Vice Raid
MGM // Unrated // $19.98 // March 21, 2012
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted April 28, 2012
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With a title like Vice Raid (1960, also variously known as Pleasure Girl, The Blonde in 402, and Women Confidential, though those may have only been working titles) and Mamie Van Doren as its star, one might reasonably expect something enjoyably lurid and over-the-top if not necessarily good. Instead, this minor thriller is extremely tame both in terms of content and execution, resembling contemporaneous episodic television. It looks like the whole thing was shot on standing sets bordering on the claustrophobic, and within spitting distance of its studio. Van Doren however, as she often was, is fun to watch.

An MGM "Limited Edition Collection" manufactured-on-demand release, Vice Raid utilizes a full-frame transfer even though the movie clearly is meant for widescreen projection, probably 1.85:1. A trailer is tossed in as an extra feature.

Isn't this one-sheet preferable to the DVD cover art, in which Mamie suggests a glammed-up Oscar the Grouch?

Vice detectives Brandon (Richard Coogan) and partner Dunton (Joseph Sullivan) collar Muggsy (Shepherd Sanders) for transporting a dame (not his wife) across state lines. Brandon offers to cut Muggsy a deal: snitch on his boss, racketeer Vince Malone (Brad Dexter, one of The Magnificent Seven that same year) or face serious jail time. Muggsy reluctantly agrees, but when Brandon is distracted with other business, Dunton shoots the hood in cold blood. (The actor crashes to the pavement most impressively.)

Unaware his partner's on the take, Brandon plots his next move against Malone's prostitution ring with his superior, Capt. William Brennan (familiar white-haired character player Frank Gerstle). Eventually, and despite Dunton's unsubtle efforts to steer the investigation elsewhere, they decide to infiltrate the modeling agencies Malone is using as fronts.

Meanwhile, Malone comes up with a scheme to get rid of Brandon altogether. Malone puts a call in to Detroit; they send their best girl, a smart little tootsie named Carol Hudson (Mamie Van Doren). At one of the agencies, Brandon arrests Carol for solicitation, but then she accuses him of extortion and entrapment while Dunton, showing his hand, provides false testimony backing up her claim.

Brandon is suspended and, furious, decides to take on Malone solo. Meanwhile, Carol's hopelessly na´ve kid sister, Louise (Carol Nugent, then-wife of Nick Adams), is in town for a few weeks, drawn to Carol's glamorous lifestyle, not knowing the particulars of Carol's job description. Malone's lieutenant, Evans (Barry Atwater), who'd clumsily pawed Carol in an earlier scene, now sets his sights on Louise.

Vice Raid was produced by Robert E. Kent and directed by Edward L. Cahn, who partnered on more than two-dozen features made between 1958-62. All were fast and cheap, mostly likely shot in a week or so on budgets of $100,000 or less. Many have been released by MGM to DVD, including It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Curse of the Faceless Man (both 1958), Invisible Invaders, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), Gunfighters of Abilene, Three Came to Kill (1960), Gunfight, and You Have to Run Fast (1961). About half are pretty dreary but several are quite good for their budget level, notably It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Three Came to Kill.

Vice Raid, however, is one of the least interesting of these films. It's less, er, dopey, less enjoyably lurid than High School Confidential! (1958), which Van Doren made for infamously tasteless producer Albert Zugsmith the year before. Even when Atwater's singularly slimy henchman tries to have his way with Carol, throwing her to a bed, each is careful to keep at least one foot on the floor at all times.

The picture's dialogue tries for hard-boiled but only sounds as silly as its various euphemisms for prostitution. It's interesting to compare this to Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss, made four years later. That film manages to be grittier, more entertaining and over-the-top all at once, and for about the same amount of time and money. Vice Raid is merely dull.

Platinum blonde Van Doren comes off best, and the part allows her a big character arc from streetwise working girl to reformed, even heroic hooker who plants a recording device (miniaturized, '50s-style, it's about the size of a carton of eggs) to trap Malone and his superiors (including Nestor Paiva). A kind of B-studio answer to Marilyn Monroe (and Jayne Mansfield), Van Doren soldiered through dozens of bottom of the bill comedies, thrillers, cheap musicals, and other potboilers, occasionally sci-fi and horror pictures. Unlike Monroe and Mansfield, she projected a lot more intelligence and sass, as if she was a pretty but not especially glamorous aspiring actress who found her niche playing one. She's not a great actress, but she rises above the material here.

Video & Audio

Clearly photographed for widescreen projection, Vice Raid nonetheless is full-frame in this lackluster transfer. It does crop nicely when reformatted and zoomed in on 16:9 monitors, but it could look a lot better. The region 1 encoded disc also offers good Dolby Digital mono audio, English only with no alternate language or subtitle options.

Extra Features

The lone supplement is a trailer, also full-frame, suggesting a much more lurid film than what is actually offered. It's in fair shape.

Parting Thoughts

For Mamie Van Doren fans only, Vice Raid is a Rent It.

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.

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