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Mark Stevens is no longer a well-known name in acting, but he'll always occupy an iconic slot as detective Bradford Galt of the classic film noir The Dark Corner. The desperate Galt speaks some of the key words of the style:
"I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up into a dark corner and I don't know who's hitting me."
Film work for Stevens thinned out in the early '50s, but he shifted to television while working hard to start a career as a director. For his first directing & starring effort Stevens hooked up with actor-turned-writer Warren Douglas, one of the scribes on the noir confection Loophole, among other lesser achievements. 1954's Cry Vengeance would seem an uncommonly lavish production for Allied Artists, with extensive location work in the small fishing town of Ketchikan, Alaska.
As indicated by the title, revenge motivates the hard-bitten Vic Barron, who just spent three years in prison. Not only was he framed for bribery, Vic's wife and child were killed in a car bomb. His own face heavily scarred by the explosion, Barron ignores his law enforcement friends Lt. Ryan (Don Haggerty) and Red Miller (John Doucette) and scours the underworld in search of Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy), the mobster said to be responsible for his family's death. San Francisco boss Nick Buda (Lewis Martin) is no help, so Vic turns to Lily Arnold (Joan Vohs), the girlfriend of Roxey Davis (Skip Homeier), Buda's sadistic henchman. Lily's tip takes him to the Alaskan coast. Now living under a new name, Tino Morelli learns about Barron's arrival from his best buddy Johnny Blue-Eyes (Mort Mills). Morelli has left the rackets behind and is quietly raising his 6 year-old daughter Marie (Cheryl Calloway). Bar owner Peggy Harding (Martha Hyer) takes a liking to Vic and tries to steer him off his mission, but Vic won't listen: encountering Cheryl outside her house, he gives her a bullet to take home to daddy. As Vic waits for the right time to exact vengeance on Tino and Marie, Roxey and Lily arrive in Ketchikan. The unbalanced Roxey wants Vic dead just as a matter of pride.
Technically speaking Cry Vengeance is a crime story with a noir premise, that soon resolves itself away from the noir ethos. It's a therapeutic story in which the scarred, hate-filled Vic Barron slowly drops his heartless vendetta and regains his humanity. The 'wild frontier' of Ketchikan is a happy place where everyone knows the sheriff (played by screenwriter Warren Douglas). Reformed mobster Morelli has left his old identity behind and is starting over. Neither he nor Johnny Blue-Eyes prepares a violent reception for Vic. And of course there's the attractive Peggy, whose wholesome attitude works on Vic from the moment she sees him. How noir can Cry Vengeance be, when everybody assumes that the deranged killer is really a swell guy inside?
Producer Lindsley Parsons ground out a lot of cheap movies, but this impressively mounted show took a filming unit and a number of actors to Ketchikan. The local flavor is very nicely sketched, even if many of the interiors revert to the two rooms-no windows norm of Allied Artists work. All of the parts are carefully cast and thoughtfully played, which reflects well on Stevens' qualifications as a director. Perennial bad guys Don Haggerty and John Doucette are concerned friends. Lewis Martin, the devout preacher from The War of the Worlds, is surprisingly good as a sinister gang boss. Douglas Kennedy was mostly confined to bit parts like his zombie cop in the previous year's Invaders from Mars. Mort Mills never received much recognition, although his face should -- he is the highway patrolman that follows Marion Crane in Psycho. Attractive John Vohs is now obscure, but her barfly-turned killer's moll Lily is quite good, and very sympathetic.
Martha Hyer never looked better. Her Peggy steers the film away from darkest noir territory. The narrative halts whenever Vic and Peggy have private talks; she takes him for a boat excursion to see a local tribal meeting hall, complete with totem poles. It's at this point that we realize that the Alaskan setting is not going to figure into the story except as background. The more Vic Barron is softened up, the more his vengeance against Tino and Marie Moretti is slowed down. Therefore the arrival of Roxey is needed to maintain tension. Realizing that the villain needs to be more extreme than the disturbed hero, Stevens lets Skip Homeier go weird. As Roxey Davis, Homeier boasts a shock of all-white hair, wears glasses and dresses in bow ties. He comes off as a really sick character.
Cry Vengeance has frequently been compared to The Big Heat, what with Barron's wife and child being blown up by a car bomb, and the killer Roxey somewhat resembling Lee Marvin from the Fritz Lang movie. Stevens' movie does have an action finish but the actual climax is a fine character scene when Barron arrives to kidnap and kill Marie Morelli. Little actress Cheryl Callaway (The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Lineup) was a real find, performance wise. She's natural enough not to be stiff, but has the theatrical skill to give her dialogue lines a lot of feeling. She's responsible for the success of the sentimental conclusion. Although we see Vic Barron's redemption coming, the film's payoff is still satisfying.
Makeup artist Ted Larsen gives Barron an unusually graphic facial scarring for the picture, which surely made some viewers uncomfortable. Handsome actor Mark Stevens is indeed marred by the large welt on his right jaw line. The makeup effect is very good, although it looks as if it might be separating from Steven's cheek in a couple of shots. Considering that the actor has to talk and fight with the makeup in full sight, and that latex appliances were not yet an industry standard, this is very good work.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Cry Vengeance comes up with a flawless HD transfer for the first disc release of this interesting '50s thriller. The show has been formatted widescreen, retaining original compositions and matting away extraneous head and foot room. That alone makes some of the nondescript interior sets look better.
Cry Vengeance is one of the better pictures about blind, hate-driven heroes. It's very satisfying to see Vic Barron overcome what seems a fatal obsession. Perhaps this is one of the movies Charles Chaplin was critiquing in his A King in New York, when he shows us a coming attractions trailer for a movie called, "Killer with a Heart".
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cry Vengeance Blu-ray rates:
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