Friday, 24 November 2017


Her mother told friends and neighbors her daughter was daft. The girl was “movie mad”, living only for the pleasures of the pictures and latest movie magazines. But young Patsy Sloots,who was blonde, petite, and uncommonly pretty, had thoughts of her own. At age seventeen, she was signed by the J. Arthur Rank Organization, stage-named ‘Susan Shaw’, and hustled off to the studio’s charm school to make a proper lady of her (“The rain in Spain…”).

Soon after, Patsy-now-Susan, was given her first screen assignments - uncredited and minor supporting parts in a series of sombre melodramas, most of them now part of the British film noir canon. These included The Upturned Glass (1947), the macabre tale of a doctor driven to avenge the death of his lover; Jassy (1947), an elegant period thriller in which murder and the sins of the flesh richly thicken the plot; It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), a grim yet poetic depiction of backstreet life in post-war London; and To the Public Danger (1948), a cautionary psychodrama based on a stage play by Patrick Hamilton (Gaslight, Rope, Hangover Square).

Though the roles were small, Shaw brightened the screen corner-to-corner. It was clear there was more to her than just girlish good looks and a buoyant personality. Unselfconscious and matter-of-fact, Shaw was suited to play strong-willed and often wilful young women. Growing up in West Norwood, a working-class district of South London, she’d come by her candor and forthrightness honestly, deciding early on to be something more than an office clerk, the vocation waiting for most girls after school-leaving at age 16. Like the characters she’d play - be it daughter, sister, girlfriend, fiancée, wife, confidante, or companion - she would always resist expectations.

Shaw’s breezy impudence would next find her cast in a trio of light-hearted comedies charting the exploits of a working-class London family, the Huggetts. Starring Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison as the clan’s good-hearted parents, and Jane Hylton, Petula Clark, and Shaw as their spirited young daughters, the movies charmed audiences and were a hit at the box office. They also showcased Shaw’s maturing talents; months later she’d be seen in Charles Crichton’s poignant portmanteau production, Train of Events (1949). The film recounted a railroad disaster as told through four short stories, one of them, ‘The Engine Driver’ again teaming up audience-favorite Jack Warner with Shaw as father and daughter. Though the movie met with only mixed success, it cemented her relationship with the general public and its sense that the actress was ‘one of us’ - ¬a well-brought up young woman (as opposed to the snobby ‘well-bred’) doing her best to get by.

Shaw looked to be on her way. She was given higher billing in Five Angles on Murder AKA A Woman in Question (1949), directed by Anthony Asquith and headlining Jean Kent and Dirk Bogarde. Shaw featured as Catherine, the self-centered younger sister of Kent’s character, Astra, who is mysteriously murdered. The police interview five of those closest to Astra, each of whom offers up a dramatically different view of the woman. Catherine recalls Astra as a cheap tramp, though she’s no angel herself. Catherine’s flinty insolence projected Shaw in yet another light on screen. As an actress, she’d become more unpredictable, more vivid, and much more interesting. 

A Woman in Question was Susan Shaw’s full entrée into the dark world of film noir. It was a world which she’d soon make her home, as nearly all of the films in which she’d next feature would be unconditional film noir dramas and thrillers. One of the first and best was Basil Dearden’s ground-breaking Pool of London (1950). The film tells of a merchant seaman, Dan (Bonar Colleano) who gets in over-his-head in a smuggling racket. He recruits a black shipmate, Johnny (Earl Cameron) to help pull him out but fails to tell Johnny what’s really going on. Shaw gives an emotionally uncluttered and touching performance as an empathetic cinema cashier who becomes drawn to Johnny as she witnesses his wounding encounters with racial prejudice. She also begins to share his vagrant hopes.

It was on the set on Pool of London that Susan Shaw first met Bonar Colleano, a charismatic American actor who’d featured in the Hollywood productions Stairway to Heaven (1946) and Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948). Now working in the UK, Colleano had become a go-to actor for roles asking for a brash, voluble New Yorker. He’d star in films such as Good-Time Girl (1948), Christ in Concrete (1949), Escape by Night (1954), and Joe MacBeth (1955). Shaw was married at the time to German actor Albert Lieven but their marriage ended in 1953. She and Colleano wed in January, 1954.

Their union grabbed the attention of the daily press and it wasn’t long before Shaw and Colleano had been anointed as British filmdom’s Golden Couple. Their celebrity was transcendent and strikingly modern. She was coveted by both British movie and women’s magazines as interest in her began to eclipse that of more established and critically-appointed actresses like Deborah Kerr, Valerie Hobson, Kathleen Byron, and Ann Todd. Shaw’s attraction appeared to be unbound by class or generational divides. Among her fans were older movie goers who had watched her come of age on screen, as well as younger women and teenage girls infatuated by her persona on and off-screen. Her trademark blondeness was embraced as fashionable and glamorous – unlike that of brassier sexpots Diana Dors, Greta Gynt, or Christine Norden who were generally viewed as ‘common’.

