Monday 3 December 2007

Armored Car Robbery (1950) Richard Fleischer

With a title like Armored Car Robbery, you know you're in for either a huge impact or a huge disappointment. We're in fifties Los Angeles and someone is timing how quick the LAPD can respond to a call at Wrigley Field. That someone is Dave Purvis aka Martin Bell, the mastermind behind a plan to hijack an armoured car. He seems to have a reputation, he's pulled a job like this before in Chicago and he knows what he's doing. He's planned everything out to a T but a couple of cops happened to be in the area and got to the scene a little too quickly.

It doesn't go well, with one of the cops getting killed. From the thieves' perspective, it's even worse. One of them is shot too, in the gut, and Lt Jim Cordell is on the hunt for them, not just for the men who committed a robbery but for the men who killed his partner. Cordell is Charles McGraw, not a great actor but a very impressive and believable screen cop. As crime writer James Ellroy pointed out while introducing the film on TCM, he's not a cop you resist during questioning. You give yourself up, whether you're guilty or not.

Purvis is a tough guy too, as depicted by William Talman who would go on to lose so many cases against Raymond Burr in the Perry Mason TV series. He seems to be doing Benny McBride a favour in including him in the team, but really he's just sleeping with Benny's wife. That's not the only hardhearted characteristic he has, either: he knows when to stop and he knows when to stop people. What he doesn't know and he apparently brought to his character in Perry Mason was the inability to win.

Armored Car Robbery really runs in two halves, but not a first and a second. Rather it's the same story told from two different perspectives at once. Half of it is solid policework, from Cordell and his men, closing in on Purvis with forensic precision and sheer bloodymindedness; and the other half is Purvis himself heading inexorably towards doom, victim of bad luck and bad circumstance more than anything else, but with the brains to potentially get himself out of it.

It plays very believably indeed, with quite a few points in a mere 68 minute running time that almost me cry out with relief that finally, someone was doing things right! During the initial heist, Purvis breaks the rear window of the car to shoot out and it's amazingly made out of glass and takes a few hits to break. That's so refreshing, it's unreal, and so is the rest of the film all the way to its grisly finale. Very cool indeed, in a highly purist way. If you're looking for flash you need to look somewhere else; this is just nuts and bolts done with precision.

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