pocket the money?

I will say that Inspector Leduc isn't the typical movie inspector who knows way too much or comes up with the answer just by thinking it through on the first clue.

Typical Hollywood detective: "Yes, this murder of the Mounty was probably done by the work of a monkey organ grinder who is in league with the communists to try and kidnap Dr. Macklin!"

So at least Inspector Leduc is a believable detective and it's nice to see that he is limited to normal talent of regular detectives. However, when he gets captured he suddenly turns into a man trying to sow distention in the ranks of the crew, is able to freely roam around instead of being rubbed out right then and there, and he has a smarmy way about him. His character completely changes in the last part of the movie and it's a tough sell to do so with the character; Robinson's pudgy and roundness doesn't help the transition any better.

The most glaring plot hole in the movie is even after Dr. Macklin is kidnapped. Leduc and one of his men pose as truck drivers who are transporting Dr. Macklin's secret experiment/device/blender? I have no clue what it is because the movie never tells you. To make matters even worse, the hardest transition I've ever seen happens in this movie. The bad guys have Dr. Macklin and I'm thinking, "Ok, now's the time that Inspector Leduc starts pulling the clues together and figures it all out in time to save Dr. Macklin." Not at all, because the very next scene is Leduc and lackey getting into a truck and you have no clue why. Only much, much, MUCH latter that they are posing as truck drivers transporting Dr. Macklin's secret device to lure the mobsters to capture them and take them to Dr. Macklin and the show runners. All that I wrote after "MUCH" is nothing you find out until after everything I wrote happens. My brain almost exploded from the leap the movie made.

Another problem this movie has is that it only hints that the handlers are communists or even Russian. The movie never tells you where the doctor is being taken to after the kidnapping and there is no speech about how communism is the "cool thing" and a counter speech about how it's "suxorz".

Robinson, as I said, is a pretty good detective for the most part. I do find it funny that a few years after he stood in front of HUAC, he is cast in an anti-communist film. Joe Victor started out as someone you could root for but quickly fades from your fandom. On a side note, no one in this movie refers to Joe Victor as "Joey" so if you're going to stick with the title it should be "A Bullet For Joe". Am I wrong that I expect the person who the bullet is for to be referred to that name at least once if you're going to use it in the main title? So Joe kind of drifts in the background halfway through the movie, but he is smart. He doesn't take chances of being caught. He knows not to use the telephone he's staying at to call any place he doesn't want traced back and he knows when to leave his hiding hole and move on. This along with the normal knowledge held by the inspector, make the two main characters good characters but the plot holes and the quick changes in the characters behaviors made me rooting more for Dr. Macklin to come out with guns blazing and save himself.

There is some fun classic cheese in this film that always tickles me. People who are shot, grab from their midsection where there is no bullet hole. People who are shot, always stop when shot and fall in the spot they are standing. The best death scene in here is the organ grinder towards the beginning. He is force to kill a Mounty and his boss grabs him by his shoulders and throws him out of the camera view. You later find out the organ grinder is dead. That kill rivals on the worst one since the UN officer in "The Omega Code".

I will say this. There are some really great lines given in this film.

Dr. Macklin to a monkey - "Do you know what fools we mortal be? Huh? Do you? Well I think you do. Well don't tell anyone. Let it be our little secret."

Nicky - "It's old Saint Nick himself."
Joyce - "Well climb back up the chimney. I don't like your brand of toys."

There are a few others that I enjoyed as well so it did have some potential of being a good script. There is also a really good scene that has a hitman snipe out one of Joe's crew when he screwed up. It bordered on the feeling like the end of "Godfather" and it had a classic Noir feel to it. Cloaked in shadow the gunmen sat, a long angled shot makes the audience feel as if they were the ones who pulled the trigger. Bang!

The really funny thing about this movie is that I've never heard a mobster refer to using sex to make someone trust you or even refer to sex as "making love". The phrase is used a few times in the movie and it made me giggle. Watch a show like "Sopranos" then watch this movie and it will make you giggle a bit too. Although for 1955, "making love" might be akin to using the "s-word" on TV today. It must have been so taboo.

Grade - C-

Don't let this film discourage you from the great genre that is film noir. While this movie isn't full on noir, it isn't necessarily all that bad. The biggest thing that hurts the movie is the plot holes. The movie gives the audience both sides of the story but slaps them in the face if they ask questions about why something is happen or what is happening. Leduc's undercover scene with transporting the doctor's secret "whatever" threw me so far out of the movie that I found myself on the other side of my viewing monitor. The complexity the mobsters went through to kidnap the doctor is absurd and the final outcome of the kidnapping is just random. The final scenes of the movie are decent enough and Joe has a good last line. I wish they would have spent more than the last seven minutes with Joe and Leduc working together. Sadly, the flaws outweigh the positives in this film. It's not a bad movie, but not a movie I would suggest that people watch who are looking for a good film noir movie. There is a monkey in it however. The title delivers on its name but that fact leaves no guess work as to what the ending in. Plot holes abound so watch out and enjoy the few good lines this movie has to offer.

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