25 May 2000 | Tom G.
Routine gangster movie posing as Film Noir
This film is classified as Film Noir, but on close examination is a routine 50s gangster movie and a cheap one at that. Joey Sante is a wiseacre, rebellious kid of 11 who runs numbers for the local bookies. Joey's father disapproves of his disrespect and arrogance but his mother convinces him he will someday be a great man. Suddenly the scene changes and while the other characters age slightly (if at all), adolescent Joey is now 41 year old Steve Cochran playing a younger age. The rest of the film focuses on Joe Sante's organized crime career, rising through the ranks to eventually running his own organization. But after breaking with the big boss Paul Moran (Grant Withers in his final role), he suddenly becomes the object of a Senate probe and marks himself for extinction.
Sante's constant companion is Blackie (the affable Robert Strauss whose aging is suggested by hair frosting), first Joe's mentor while a boy, then his immediate superior, then his immediate subordinate and finally his trusted friend who does him in. Strauss had his chance to shore up if not carry the film, but his lackluster role got in the way due in great measure to uninspired direction.
The film assumes an air of self-importance, epic and biographical in concept and presented in Cinemascope, but never rises above a low grade "B" picture in any aspect. While it pretends to be a fascinating study of a hoodlum's life, it plods along like a routine stage drama. The only Noir element is Joe's seemingly conflicted character headed toward a fatalistic end. Joe is represented as a decent sort, supporting his mother (who accepts his largesse and then ultimately disowns him), keeping needy acquaintances on the payroll and even turning down gratuitous trysts with wanton floozies. He never betrays a friend, and kills people only when he absolutely must. We would be persuaded that Joe is really not a bad guy.
Corman's direction shows his simplistic style, but without the sight gags or wacky characters found in "Little Shop of Horrors" or "Bucket of Blood". The plot is forced, the script flat and the same blaring jazz soundtrack later used in "Shop" and "Bucket" is offered for suspense. Completely devoid of imagination, suspense, humor, interesting camera work or real empathy for any of the characters, the story lopes along until its inevitable, predictable conclusion.
Sorry Roger, suspense and schlock are two different concepts. You were in way over your head on this one.