5 January 2005 | bmacv
Les Miserables updated to sunny post-war California
As Jean Valjean had his implacable persecutor in Inspector Javert, so Barry Sullivan finds his in Charles McGraw. The setting, however, is not Europe's great capital Paris but Los Angeles, that post-war cynosure of middle-class dreams where orange groves and jobs in the aerospace industry beckon.
Working contentedly at his wicket in a staid savings-and-loan office, Sullivan has the misfortune to be on duty during a robbery. It's not hoodlums in masks waving guns, but a visit by a bevy of bank examiners come to check that everything's on the up-and-up. Trouble is, there's one more of them than there ought rightly to be, and while a platinumed moll (Mary Beth Hughes) diverts Sullivan, the phony inspector (Don Beddoes) coolly lifts $49,900 from the till. Counting his cash over and over, Sullivan can't believe that he's so much short. So instead of reporting the shortfall, he goes home.
Home is the cozy little bungalow he shares with wife Dorothy Malone, who can't believe that her straight-arrow of a husband didn't report it, either. Promptly on Monday morning he does so, and all seems to looking good until the bank's bonding company is informed. Though most of the staff come to think Sullivan's telling the truth, one of them, McGraw (an ex-cop who "resigned" from the force) issues a no-appeal "guilty" verdict and makes it his private and personal mission to hound Sullivan 'till he fesses up. Fired from job after menial job thanks to McGraw's vendetta, forced to sell the bungalow and relocate to a cramped apartment, Sullivan finally realizes it's up to him to clear his own name....
Loophole's an unusual movie in that its all but exclusive focus is on the unjust persecution of a plainly innocent man (in this sense foreshadowing Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man by a couple of years). It's tense and economical, if Beddoes and Sullivan do pass one another like ships in the night rather too often, in scenes closer in spirit to farce than suspense (and if the action-packed ending leaves a loose end or two). But the dark star of Loophole is McGraw, gleefully playing as despicable a character as he ever played in the noir cycle and that's saying something.