The couple’s storybook life came to a devastating end in 1958 when Colleano, returning to London from Liverpool after a stage performance of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,  smashed up his sports car and was killed. Shaw was left distraught ̶ and destitute. Colleano was a reckless spender who owed thousands in back taxes. Friends, including James Mason and Stanley Baker, volunteered to sponsor a charity football match to cover funeral expenses and raise funds towards the support of the couple’s three-year-old son, Mark, who would be taken in and raised by Colleano’s mother, a former circus performer (Mark would go on to become an actor). Shaw struggled to keep working. She began drinking heavily and her acting career was done with by 1962. She survived on menial office jobs and serving in bars but fell deeper into alcoholism and depression. Eventually, she was banned even from London’s seediest clubs and in 1978 at 49 years old, passed away from cirrhosis of the liver. She died penniless and burial costs were covered by the Rank Organization. No former co-stars or colleagues came to her funeral, though Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison, then respectively 83- and 86-years old and in ill-health, sent flowers. 

Celebrity deaths are often attended by infamy. Examples are sadly familiar, such as that of Barbara Payton who lived out her days addicted and selling herself on Sunset Strip; or Gail Russell, who medicated herself to death with alcohol, initially in an attempt to overcome crippling stage fright. Susan Shaw’s premature passing, like Russell’s was rendered even more tragic because of the once-shining promise of her life and career. Fortunately, Shaw left behind an array of memorable, full-of-life performances, a testament to a lovely and vibrant actress who featured and starred in more classic-period British film noirs than any other. Following are ten of ‘best of the rest’ of Susan Shaw, the uncontested Sweetheart of British Noir.


1. Waterfront AKA Waterfront Women (1950) Dir: Michael Anderson, w/ Robert Newton, Kathleen Harrison, Richard Burton, Kenneth Griffith, Avis Scott 

A bleak post-war noir about a family long-abandoned by the father (Newton) who went to sea years ago. Newton suddenly returns home and ends up in jail for murder while the youngest daughter (Shaw) is being pursued by a wealthy scoundrel (Griffith) who wants only to get her into bed. She resists, holding out for more and determined to get it. The film was Shaw’s first casting in an adult part. Just 19 years old, she seems years beyond her age as the hardened little social climber.  

2. There is Another Sun AKA Wall of Death (1951) Dir: Lewis Gilbert, w/ Laurence Harvey, Maxwell Reed 

Reed, a motorcycle stunt rider and low-life, convinces his boxing buddy (Harvey) to help him rob the carnival office. Reed is lusting for a new bike so he can rejoin the racing circuit after recklessly killing a fellow racer. Shaw, once Reed’s girlfriend and now Harvey’s, begs him not to get involved with the thick-eared Reed but is left only to pick up the pieces when everything goes ‘pear-shaped’. Shaw’s performance in Wall of Death is one of her most sympathetic and affecting.

3. Wide Boy (1952) Dir:  Ken Hughes, w/ Syd Tafler, Ronald Howard

Tafler is a street hustler with big ambitions and no prospects. His girlfriend (Shaw) despairs of him but enjoys his patter and his favors. One evening, he dips into a woman’s purse and comes up with a letter that shows she’s having an affair with well-to-do married gent (Howard). Tafler tries blackmail but ends up on the run for murder. Wide Boy was Shaw’s coming-out in her transformation from a pretty young slip-of-a-thing to a self-assured beauty.

4. A Killer Walks (1952) Dir: Ronald Drake, w/ Laurence Harvey, Trader Faulkner

Lawrence Harvey plays a farm worker, existing on subsistence wages paid to him by his grandmother who owns the farm. Shaw is his glammed-up girlfriend who’s looking for money in a marriage. Both know where they can get it but granny has to die first. Shaw’s made it plain that she’s just a city girl who wants to open a beauty parlour. Bible-thumping granny makes it plain she thinks Shaw’s just a floozy. She is, and a thumping good one at that.

5. The Intruder (1953) Dir: Guy Hamilton, w/ Jack Hawkins, Michael Medwin, Dennis Price
Jack Hawkins returns home to find a burglar (Medwin), a former member of his wartime regiment. Medwin makes a dash for it and Hawkins, hoping to help him, goes on a country wide-search. Shaw is Medwin’s girlfriend from before the war who’d promised to marry him but now has other plans. Shaw’s natural believability was a large part of her appeal. In The Intruder, that truthfulness of character is heart-rending. 

6. Small Town Story (1953) Dir: Montgomery Tully, w/ Ken Walton, Donald Houston, Alan Wheatley

A Canadian ex-serviceman (Walton) returns to the English town where he’d been posted during the war, hoping to find the girl (Shaw) with whom he’d fallen in love. Walton, a promising footballer, hears that the local club stands to inherit £25,000 from recently a deceased supporter if it places high in the league. The supporter’s nephew (Wheatley) wants the money and enlists Shaw’s help to make sure that Bob never plays. This was one of Shaw’s few parts as an all-out bad-girl. Would that there had been more…

7. The Good Die Young (1954) Dir: Lewis Gilbert, w/ Laurence Harvey, Stanley Baker, Richard Basehart, John Ireland, Joan Collins, Gloria Grahame 

Three good men are desperate to redeem themselves: a broken boxer (Baker); a US veteran (Basehart) attempting to win back his wife (Collins); and an air force sergeant (Ireland) married to a faithless actress (Grahame). The trio are persuaded by an amoral layabout (Harvey) to hi-jack a postal van. Shaw has a small part but owns the moment. As Ireland tries to chat her up in a pub, she asks, “Are you married?”. When he asks her why she cares, she says, “Oh, I just like to know what the weather’s like before I put out to sea”. The last word often went to Shaw who was always ready to deliver it.

