5 September 2002 | telegonus
One Of a Kind
This late fifties whodunit has some interesting credits. It was directed by the able and eclectic Howard Koch, and features three quite different actresses in major roles,--Mamie Van Doren, Anne Bancroft and Marie Windsor. Suave character man John Dehner is cast as the local lawman; ex-Tarzan Lex Barker is the male lead; Stuart Whitman and Dan Blocker have small roles; and Barker wrote the music score. This is the only movie I have ever seen that features a murder suspect who is a bitter, woman-hating man, psychosomatically paralyzed from the neck down, who can't even pour his own drinks or light his own cigarettes. Ron Randell plays him marvelously, and had the film been directed by Ingmar Bergman would surely have won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I wouldn't quite call this movie trashy, but it has a trashy feel to it, as it comes across in some ways as a sort of Southwest version of Peyton Place crossed maybe with Anatomy Of a Murder, the small-town black and white mood of which it strangely anticipates. Everyone in this movie has a secret. The question is, whose secret is murder? The pacing isn't strong here, and the dialog is variable. William Margulies' photography is excellent, however; and the settings,--the motel resort and small desert town--are perfectly realized. There is a nice feeling for people whose lives have fallen just short of the big time, and who are angry about it. As a result, more than in most movies, everyone seems more than capable of being a killer. I especially like the sense of isolation in the film, and with it the edge of danger. As with so many crime pictures of its era, it seems to be trying to say something about American life, and how materialism and ambition are destroying it. With its acerbic invalid in one corner, and its muslceman in the other, and all the beautiful women gallivanting about and making life miserable for everyone, this one, with sharper writing and a sense of the absurd, might really have risen and become an Antonioni-like commentary on the American Dream. As it stands, it doesn't come close, though some of its characters and images linger in the mind long after its over.