MGM // Unrated // $19.98 // October 26, 2011
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 20, 2011
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Not much needs to be said of Counterplot (1959), a very minor B-movie notable only for its two leads, Forrest Tucker and gorgeous Allison Hayes, plus the fact that it seems to have been made entirely on location in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a very different place when this was made. Despite veteran talent behind the camera as well, the picture abounds in genre clichés and its second-half is dominated by a terrible performance by Gerald Milton, a Fred Clark-type unsuccessfully channeling Sydney Greenstreet.

MGM's "Limited Edition Collection" is presented in the wrong aspect ratio, 1.33:1 full frame instead of its proper 1.85:1, but the transfer is decent and zoomed-in reformats to 1.78:1 reasonably well. Karl Struss's compositions are infinitely better framed at this ratio. No extras.

Brock Miller (Forrest Tucker) is hiding out in a shack in San Juan, aided by devoted local shoeshine boy Manuel (decidedly un-Manuelian Jackie Wayne). Even Miller believes he's guilty, but in fact he's been framed for the murder of gambler David Nibley (Ulysses Brenes). In any case Miller's been contemplating fleeing to South America, and Manuel dearly hopes Miller will take him along.

As the film opens, Miller's girl Connie (Allison Hayes) arrives in San Juan just to be near her lover, but Manuel is jealous and stands between them. She coincidentally begins a local gig as a sultry nightclub singer (Hayes's voice appears dubbed by someone else) and also coincidentally Miller realizes Connie's in town when he hears her performance broadcast live over the radio. (There's a glaring continuity mistake at this point, with Connie performing in one dress, then leaving the dance floor in an entirely different outfit, complete with elbow-length black gloves.)

Eventually Miller and Connie get together, and the two become involved with Fritz Bergmann (Gerald Milton), a crooked lawyer and "dirty Dutch pig" who offers to help Miller get out of town and/or help him find the real killer. But Bergmann secretly plots with Ben Murdock (Richard Verney), Nibley's parter, to turn Miller in for the $200,000 in insurance dough.

Counterplot was written by Richard Blake, already dead five years by the time this was released, so either the script had been kicking around Hollywood for quite a while, or perhaps the IMDb and others are confusing two different writers of the same name. A Richard Blake, former writer for the Cincinnati Times-Star, has only a few credits to his name, including the classic but extremely odd Invaders from Mars (1953). Further evidence that Counterplot was made long before it was released in October 1959 is the fact that its director, Kurt Neumann (The Fly), had succumbed more than a year earlier, in August 1958.

Blake's dialogue is simply atrocious. "I'm only a lawyer," Bergmann says, playfully, "But very experienced, very discrete, and very corrupt." In an early scene, Blake convinces us of Miller's innocence by having Miller chew out Manuel after he steals a bottle of rum. Don't you know stealing is wrong, boy? Bergmann's plotting and double-dealing becomes awfully Byzantine for a 77-minute movie, but very little of any consequence happens, and top-billed Tucker spends most of the film fretting in his cheap little room.

The only real draw is Allison Hayes, quite luscious in this, her va-va-VOOM! wardrobe accentuating her unique beauty. She should have been one of the top stars of her era, but there was a glut of screen sirens at the time (Monroe, Mansfield, van Doren) though none prettier than she, plus she was a better actress. She's best known for her title role in Attack of the 50Ft. Woman (1958), but Hayes played an intriguingly wide range of roles and was good in almost everything she did. She may have been blackballed from bigger pictures after suing Universal Studios for the serious injuries she suffered on the set of Sign of the Pagan (1954), her second film. Though she kept busy guesting on shows like Perry Mason and in leading roles in B-pictures, usually produced by United Artists or Allied Artists, her status never improved and health problems, related to unwitting lead poisoning from calcium supplements, kept her off the screen for good after the mid-1960s. She died in 1977 at 46.

Peculiarly, the film slowly drifts away from Tucker and Hayes about midway through, and then spends far too much time with Gerald Milton's Bergmann character, over-written and over-acted in the extreme. Unpleasant and outrageously unbelievable, Bergmann is written as a cultured, colorful Fat Man a la Sydney Greenstreet, complete with an office decorated with shrunken heads and stuffed peacocks, but Milton's performance is embarrassingly hammy.

Video & Audio

Counterplot is in the wrong ratio, 4:3 full-frame instead of (probably) 1.85:1 widescreen. Compositions are much improved with zoomed-in on widescreen TVs to 1.78:1, with all that empty space above the actors' heads more naturally framed. The transfer itself is okay otherwise, while the mono English audio (no subtitle options) is adequate on this region 1 disc. No Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Allison Hayes fans will want to see this for her but everyone else be warned: Counterplot is, at best, a Rent It.

Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary is Godzilla vs. Megalon (with Steve Ryfle).

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