8. Blonde Blackmailer (1955) Dir: Charles Deane, w/ Richard Arlen, Constance Leigh

After serving seven years for a murder he didn’t commit, Arlen is determined to clear his name. Evidence at the trial showed the murdered girl to be a known blackmailer. Arlen and his fiancée Leigh track down Shaw, a model who had been a close friend of the murdered girl. However, she turns out to be something worse. Shaw relished the part and  made a full-course meal of it, the film’s tag line being, “Man Bait! By Day, the Fashion Model! By Night, the Racket Girl!” 

9. The Diplomatic Corpse (1958) Dir: Montgomery Tully, w/Robin Bailey, Liam Redmond

Reporter Bailey is investigating the murder of an employee of a Middle-Eastern embassy. Clues leads to the ambassador himself and Bailey’s fiancée and gossip columnist, Shaw, finds her way into the embassy as a fill-in receptionist. It’s a risky play. Her predecessor had been killed in an untimely ‘accident’. Despite the serious subject matter (drug smuggling under diplomatic cover, for a start), things are agreeably lighthearted at times, thanks to the playful script which allows Shaw free reign.

10. Chain of Events (1958) Dir: Gerald Thomas, w/ Kenneth Griffith, Dermot Walsh

A taut noir melodrama, Chain of Events features Griffith as a bank clerk who boards a bus and deliberately neglects to pay his fare. Caught by an inspector, Griffith foolishly gives the name and address of one of the bank's clients, setting in motion un ugly chain of events involving blackmail, robbery, and murder. Walsh plays a reporter following the story. Shaw glows as the newspaper owner’s secretary, who also happens to be Walsh’s girlfriend and partner in crime-busting. The show is there for the stealing and Shaw walks away without anyone laying a hand on her -- as she usually did.

Written by Gary Deane

(A version of this article appeared in NOIR CITY magazine #22, 2017)

Thursday, 13 July 2017


When queried on the whys and wherefores of film noir, the late Arthur Lyons, founder and patron saint of the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival, would say, “It’s all about the story”. In the introduction to his wonderfully necessary book, Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir, Lyons laid it out:

“In the noir world, all characters are motivated by obsession – by money or lust – or suffer from alienation or loneliness. Their choices are inexorably ruled by their own flaws and compulsions and by events in the world around them, ensuring their own destruction.”

Fully alive among these characters and their ill-fated existences was Hollywood writer Don Martin. His urgent, plot-spinning novels, stories, and screenplays anchored a long list of often-better-than-they-deserved-to-be classic B noirs put out by low-rent studios such as Screen Art Pictures, Equity Studios, and Producers Releasing Corporation.

Born in Philadelphia in 1911, Martin me to Hollywood in the ‘40’s with a reputation as published poet, playwright, novelist, and newspaper journalist. He started in as a writer for the Hollywood Reporter and then as a public relations flack for various studios including United Artists and MGM. He took a first swing at screenplays after being asked to help out with the adaptation of one of his own stories. Shortly after, he joined the starting lineup.

Few of the films and television shows for which Martin received a writing credit have been released commercially on video or screened on TV in recent years – though some have had festival screenings and virtually can be found somewhere in the videosphere. His is not likely the first name to come to mind in connection with classic B noirs even if he did write films such as The Pretender (1947) or Shakedown (1950).  Though film noir may be “all about the story”, appreciation doesn’t always go as far as to recognize the person who wrote and/or adapted it for the screen.

This is particularly the case with B releases where poverty row production values, uninspired direction, or humdrum performances can take a toll on even the best-written scripts. Fortunately, the inventiveness, pulp conviction, and sheer stamina of Martin’s storytelling ensure that nearly all of the films below grab the viewer’s attention and doesn’t let go. For better or worse, Don Martin too easily can become a fatal attraction.

LIGHTHOUSE (1947) Dir: Frank Wisbar

Cannery girl, Connie (June Lang) strikes back at her feckless, two-timing lover, Sam (Don Castle) by marrying his boss, lighthouse keeper Hank (John Litel) in a storm surge of jealous anger. Two’s company and three’s a recipe for revenge served hot on the isolated lookout station off the coast of Northern California.

Martin keeps the plot whirling like a top as emotions run high and motives remain murky. Does Connie still have a thing for Sam? How far will Sam go to find out? How much does the overly-trusting Hank really know about Connie’s questionable past and her relationship with Sam?  Lighthouse is no more than mid-weight melodrama but arguably more noir than Clifford Odet’s tortuous Clash by Night (1952) to which it could be compared – if one were out looking for an argument.  

