26 November 2003 | lugonian
Gangster in Hiding
HUNTED MEN (Paramount, 1938), directed by Louis King, is one of many in a long assembly of crime programmers as produced by Paramount during the mid to late 1930s, and one of its better assortments. Somewhat competing with the more sturdier gangster melodramas produced at Warner Brothers at the time, whether starring the likes of top box office draws as James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson or Humphrey Bogart, HUNTED MEN is a showcase for its own contract player tough guy, Lloyd Nolan, in spite of his name appearing second in the cast under the pert and pretty Mary Carlisle, he gives a good and memorable performance.
The plot: Joe Albany (Lloyd Nolan) is a tough racketeer who guns down James Flowers (Larry "Buster" Crabbe), a local night club owner, for double-crossing him. In an attempt to get away from the police, he finds himself accidentally being knocked down by the car being driven by the slightly drunken Peter Harris (Lynne Overman), who mistakes him for somebody he knows. Not only does he offer him a ride but allows himself to take this runaway gunman into his respectable but quiet household, consisting of his wife, Mary (Dorothy Peterson), their attractive daughter Jane (Mary Carlisle) and young son, Robert (Delmar Watson). Albany's henchmen, who have followed him to his present location, advise him to take refuge, convincing him that this setup is his most perfect hideout. Albany's lawyer, Henry Rice, better known as "Counselor" (J. Carroll Naish), shows up periodically to keep him up to date of the police search. However, because Jane is bored with her present existence, she finds herself ignoring her boyfriend, Frank Martin (Johnny Downs), a young man closer to her age, and taking an interest in the new "house guest." Albany soon finds himself changing into a sentimentalist as the young boy Robert, who now hero worships him, invites him to join his G-Man organization with the other fellas, shortly before the police learn of his whereabouts.
Unlike certain themes regarding innocent people becoming hostages at gunpoint by a hardened criminal (and his gang) or an escaped convict, as with THE PETRIFIED FOREST (WB, 1936) with Humphrey Bogart as the hostages holder, HUNTED MEN gets to show off the human side to a tough guy with a price on his head. Somewhat predating Paramount's much more dramatic, and violent THE DESPERATE HOURS (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart playing once again a gang leader accompanied by two other convicts keeping a middle-class family hostages against their will, but in this case, having no remorse in what they have done nor what they are about to do. The major difference between HUNTED MEN and THE DESPERATE HOURS is its length. THE DESPERATE HOURS, at nearly two hours, stretches out its basic theme to a point while HUNTED MEN, a "B" film at a tight 65 minutes, appears to have all the ingredients, suspense, and fast-pacing along with a touch of sentimentality which does not get in the way of the plot, thus, making this a well-made "shoot 'em up" crime drama.
The supporting cast of familiar faces includes Anthony Quinn as "Mac," Regis Toomey as Donovan; with John Hamilton, Zeffie Tilbury and John Elliott. But this is Lloyd Nolan's show all the way, which makes it a shame that he never rose above the major ranks as his gangster contemporaries as Bogey, Robinson or Cagney, who, like them, is not only believable, but also convincing as well in doing comedy and good guy roles. HUNTED MEN might never win any awards nor immortality in cinema history, considering its unavailability on the television markets for many years now (such as WPIX, Channel 11, in New York City, where it used to be a late show favorite prior to 1972), but does present itself as to how good a "B" film can actually be. (**1/2)