Despite its overly-familiar story about an ordinary dissatisfied man's meteoric rise and fall through the criminal underworld, 711 Ocean Drive (1950) otherwise is quite well done, with an especially authentic feel given its bookmaking setting. Indeed, the film begins with a silent, pre-title prologue stating, "Because of the disclosures made in this film, powerful underworld interests tried to halt production with threats of violence and reprisal. It was only through the armed protection provided by members of the Police Department in the locales where the picture was filmed that this story was able to reach the screen. To these men, and to the U.S. Rangers at Boulder Dam, we are deeply grateful."
Reportedly, Las Vegas gangsters pressured the filmmakers not to shoot on location in and around Las Vegas as well as in Palm Springs, California. The movie has almost no Las Vegas location footage but the justly famous climax was shot entirely on location at the Hoover Dam, then known as Boulder Dam.
Edmond O'Brien, one of the all-time great character actors, during this period alternated between supporting and starring roles with only mixed success in the latter capacity. Independently produced by Frank Seltzer's Essaness Productions for Columbia Pictures, 711 Ocean Drive is also noteworthy as one of the first major studio releases to be advertised on television.
711 Ocean Drive is a Sony Pictures manufactured-on-demand DVD, correctly presented in full-frame format in its original black-and-white. The movie looks terrific, with a bright, sharp picture throughout and virtually no signs of any damage. A trailer is included as an extra feature.
O'Brien plays Mal Granger, a telephone company lineman who likes to bet on long shots, always losers. His bookie, Chippie Evans (Sammy White), recommends Granger to smalltime gangster Vince Walters (Barry Kelley), who owns a racing wire service bookmakers across Southern California subscribe to and access via an antiquated telephone system. Granger confidently replaces it with better and more efficient technologies that allow Walters to expand his empire throughout California, quintupling his take while keeping Granger on the same, relatively meager salary.
(The front for Walters's operation is a business called "Liberty Finance." Obviously, the filmmakers shot exteriors before realizing that legitimate businesses also called Liberty Finance might object to the use of the name. As a result, elaborate but extremely obvious optical effects blot the "Y" in "Liberty," crudely changing the name to "Libert Finance.")
Insatiably greedy Granger soon has Walters over a barrel when Granger threatens to pull the plug on his operation, and when Walters is suddenly murdered by a despondent bookie (a good, even startling scene), Granger takes over and makes Walters's secretary, Trudy (Dorothy Patrick) his lover.
But then Granger's successes attract the attention of the east coast syndicate, led by sickly but cold-blooded Carl Stephans (Otto Kruger). He dispatches executive Larry Mason (Don Porter) and his sophisticated, flirtatious wife, Gail (Joanne Dru) to make Granger an offer he can't refuse.
711 Ocean Drive, its inapt title referring to the Malibu beachfront house where Granger resides but otherwise insignificant to the story, is routine in terms of O'Brien's character, but oozes with verisimilitude in other respects.
Sammy White, a comic dancer best known as Frank Schultz in the original stage production of Show Boat (1927), its various revivals and the 1936 film version, may be the most believable bookmaker in the movies, with authentic jargon rolling off his lips as if he'd been taking bets all his life. Ruddy-faced, intimidating Barry Kelley is also very credible as Granger's first boss while the (now ancient) electronics Granger utilizes and the procedures he develops to deliver race results all ring true. Clearly screenwriters Richard English and Francis Swann did their research, though neither had significant screenwriting careers before or after this.
Directed by Joseph H. Newman, 711 Ocean Drive follows a well-worn path much of the time, but surprises here and there such as the aforementioned scene where a mousy bookie, threatened by Walters, suddenly pulls out a pistol and shoots him at point-blank range. (He also dies with his eyes wide open in surprise, unusual for a movie this early.) The Hoover Dam climax is exciting and often imitated. Only weeks before I'd seen an episode of McMillan & Wife, "All Bets Off" (1976), featuring virtually the same camera set-ups.
Video & Audio
Filmed in 1.37:1 full frame and in black-and-white, 711 Ocean Drive looks sharp with excellent contrast and no signs of significant damage, while the mono sound (no other audio options, no subtitles) is fine. The disc is region-free.
Included is a textless trailer introduced by Edmond O'Brien who, stepping out of character, describes the making of a film "virtually with a gun in its back."
Quite good overall, 711 Ocean Drive has much to offer and comes Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.