THE HAT BOX MYSTERY (1947) Dir: Lambert Hillyer

Susan Hart (Pamela Blake), assistant to private detective Russ Ashton (Tom Neal at his seediest) is given a camera concealed in a hat box and instructed by a mysterious client, John Moreland (Leonard Penn), to take a photo of a woman leaving an apartment. However, the camera turns out to be a gun and the woman in question is shot dead. Susan is charged with murder but ‘facts’ of the shooting don’t tally and Russ sets out to prove that she and the agency have been set up.

The Hat Box Mystery was intended as the first of a series of short, forty minute dark thrillers. Unfortunately, Martin’s imaginative, quirky script is rendered flatfooted by a static camera, stagebound sets, flat lighting and stagey performances – except for that of Leonard Penn whose facade of somber respectability can’t disguise the thick-earred thug beneath.

THE PRETENDER (1947) Dir: W. Lee Wilder

Kenneth Holden (Albert Dekker) is a middle-aged investment advisor who’s been helping himself to the estate of Claire Worthington (Catherine Craig), a younger and very attractive client. After plundering of one of her accounts, he decides to propose marriage to Claire. When she reveals that she’s engaged to someone else, Holden hires a hitman to kill the dearly beloved. Then Claire suddenly breaks offs the engagement to accept Holden’s proposal and through circumstances and the vagaries of fate, he can’t cancel the hit. Holden, now the official husband-to-be, is left caught in the crosshairs of his own contract for murder.

Fraught and chilling, The Pretender features a bravura performance from Albert Dekker, the shimmering cinematography of John Alton and Martin’s high-pitched re-working of the Jules Verne story, Tribulations of a Chinaman in China. W. Lee Wilder (The Glass Alibi, 1946; The Vicious Circle, 1948; Once a Thief, 1950) showed again that, if handed a decent script, he was perfectly capable of crafting a better-than-decent movie on a next-to-nothing budget.

SHED NO TEARS (1948) Dir: Jean Yarbrough

Used-car salesman, Sam Grover (Wallace Ford) and his fatally glamorous wife, Edna (June Vincent, Black Angel, 1946) fake Sam’s death in a Los Angeles hotel fire in order to collect on a fifty thousand dollar insurance policy. Afterwards, he hides out while Edna waits for the payout.  Meanwhile, Edna’s intending to burn Sam one more time by taking off with both the money and her flashy boyfriend, Ray Beldon (Mark Roberts). Sam’s son, Tom (Dick Hogan), thinking there’s something hinky about his father’s death, hires Huntington Stewart (Johnstone White), a private detective to investigate. It doesn’t take long for Stewart to figure out that the whole thing’s a con – and how to best cut himself in on the deal.

Though the screenwriting credit went to others, Martin earlier had penned the hard-boiled novel (later published in paperback as Blonde Menace) on which the film is based. A twisted tale of fraud, betrayal, and murder, Shed No Tears begs one to keep watching in order to see which of these reckless schemers is prepared to go the furthest to get what they want.

DEVIL’S CARGO (1948) Dir: John F. Link

Devil’s Cargo was the 14th title in the Falcon series and the first of three films to star John Calvert, a charismatic professional magician and part-time actor. The Falcon, now Michael Waring (though in the credits it’s Watling due to rights issues) is visited by Ramon Delgado (Paul Marion) who confesses that he’s killed a man involved with his wife. He wants Waring to come with him to the police station and also to look after a key, which all sounds straightforward enough. However, after a thief lifts the key off Waring and Delgado dies in prison under suspicious circumstances, Waring if left wondering if he’s next in line.  

This cheapie mystery/ detective picture falls short of its potential, given Martin’s hard-working screenplay. That said, this later post-war Falcon is intriguing for how it departs from the earlier films. Calvert’s oily panache is more George Hamilton than George Sanders (or sibling surrogate Tom Conway) but the film’s meaner characterizations and Martin’s unpredictable plot ultimately nudge it toward a far darker place.

APPOINTMENT WITH MURDER (1948) Dir: Jack Bernhard

Watling has been hired by an insurance company that’s paid out on the theft and disappearance of two Renaissance paintings. However, the owner and policy holder wants them back and is willing to reimburse the payout if the artworks can be recovered. But there are others who want them, those who may or may not have them, others who believe they were fakes to start with, and still others who end up dead.

In this one, Martin’s ability to tender complicated plotlines that don’t end up chasing their own tails is front-and-center. Though Martin makes some daredevil bets with his storylines, they nearly always pay off and Appointment with Murder comes through big enough.

SEARCH FOR DANGER (1949) Dir: Jack Bernhard

Watling has been hired by club owners, Kirk (Albert Dekker) and Gregory (Ben Weldon) to trace their missing business partner Larry Andrews who’s embezzled $100,000 from the club. He follows Andrews to a cheap hotel in Santa Monica and lets his clients know where their runaway associate can be found. When they brace Andrews, he tells them that Watling has the money. Watling knows nothing about it and when he returns to the motel, he finds Andrews dead. Watling now realizes he’s been set up. The question is why, and by whom?

