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Sunday, 28 January 2007

A Bullet for Joey (1955) Lewis Allen

We're in Montreal and a mountie has just noticed that an organ grinder has a camera concealed in his hurdy gurdy. It leads to his untimely demise thus bringing more attention to the case that the men behind the spy don't want, beginning with Inspector Raoul Leduc. Meanwhile in Portugal gangster Joe Victor is proving how old school he is by getting a shoeshine even though he has no money. He gets quickly hired to get shipped to Canada to make an expensive and important hit on an atomic scientist called Dr Carl Macklin and so reassembles his old gang from far and wide.

The old school gangster role can't have been hard for the actor involved, given that it's George Raft, old school gangster in many old school gangster movies. However the inspector is Edward G Robinson, playing very much against his own old school gangster type. It's well known that while Raft had strong connections to organised crime, Robinson was a quiet and peaceful art collector who was far more likely to cringe every time someone in one of his movies got shot than revel in it. It was his looks and dynamic screen magnetism that led him to play Little Caesar so well, and after that he had to fight typecasting all the way down the line. Here he's much more his real self, underplaying the quiet but persevering inspector admirably.

The other notable role is that of Joyce Geary, a hardboiled but reluctant femme fatale, who is brought in to seduce Macklin against her will and who ends up falling for him. She's played by Audrey Totter, whose plum roles dried up as film noir faded away in the fifties. I've seen her in a few movies and always been impressed, but she's strong and menacing here when she needs to be, yet also soft and feminine when it's called for.

The police work is strong here too and the story well thought out without any obvious cop outs. I've discovered a few early CSI prototypes lately, as early as From Headquarters in 1933, so this is hardly groundbreaking but it's done very well indeed from both sides: the gangster operation and the police procedural. Robinson and Raft are both solid, but the latter had mellowed a little, as also evident a couple of years later in Some Like It Hot, and both underplayed. Totter is the standout here, behind the story itself which is admirably intelligent. I can forgive the lack of bullet wounds for that.

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