Directed in 1957 by Hubert Cornfield, Plunder Road is set in the distinctly non-noirish locale of Utah where we meet a gang of hoods. Eddie Harris (Gene Raymond) is the brains behind the operation, he's the smart guy with the paperwork to prove it and while he might be a bit wet behind the ears, he's clever enough to have come up with a pretty solid plan. That plan involves a few guys, so he teams up with a recently released ex-con named Skeets Jonas (Elisha Cook Jr.) who has recently lost his wife and who yearns to escape to Brazil with his son to relax and get away from it all. Also on board is a former race car driver named Frankie Chardo (Steven Ritch) who has had his racing privileges removed permanently after a mishap in his last competition. Rounding out the team are a stuntman named Commando Munson (Wayne Morris) and a truck driver named Roly Adams (Stafford Repp).
With all of his ducks in a row, Eddie then figures out the best way for them to rob a train he's figured out is leaving for San Francisco with ten million dollars' worth of on board. As the train will be heading through the less populated areas of rural Utah, they figure they can gas the engineer and go in with disguises on and swipe the gold out of the car before anyone is any the wiser. To do this they get a furniture truck, a coffee truck and a tanker truck, hoping to fill each one and then head out back to civilization at different times to minimalize their risk then get to Los Angeles where the gold will be melted down and built into some cars that they're then smuggle out of the country on a boat. In Los Angeles, Eddie's girlfriend, Fran (Jeanne Cooper), is going to help them, but once they get there things don't go exactly as planned and the movie twists and turns in some unexpectedly dark directions before coming to its close.
Made without a massive bankroll behind it and with the benefit of a big name to plaster all over theater marquees, Plunder Road remains a reasonably obscure later entry film noir but the picture is completely deserving of your time if you have even an inkling of interest in the genre. The photography by ace cinematographer Ernest Haller is shadowy and slick and makes great use of both interior and exterior locations to help build atmosphere and tension. The score Irving Gertz is also strong and it does what any good score should not, not just compliment the story and the action but actually enhance it. So while this might not be a multi-million dollar production, the production values here are more than acceptable, in fact, it's hard to imagine how you'd improve on Cornfield's film even if you were to put someone more bankable in the lead, someone like Robert Mitchum for example.
At just over seventy-two minutes, the movie is very tightly paced. It hits the ground running and doesn't let up. The first twenty minutes of the movie, more than twenty-five percent of the film's running time, are taken up with the set up and are done with only brief, sparse moments of dialogue. The visuals do the talking here and it works just fine. There's more to this than cool camerawork and nifty music though, the character development at the core of the story is probably the most important aspect. To be completely fair, it can be a bit sparse, we don't know these men as well as maybe we could have (the film's short running time is likely part of the reason for this) but in terms of how they change or develop over the course of the events shown in the movie, it's handled well.
As the heist is pulled off and the crew has to do their thing, the ripples that we saw early in the movie become tears. Circumstances arise where the plan proves to be nowhere near as infallible as Eddie first hoped it would be and as the team splits up, they have to figure out ways to deal with this. Bad luck and bad decision making comes into play and as things get violent, we witness what once seemed completely within reach filter through their fingers like metaphoric sand. It's fascinating to watch as the cast all do fine work here and Plunder Road earns high marks all around.
Plunder Road debuts on Blu-ray from Olive Films in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Detail here is pretty sold and while some minor print damage is present in the form of some small scratches and specks, the source used for the transfer was evidently in good condition as there isn't a whole lot of print damage to complain about at all. Grain is present throughout the presentation but it never gets so heavy as to distract from the generally solid detail and texture that the HD transfer offers. Black levels are really nice, quite strong, and contrast looks spot on. All in all this is a sharp, crisp and clean image offering surprisingly good texture and skin tones along with strong shadow detail. The movie looks great in HD, there's nothing to object to here at all.
The English language DTS-HD Mono Audio track on the disc is pretty good. The score sounds quite strong here and helps to really ramp up the tension in the last twenty minutes or so. The hardboiled Dialogue stays crisp and clear, it's never a problem understanding any of the characters. Levels are well balanced and there's as much depth as you could reasonably expect from an older low budget picture. As it is with a lot of older movies, the limitations of the source material do come through, as they should, but this is a clean track that suits the movie just fine and which doesn't suffer from any serious problems. There are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind offered on this disc.
Outside of a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features on this disc.
Plunder Road is consummate noir, it's tough, tense, exciting and dark and it offers plenty of thrills as well as loads of style and some fine performances as well. This is a really underrated film, one that should be better known than it is and hopefully the excellent looking Blu-ray debut from Olive Films will go some way towards correcting that. Even if the disc is, sadly, barebones, based on the strength of the film and the transfer this one comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.