Martin’s screenplay for Search for Danger is the best of the three Falcon titles featuring Calvert. It’s mind-bendingly complex but every twist and turn comes with its own reward and the ending is a genuine surprise. The series had begun to hit its stride, with Martin as producer and Jack Bernhard (Decoy, 1946; Violence, 1947) in the director’s chair for the second time. Unfortunately, Search for Danger was to be Falcon’s last case.  
DESTINATION MURDER (1950) Dir:  Edward L. Cahn

Co-ed Laura Mansfield (Joyce MacKenzie) sees her father gunned down at the front door by someone in a messenger-boy uniform. She picks ferret-faced Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements, ex-Mr. Gloria Grahame) out of a police line-up, and while she suspects he’s the killer, can’t give a positive identification. Laura, who’s unknown to Jackie, tracks him down and sweet-talks him into revealing his connections: nightclub owner, Armitage (Albert Dekker), and club manager, Stretch Norton (Hurd Hatfield). She then gets herself hired on at the club, to the annoyance of Alice Wentworth (Myrna Dell) who sees her as a rival for the boss’s affection. Nothing is as it seems and Laura begins to understand she’s not in Kansas anymore.

Produced by RKO Studios, the crime thriller was a step up the studio ladder for Martin and he made good with his offbeat and clever original script. Like notorious B noirs such as Night Editor (1946) or The Big Combo (1955), the film dared the censors to get past looking to seeing, something they sometimes failed to do in their basic disregard for the films. Thus we have the sadistic Armitage, who refers to himself only in the third person and who revels in violence while Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ plays at full volume on the pianola; and the felt homoerotic relationship between Armitage and Norton which is revealed as something more when Norton proclaims, “Haven't you heard? I don't like women!” Martin’s story fuses culture, deviance, and brutality in an exhilarating outré B noir style. And while it doesn’t rate with the best of the B’s, Destination Murder does rank among the better.

SHAKEDOWN (1950) Dir: Joseph Pevney

Shutterbug Jack Early (Howard Duff) is desperate to make it big. He’s just fine with watching a man drown or urging a woman to jump from a burning building if it means getting the photos that will land him a job with a major daily. Jack also see advantage in cozying up to local mobsters Nick Palmer (Brian Donlevy) and Harry Colton (Lawrence Tierney) to set one against the other. He blackmails Colton while secretly romancing both Palmer’s wife, Nita (Ann Vernon) along with Ellen Bennett (Peggy Dow), the newspaper’s comely photo editor. Early’s false ambitions leave him with friends turning their backs on him and enemies looking to kill him.

Shakedown (working title: The Magnificent Heel) gave Martin the opportunity for involvement with a major studio (Universal) and a better director, Joe Pevney. The film also aimed to deliver a much bigger emotional punch with the greater emphasis on its main character, one of the most unscrupulous and unsympathetic protagonists in film noir: a self-serving, self-pitying homme fatal unable to be anything but what he is. Martin Goldsmith (Detour, 1945; The Narrow Margin, 1952) wrote the final draft which ended up on the screen as one of the post-war’s period’s most unflinching noirs and the perfect bookend B-title to Billy Wilder’s coruscating Ace in the Hole (1951).  


Mike Nelson (Sidney Chaplin) returns home to the UK from America with a suitcase full of stolen cash. Then his partner, Corey (Patrick Allen), turns up, wanting his share but is killed accidently by Mike’s friend, Alan Pool (Peter Hammond). Tormented by grief, Alan goes to his priest to confess the crime. But Mike, afraid that Alan knows too much, shoots him as he sits the confessional. Scotland Yard investigates and soon enough Mike at the center of the overseas robbery and the killings, though the evidence is circumstantial. Mike doesn't know this, however. The police set a trap, figuring Mike will try ot kill the priest if he’s convincing the Church will allow the clergyman to testify.

The Deadliest Sin aka Confession was the collaboration between Martin (on whose theatrical play the film was based) and British director Ken Hughes (Wicked as They Come, 1956, The Long Haul, 1957). Produced by the UK’s Merton Park Studios, the film’s reach exceeds its no-budget grasp thanks to Hughes’ atmospheric direction, a stellar British cast, and the challenging moral provocations of Martin’s carefully calculated screenplay.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY (1955) Dir:  R. G. Springsteen

Property developer Emmett Devery (John Litel) is being blackmailed by a former business partner, Sam Baggott (Robert Armstrong) and his gold-digging wife, Marge (Gail Robbins). Meantime, Marge is planning something more with her car salesman lover, Jeff Calder (Jack Kelly). It all goes wrong and Devery ends up framed for murder. Devery’s lawyer and son-in-law-to-be, Marc Hill (Rod Cameron) and Devery’s daughter, Barbara (Allison Hayes) work to clear Devery. But with the police treating it as an open-and-shut case, where do they start?      

A late-period title from Republic Studios, Double Jeopardy is the kind of fast-pulsed thriller beloved by film noir fans. It was this kind of story – compact, unpretentious, unpredictable – that Don Martin seemed most eager and well-equipped to tell. While director Springsteen doesn’t provide much visually to get excited about, Martin’s enterprising screenplay and performances by veteran players Tom Powers, Minerva Urecal, John Gallaudet, and Dick Elliot – all of whom appear to be relishing their roles – deserve to get Double Jeopardy taken off lists of ‘overlooked’ noirs.

