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VCI and Kit Parker dip deeper into the Robert L. Lippert collection and come up with a pair of what used to be termed 'lower case programmers', short B-features so minor that they might be listed on a marquee as "... and second great hit" instead of by name. One's a British production in near-perfect shape and the other's a barely screenable copy of an American, " ... and second great hit." VCI's smart Forgotten Noir Vol. 3 presentation does justice to both of them.
1953 / 76 83 min. / Street of Shadows
Starring Cesar Romero, Kay Kendall, Victor Maddern, Simone Silva
Cinematography Phil Grindrod
Art Direction George Haslam
Film Editor Geoffrey Muller
Original Music Eric Spear
Written by Richard Vernon from a novel by Laurence Meynell
Produced by William H. Williams
Directed by Richard Vernon
This is actually the original Street of Shadows, a Nassour Brothers production that was later purchased by Lippert, shorn by several minutes and re-titled. The thriller has an interesting noir atmosphere and would be a memorable picture but for one missing item, an interesting script.
Cesar Romero certainly knows the score; he gives the melancholy night bird Luigi a somber credibility befitting a noir hero, even if the character's complexity goes no deeper than his sad and knowing eyes. Luigi runs his amusement arcade in a seedy section of town and has to get tough when the occasional customer acts up. A fresh sailor (Michael Kelly) roughing up his date and a slumming gambler (Bill Travers) complaining that he's been cheated get the same by-the-lapels boot. On the other hand, the script also shows that Luigi is kind to old ladies ... by demonstrating his kindness to an old lady, fortune teller Starry Darrell (Molly Hamley-Gifford).
The film's romantic relationships remain interestingly vague. Elegant, disenchanted wife Barbara Gale ignores her spineless but loud-mouthed gambler husband, and resents his filling the apartment with cardsharps and fast women. Luigi uses a fortune-telling machine as an excuse to get personal and is soon Barbara's favorite.
The London backgrounds are as depressingly sordid as most of the supporting cast, and the cheap interiors suffice under the acceptable direction of Richard Vernon, who also wrote the script. Vernon had some memorable producing credits but his writing work here more or less guarantees that Shadow Man will be easily forgotten.
As soon as we meet the crippled and sexually frustrated Limpy, we know who the killer will be. Beautiful Angele treats Limpy like a doormat even though he worships her. As enacted by the great Victor Maddern (famous for his extreme makeup job in Baker/Berman's Blood of the Vampire) Limpy is sympathetic and credible, and when he breaks down he admits to raping Angele before killing her. But Limpy is still not all that interesting. The final score is one dead, one arrested and two sharing a kiss before making their exit under the approving eye of a London Bobby.
Cesar Romero proves that he can easily carry a leading role, even when under-written. The interesting Kay Kendall started out in tiny parts that included a bit in the similar but much more successful Night and the City. A major role in Genevieve was but one of seven films she did in 1953, and perhaps the springboard that got her into the big time of Doctor in the House and Les Girls.
Simone Silva's claim to fame remains a famed photo-op from Cannes in 1954, posing topless on the beach with Robert Mitchum. A surprise sprung on Mitchum, the then-notorious gambit did Silva's career no good but made her an oft-mentioned footnote in the film festival's history. Sadly, neither Ms. SIlva nor Ms. Kendall would live out the decade.
Shoot to Kill
1947 / 64 min.
Starring Russell Wade, Edmund MacDonald, Vince Barnett, Luana (Susan) Walters, Robert Kent, Nestor Paiva, Charles Trowbridge
Cinematography Benjamin Kline
Art Direction William Glasgow
Original Music Darrell Calker, Gene Rodgers
Written by Edwin V. Westrate
Produced and Directed by William Berke
Shadow Man is a masterpiece compared to Shoot to Kill, an impoverished noirish thriller with an extremely weak script. The blame for the terrible acting should be placed at the feet of director William Berke, an authentic movie pioneer. Berke entered the industry in the 'teens and by the thirties was putting out scores of low budget westerns yearly. His fortunes changed a bit for the better in the 40s but most of his work is barely remembered; Savant recently reviewed Arson, Inc., a much more coherent film than this mess.
Shoot to Kill is one of those movies that hopes to tell a story as complicated as The Glass Key with a handful of actors in a handful of sets. Edwin V. Westrate's script makes most of the story into the heroine's long flashback, including many scenes representing events she could not have witnessed. This flashback has one flashback of its own, indicating that the film may have turned out so brief that the wraparound format was an invention to pad the tale out to minimum length.
The absurd story has some okay ideas -- a microphone bug, some killers who turn out to be guardian angels -- but the actors barely seem to know what's going on. Ms. Walters' heroine is supposed to be a calculating vixen only pretending to be an innocent sweetheart, but actually the duped moll of a desperate gunman -- but double-crossing him as well. It's an unplayable part because it frankly makes no sense, especially when she meets the fade-out as a lily-white innocent again. The so-called hero begins and remains a silly dupe throughout the entire film. The painfully vacant Russell Wade plays this reporter (who never seems to be doing his job) as a silly creampuff, making us admire the guidance of his directors in his Val Lewton movies The Ghost Ship and The Body Snatcher.
Edmund MacDonald (Detour) does nothing with his pivotal role as the corrupt D.A., and Charles Trowbridge walks through his part as the principled alternative. The only person that doesn't come off looking foolish is Nestor Paiva's gangster thug -- he at least knows what he's doing. About twenty minutes into the picture we come across a guy in a silly powdered wig and moustache, obviously pretending to be an old man. Sure enough, that's exactly what's happening in the story -- he's a young man in "disguise." The only reason we might be fooled is that there's no reason why a movie as threadbare as Shoot to Kill wouldn't have a terribly transparent makeup job.
The Forgotten Noir Vol. 3 disc is a purchase for noir completists and the curious. Shadow Man / Street of Shadows is in perfect shape and a pleasure to watch; Shoot to Kill is probably a 16mm print and has weak, scratchy audio. At least the good movie is the one in great condition.
VCI and Kit Parker add several welcome text extras. We're offered some production schedule pages, script pages and day player actor deals ($50 buy-outs), but most of them cannot be read. The talent bios are kind to the actors and reverential toward William Berke, whose last directing effort was the pitiful 1958 Sci-Fi howler The Lost Missile. A final chapter in the Robert L. Lippert story, written by his son, admits that the director was shunned in much of Hollywood for evading Guild contracts. When he eventually made handsomely-budgeted films for Fox they were stealth-produced under the 'Regalscope' banner and often didn't carry his credit, as with 1958's socko hit The Fly. I'd like to ask Lippert Jr., if he can confirm if blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo really was an uncredited contributor to the script of Lippert's wonderful Rocketship X-M.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Shadow Man rates: