The Hoodlum (1951)

PG   |    |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

The Hoodlum (1951) Poster

Paroled sociopath career criminal Vincent Lubeck betrays his family's trust when he masterminds a complex armored car robbery.


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17 February 2004 | FilmFlaneur
Excellent low budget Tierney vehicle, follow up to 'Dillinger'
The Hoodlum (1951)

In this sequel to Nosseck's remarkable Dillinger (1945), real life tough guy Lawrence Tierney reprises his role of a scowling, unredeemable thug (he also appeared in the same director's equally hardboiled Kill or Be Killed (1950). The result is another tight and tough little film, if not quite on the same level. The main reason for this is a plot that's less convincing than Yordan's was back in 1945 when the real Dillinger's famously dramatic life provided excellent inspiration. Yordan, who went on to script such projects as El Cid, was plainly more of an artist than Neumann and Tanchuk, providing the story here. Events are more predictable – the anti-hero is even provided with a sentimental death bed scene to weep his belated crocodile tears. Fortunately Tierney plays this final pay off with little sentimentality, even hiding his face rather than letting the audience see him ‘weaken'. As Lubeck, the hoodlum just out from jail finding life too dull working in his brother's pump station, Tierney is once again excellent, up to and including the inevitable denouement. His determined unrepentance creates a thrusting charisma which both Rosa (his brother's girl, whom he briefly seduces, impregnates and discards), the bank manager's secretary and the audience find hard to ignore. As an actor Tierney can manage a cruel arrogance even when working a petrol pump, while Lubeck's cynical disassocation from his family makes him seem a very modern.

Interestingly, almost half the running time of the film has elapsed before he commits his first crime, or even fires a shot. For the rest of the time the hoodlum is brooding, contemplating the raw deal he has been handed, feeling as imprisoned by his humdrum job as no doubt millions of others did (and do) at the time. The difference is that he wants to reach for his big break in dramatic and violent fashion as he has it `all figured out now'. Its the heist he has planned, with the desperate aftermath, occupies the remainder of the film.

Ironically it is Lubeck's mother whose tears soften the heat of his parole board, thereby releasing her vicious son back into circulation. By the end, along with society, she inevitably regrets this decision, but her role in obtaining his release means that, in some respect at least, she is responsible for the anti-social acts he performs. In this light her final scene can be seen as much an act of necessary repentence as it is her reconciliation with reality.

The Hoodlum also boasts a minor first in that Tierney's real life brother Edward appears on screen for the first time, playing Vince's nice-but-dull brother. Despite all his good intentions, he ends up holding a gun on his sibling before literally driving him to his death - an event the significance of which frames the main action of the film in flashback, a typical noir conceit. Edward has little of Lawrence's screen presence, although here the novelty of the casting (which recalls the on-screen partnership of the Mitchum brothers in the cult film Thunder Road (1958 )) makes up for some his gaucheness.

Nosseck's muscular, ever hard to see films are overdue for reassessment. His three with Tierney are generally excellent, although hampered by constraints of budget and length. Also recommended is his British black out thriller The Brighton Strangler, more atmospheric than one might expect, and directed in the same vintage year as Dillinger.

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