NO MAN’S WOMAN (1955) Dir:  Franklin Adreon

Carolyn Ellenson-Grant (Marie Windsor), a willful, self-obsessed art dealer has any number of people around her who would happily see her dead: her estranged husband, Harlow Grant (John Archer); Louise, the woman he wants to marry (Nancy Gates); Harlow’s father (Douglas Wood); her gallery assistant, Betty Jill Jarmyn; Betty’s boyfriend, Dick Sawyer (Richard Crane); and art critic, Wayne Vincent (Patrick Knowles). All fall under suspicion after she’s murdered, with her husband the prime suspect. Grant sets out to clear his name because it doesn’t look like the cops are going to make much of an effort to do it for him. But what of the others?

As she did in most of her films, like The Narrow Margin (1952) and The Killing (1956), Marie Windsor plays her part to the hilt and with Carolyn gone by mid-point, No Man’s Woman loses much of its propulsion. We know someone killed her but we don’t really much care ‘whodunit’.  It’s a shame (and a surprise) how soon the air goes out of the balloon here. Martin, who wrote the story, most often would torque the suspense right ‘til the end. Unfortunately, things can happen betwixt and between as movies go through the agonies of birth. No Man’s Woman at least has Marie Windsor and lots of luminously bitchy dialog, both of which make the film worth watching.

THE MAN IS ARMED (1956) Dir: Franklin Adreon

Johnny Morrison (Dane Clark) is released from San Quentin after having taken the fall for his boss, Hackett (William Talman). Johnny wants to go straight but Hackett wants him in on a half-million dollar armored car heist. Meanwhile, detective Dan Coster (Barton MacLane) has Johnny pegged for the death of a fellow truck driver who went off the top of a building the day after Johnny’s release. Truth be told, Johnny’s never had a break in his life and nothing is going to change. His fate is never really in doubt, even though his girl, Carol Wayne (May Wynn) desperately clings to hope. However, Carol’s wishful “love is all you need” won’t come close to saving him. 

With The Man is Armed, Martin is back on form. The story, though dire, is wound tight until the last frame, even though Johnny Morrison is doomed from the first. The part was an ideal one for Dane Clark, a brooding, ill-at-ease actor who often played characters not as tough as they wanted or needed to be. William Talman is almost as terrifying as he was in The Hitchhiker (1953), which really is all  you need to know.

HOT CARS (1956) Dir: Don McDougall

Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) is a used car salesman who’s fired for giving customers the straight goods. He then ends up working for a rival dealer that’s a front for moving stolen cars. Nick plays along because he needs the money to pay for surgery for his infant son. Helping to Nick in line is racket boss Arthur Markle’s (Ralph Clanton) curvaceous blonde girlfriend, Karen Winter (Joi Lansing). When a nosy cop (Dabs Greer) gets too close to the action, Markle kills him, then frames Nick for the murder.

Don Martin’s screenplay for Hot Cars was more than good enough to anchor a bigger budget production with a marquee cast. As it is, the movie is a hugely entertaining crime drama and noir morality tale with Bromfield and Lansing giving starring performances. Lansing was a better actress than she ever had a chance to show and this part is as good for her as she is for it. Plenty of period Los Angeles locations and a heart-pounding finale hoists Hot Cars up with some of the better of the later period noirs.

VIOLENT ROAD (1958) Dir: Howard W. Koch

Mitch Barton (Brian Keith) leads out a truck convoy racing against time to deliver a load of explosive rocket fuel to a new plant after the old facility is mothballed. Avoiding population centers, the convoy must navigate dangerous desert terrain and treacherous mountain roads. Barton’s toughest job is working to keep his crew in line - a bunch of desperate last-chancers, most of whom are their own worst enemy. Barton couldn’t care less about any of them. He only wants the big payout of which he’ll end up earning every cent.

Violent Road is no The Wages of Fear (1953) but then Don Martin never aspired to be Georges Arnaud and Howard W. Koch was no Henri-George Clouzot. Violent Road is a gripping B-actioner from Warner Brothers with a workhorse supporting cast that includes Dick Foran , Arthur Batanides, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Perry Lopez.  Also onboard is Ann Doran as Sarge’s suffering wife and Merry Anders, a not-so-dumb blonde whom Mitch picks up one night, no strings attached. Which is just as well. Mitch is a man’s man who likes to pitch lines like, “I knew a woman once.” and, “I’m not allergic to a buck.” before heading on his way.


After Violent Road, Martin, like many Hollywood writers of the period, took his talents to television, which he’d started into in the early ’50s on a part-time basis. Later he’d contribute teleplays to anthologies like Schlitz Playhouse, Lux Video Theater, and Celebrity Playhouse, the productions starring noir favorites such as Edmond O’Brien, Kent Smith, Arthur Franz, Alexis Smith, Scott Brady, Angela Lansbury, and Howard Duff. 

