Is there such a thing as a male weeper? Bang The Drum Slowly certainly belongs, as do parts of The Knute Rockne Story (`Let's win this one for the Gipper!'). Probably the whole athlete-dying-young genre does for men what Stella Dallas did for women. Another candidate for inclusion is Drive A Crooked Road, a 1954 noir starring Mickey Rooney.
Rooney's abbreviated stature helped keep him in pictures as America's oldest teen-ager. But once he hit 30, it was inevitable that adult roles should come his way. As the noir cycle was in full swing, that's where he landed. In The Strip and Quicksand, he still managed to pass as a stripling. By the time of this movie, however, he was well into his 30s, with broad hits of chubbiness settling into his face and midriff. He was still the star, not yet relinquished to character roles, though it was unclear how to handle him. So he became a misfit a `freak.'
He's an awkward, lonely auto mechanic with dreams of driving someday in the Grand Prix dreams he knows won't come true. With one exception, his fellow mechanics tease him mercilessly, especially about his lack of sexual experience. One day an unattainable woman (Dianne Foster) gives him the big eye, and he succumbs, however tentatively at first. (His ache for her is palpable when she plays hard to get, as he tosses on his rooming-house bed with his few racing trophies now emblems of hollow triumph). But she's just a cat's-paw for her real boyfriend, Kevin McCarthy, living the high life in his beach-house bachelor pad; he's planning to knock over a bank in Palm Springs and needs Rooney as his daredevil driver. With Foster's increasingly reluctant urging, Rooney signs on....
The resolution, of course, is the falling out of thieves; a large portion of the plot was to be echoed, 10 years later, in Don Siegel's remake of The Killers. Though the robbery and escape should have been the centerpiece, or at least the central set-piece, of the movie, here it seems curiously perfunctory (these comments are based on viewing a version some minutes short of recorded running times, however). But the movie's staying power lies in Rooney's portrayal of the dupe, the victim all the more memorable for being so understated.
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