Saturday 31 December 2011

The Hoodlum (1951)

Director: Max Nosseck
Stars: Lawrence Tierney, Allene Roberts, Marjorie Riordan and Edward Tierney

It's dark, it's tense, it's 1951 and the film is called The Hoodlum. Yes, this is a Lawrence Tierney B-movie, which means it's going to be a tough ride. Tierney was a tough character, not just on screen but off it too, as Quentin Tarantino found out the hard way while making Reservoir Dogs. Here he's Vincent Lubeck, a career criminal who seems to only do two things: commit crimes and get caught. He begins this film in jail, up for parole after serving five years for armed robbery. The warden totally doesn't want to know, but his mother pleads for his release, with the dubious explanation that he fights the whole world. Well, that's Tierney through and through. We know that if mama doesn't persuade the board, we wouldn't have a movie, so out comes Lubeck to work at the gas station his brother has put a down payment on from his father's life insurance. Unfortunately it's right opposite the Fidelity Bank so guess how long Lubeck takes to turn...

Tierney is exactly what you'd expect if you've seen him in anything, especially from this era. He looks like handsome leading man material, but he's all darkness, like a coiled spring just waiting to explode on someone, anyone, maybe you. I love these roles of his because they exude danger the way few could manage, even in the noir era. A lot of actors could handle the grittiness but didn't feel dangerous. Tierney was dangerous just walking on screen. The fact that he sounded like George Raft trying to be Humphrey Bogart was merely the icing on the cake. What makes this particular film stand out isn't what he does as Vincent Lubeck, though he does it well, it's the fact that his screen brother, Johnny Lubeck, is played by his real one, Edward Tierney, making his first and only credited appearance under that name. He did find some success in Germany later under the name of Ed Tracy, but it's clear here that he isn't the talent his brother was.

The story is by Sam Neuman and Nat Tanchuck, and what I've seen of their work elsewhere isn't too impressive. For instance, Tanchuck's previous film was Chained for Life, a horrendous biopic of Daisy and Violet Hilton that didn't even benefit from the Siamese twins playing themselves. When a sensationalist biopic can't even live up to the levels of reality, it's an abject failure. Yet here they wrote a tight film, only a minute over an hour long and shot on an independent budget by director Max Nosseck, his second of four films with Tierney after Dillinger six years earlier. It isn't particularly groundbreaking, but it's a satisfying and often tense B movie that packs a lot into a small space, not least another powerful showing from Tierney. He leaves a notable trail of destruction in his wake here, only his immigrant mother able to tear him a new one when it's too late. Neuman and Tanchuck wrote a great death scene for Lisa Golm as Mrs Lubeck.
In fact, The Hoodlum builds well for everyone. The more obvious scenes are early on, as the film struggles to get going on whatever budget the independent Jack Schwarz Productions could bring to bear. The actors are capable but hardly Oscar-worthy. The uncredited Gene Roth is the standout early on as the prison warden who doesn't want Lubeck released, but he chews his way through a small part with gusto, somehow reminding of both Raymond Burr and William Castle as he shows Lubeck the electric chair. Edward Tierney is initially subdued and careful as Johnny; Allene Roberts is suitably innocent as his girl, Rosa, who Vincent naturally targets; and Marjorie Riordan is a sultry bank secretary who flirts with him while he pumps her gas. It's once all hell has broken loose that they get their moments to shine, though none as brightly as Golm. After her, it's Marjorie Riordan who gets the best scene. She deserved a bigger part.

The Hoodlum has gone unseen for many years, hardly surprising given its obscurity and status as an independent picture in a time when those were rare creatures indeed. After its original theatrical run, courtesy of United Artists, in 1951, it didn't see theatres again until almost half a century later when a new print was made. It certainly doesn't deserve to remain in obscurity, as it's a thoroughly entertaining piece. It stands up as an indie noir, as a Lawrence Tierney picture and as the one time he acted alongside one of his brothers. He never worked with Edward again and never shared the screen with his other brother, Scott Brady, even though both had prolific film careers. Scott's ran for 63 films from 1948 to 1984, when he played the sheriff in Gremlins. Lawrence Tierney notched up 64, but in a much longer period from 1943 to 2000, mostly because he was so difficult a man to work with. It's hard to believe he's been gone for over a decade though.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Hal, i just wish you`d started 2012 with a reveiw of a cult horror movie instead of this ludicrously out-moded hoodlum gangster bull-shit.