In 1957, Martin was hired to write for the TV series Official Detective, based on the true crime magazine of the same title (as well as a radio program which ran from 1950 to 1956). The show, riding on the coattails of popular police shows such as Dragnet and M Squad, was hosted by Everett Sloane as the “Official Detective Investigator.” Of available episodes to be seen , several contain Martin’s signature tangled plotlines, notably Hostages, an episode starring Robert Blake as one of a trio of escaped convicts who hold two teenage sisters hostage in a derelict house in downtown Los Angeles. Other Martin-scripted episodes feature an array of noir-stained supporting veterans, including Ted de Corsia, Dabbs Greer, Wayne Morris, John Doucette, and Mike Mazurki, and young gun Mike Connors.

After Official Detective, Martin shifted his attention to Western series, including U.S. Marshal (1958 – 1960) with John Bromfield, The Texan (1958 – 1960) featuring Rory Calhoun, and Bronco (1958 – 1962) starring Ty Hardin. Typically, Martin had come well prepared having earlier written several well-received Westerns: Jacques Tourneur’s Stranger on Horseback (1955) with Joel McCrea, Quincannon, Frontier Scout (1956) starring Tony Martin, The Brass Legend (1956) headlining Hugh O’Brian, and The Storm Rider (1957) with Scott Brady.

Martin was nothing if not versatile, and ranks among the most productive and reliable writers ever to toil in the take-no-prisoners world of Hollywood B-movie and television production. No matter what the genre or the medium, he would forever stay faithful to “the story.” He passed away in Woodland Hills, California, in 1985, at the age of 74.

(A version of this article appeared in Noir City magazine, No. 21, 2017)             

Gary Deane  

Thursday, 6 July 2017


In 1974, the Canadian government of the day tabled legislation allowing 100 per cent of investment in Canadian feature film production to be deducted in calculation of taxable income. The intent of the program, known as the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA), was straightforward. American dominance of the theatrical marketplace had made it all but impossible for Canadian-made feature films to turn a profit or even secure a screen at the local bijou. The tax sheltering was designed to move Canadian feature production beyond its self-limiting cultural and artistic parochialism towards a commercially sustainable footing. The legislation also was structured so as to open up projects to foreign involvement. Therefore, the CCA required that a production need only have a single Canadian producer and limited ‘above the line’ Canadian participation in order to qualify. As a result, caravans of Hollywood producers and stars, many of whom would make out like bandits, high-tailed it North.     

As had been anticipated, the introduction of the CCA was followed by a production boom as well as the hoped-for boost in box-office receipts. In 1974, only three home-grown projects were filmed; at the program’s peak in 1979, the number had increased to seventy-seven. Admittedly, there were some stinkers among these rush-to-production projects: City on Fire (1979), starring Henry Fonda and Ava Gardner; Running (1979), with Michael Douglas and Susan Anspach; and Circle of Two, directed by Jules Dassin, who’d been dragged out of retirement to salvage the laughable love story of a womanizing artist, Richard Burton, and a much younger Tatum O'Neal.

However, more than a few succeeded, both critically and at the box office: Murder by Decree (1979), The Changeling (1980), Atlantic City (1980), Quest for Fire (1980), and two of the highest-earning Canadian movies of all time, the amiably wacko Meatballs (1979) and the progenitor of all teenage gross-out comedies, Porky’s (1981). Also among the winners was Canadian director Daryl Duke’s adrenaline-fueled thriller The Silent Partner (1978), filmed (and set) in Toronto, starring Christopher Plummer, Elliot Gould and Suzanna York, with a spell-binding script by Curtis Hanson (L. A. Confidential, 1997) and restless score by jazz great Oscar Peterson. The movie gave English-Canadian movie audiences, long inured to drab tales of rural and small town hardship, something to get excited about.

In French-speaking Quebec, things happened differently. Quebec cinema was firmly rooted in the province’s Francophone culture and audiences welcomed seeing their heritage and everyday stories reflected on screen. It also was possible for Quebec-made films to be successful without exposure beyond the province’s borders. However, producer Denis Heroux (Atlantic City, Quest for Fire) had ambitions for bigger and more commercial projects. The first of them was a Canadian/ French co-production, L’homme en colère, an atmospheric noir thriller set in Montreal and featuring an international cast, including Lino Ventura, Angie Dickinson and Donald Pleasance.

Ventura, the gravel-voiced French actor who specialized in stoic tough guys working on either side of the law plays an Air France pilot, Romain Dupré, whose wife dies in a forest fire while his young son, Julien, manages to escape. Years later, after father and son have become estranged, Julien immigrates to Montreal where he becomes involved in dope peddling and the smuggling of illegals across the Canada/ US border. Notified by authorities that Julien has been killed in a shootout with police, Dupré flies to Montreal to identify the corpse. It turns out not to be that of Julien but a crony who had lifted his passport and assumed his identity. His son is now on the run and Dupré commits to help find him. The search turns deadly as Dupré runs afoul of the Quebec mob with whom Julien had been involved. Along the way, Dupré encounters Karen (Dickinson), an ex-pat American working as a waitress in Montreal who is drawn into the hunt. Donald Pleasance creeps around as a go-between who’s looking for both Julien and a suitcase full of the mob’s money that’s disappeared with him.

