2 June 2002 | bmacv
Skullduggery in the oil fields -- pre-Enron
Though he will doubtless be remembered as a master of creepy schlock for the pubescent audience which emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, William Castle directed half a dozen noirs. His first, and probably his best, was Betrayed, aka When Strangers Marry, but Johnny Stool Pigeon and Undertow have their admirers, too. His last noir, The Houston Story, doesn't number among his best, but it too has its moments.
Wildcatter Gene Barry has ambitions that go beyond collecting his paycheck for working on the oil rigs. He dreams up a scheme for siphoning off oil from the big pipelines and selling it to fly-by-night distributors or foreign interests. He approaches Edward Arnold, local boss of a sinister "combine" based in St. Louis, who goes for the plan (meanwhile planning to dispose of Barry once the oil and the money start flowing). It turns out Barry is a bit smarter and more ruthless than he seemed; forty years later, he would have been a vice-president (at least) of Enron.
Along with his slithering around to evade the various minions of the complicated syndicate, he finds romantic complications as well. On the right shoulder sits good-gal Jeanne Cooper, waitress in an eatery called The Derrick. But on the left side is Temptation, in the person of Barbara Hale. Identified almost entirely with her television role as Perry Mason's loyal and efficient Girl Friday Della Street, Hale displays an unsuspected side to her talents. Gussied up in strapless gowns and a platinum "Italian" crop, she plays a shantoozie kept by a racketeer. Of course, she falls for Barry (well, sort of) and he for her (again, sort of). She's also the most memorable thing in this watchable but confusing and derivative film.