Director Claude Pinoteau and the much-venerated Ventura (who has his own French postage stamp) made four films together, three of them noirish policiers: Les Silencieux (1973), L’homme en colère, and La septième cible (1984). L’homme en colère flaunts its mixed-production parentage, an amalgam of Eurocrime splashiness, bare-bones Canadian realism, and the grit and unsparing violence of signature American crime dramas of the period such as Across 110th Street (1972) or The Nickel Ride (1974). In L’homme en colère, a roused Dupré makes his way through a sleazy world of mob-controlled clubs and discos, seedy boxing gyms (Julien worked as a sparring partner), drug arcades and shooting galleries, and fleabag walk-ups. However, Montreal, can’t help being Montreal, long the most style-conscious city in North America, its streets full of boho hippy fashionistas and mod bistros done up in beads and burnished Naugahyde. It’s the ‘70’s and there’s no way around it.

There also is no way around Angie Dickinson in L’homme en colère, who at age 48 is as beautiful and as sexual a presence as ever. Though Dickinson’s virtues as an actress were not those of a major star, she was an assured performer who featured for over five decades in films and on TV.  In the ‘50’s, she was memorable as ‘Feathers’, a flirtatious saloon girl in the classic western Rio Bravo (1959); in the ‘60’s, Dickinson was in full bloom as Frank Sinatra’s wife in Oceans 11 (1960), and then as cast alongside Lee Marvin in The Killers (1964) in a role that anticipated the remote and brittle femme fatale she’d play in the existential thriller Point Blank (1967). In the 70’s, she broke age barriers as a libidinous teacher in Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), a lusty bank robber in Big Bad Mama (1974), and a sexy undercover cop, Pepper Anderson, in Police Woman, a series which ran from 1974 to 1979. Dickinson reveled in the character that made her a household name by eschewing the sex kitten compliancy of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield in favor of parts more in-line with her real-life, one-of-the-guys persona. As she said in a 2010 interview, “If you’re only trading on your looks and your body, that’s only going to go so far. But that was never me. I was always about the whole package”.

No one understood this better than the French. Both The Killers and Point Blank when first released were better received in France than at home - as was Dickinson who’d garner more expansive coverage and praise for her performances. French director Roger Vadim insisted on her for the role in Pretty Maids, ignoring the list of actresses proffered by the studio and choosing Dickinson whom he thought “was someone who looks like she likes men”.  In L’homme en colère, Dickinson likes Lino Ventura, though their relationship takes time to develop. It’s not clear for much of the first half of the film what Dickinson’s relationship is to Ventura, or to the story itself. Dupré first encounters Karen as a result of a car accident and then again just as incidentally. In the course of conversation, she tells him that nearly everything she’s said about herself is a lie and owns up to being an ex-con who spent two years in a US prison. When she asks if he wants to know why, he says, “No”. He knows little about her and nor do we. Karen disappears from the film for a time as Dupré resumes his search for Julien. But we’re ready for her return. Karen is a marked noir heroine, worn down but not worn out and holding out cautious hope. Dupré seeks her out after being beaten half-to-death by mob thugs, in an attempt to persuade him to surrender his son. Karen and Dupré now share too much. They’re in it together.

Still, Dupré resists any easy intimacy. As he gets on a train to meet up with his son, Karen says, “I don’t think you’re the type to kiss a woman on a platform before a train leaves”. Dupré, again, says “No” but this time embraces and kisses her with a fury. This scene proved difficult for Ventura, a profoundly moral man who had never kissed a woman on-screen, both out of personal modesty and respect for his wife and children. This time though he made an exception. Dickinson said that on the first take he grabbed and kissed her to the point of asphyxiation. It took several more tries before Ventura relaxed enough to proffer a more sensual kiss, all with the willing participation of Dickinson.

Ventura is his usual dominating persona in L’homme en colère, though it’s more dependent on physicality than acting skills, in greater evidence in French noir touchstones such as Touchez-pas au grisbi (1954), Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) and Classe tous risques (1960). However, like Robert Mitchum, Ventura only had to show up to give an indelible performance. Ventura’s peasant strength provides an anchoring counterpoint to Dickinson’s vulnerability and need.

L’homme en colère is a harsh and hectic crime thriller but one with a beating heart. Though it refers to American crime dramas of the early ‘70’s, it’s also evokes French policiers and Italian poliziotteschi of the time, due in part to the film’s being set in Montreal and its distinctive international milieu. Only French jazz composer Claude Bolling’s mawkish score and the film’s fabricated ending bring it down a level.
As for the CCA, it came to an end in 1982. Too many of the films failed to find distribution, being derivative efforts indistinguishable from US productions just as badly made. However, like the British quota system of the 1930s, which resulted in sub-standard output but also nurtured Alfred Hitchcock and Alexander Korda, the CCA gave rise to the beginnings of a dynamic Canadian film and television industry. It also gave us L’homme en colère and The Silent Partner, two certifiable Canadian film noirs, something one might reasonably have thought to be an oxymoron. Vive le film noir, vive le Canada.

(A version of this article appeared in Issue No. 21 of NOIR CITY magazine)

Gary Deane


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