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Written by / 7/08/2016 / No comments / , ,

DOUBLE NOIR VEHICLE OF 'THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT' & 'ROADBLOCK'

Roadblock YEAR: 1951
ROADBLOCK: Charles McGraw usually plays a cop with a gritty, no-nonsense, straitlaced exterior. That's the real McGraw. And yet he's not always so predictable: For instance, when ROADBLOCK starts out, he's playing someone else entirely in order to get what he's after – it's the best part of the entire film, so why spoil it...

Insurance Detective "Honest" Joe (another Joe with a nickname) Peters strays from the straight-and-narrow, and it's because of a dame... no shock there...

Usually the man has to melt the stone-cold female but in this case, Jean Dixon's Diane has a trick up her sleeve, pretending to be Joe's wife to get half price on a plane seat – and not telling him until they're in flight. She has to basically, and not so easily, seduce this granite mug with her lovely full lips like Gene Tierney held together by a gorgeous face all her own. And it's a matter of time, seeming longer than it actually is, that these two are a match – a criminal duo.

Year Released:**1/2
A pretty good movie but not a truly great Film Noir as it stretches the guilt device as far as it will go, and beyond. McGraw's character has second thoughts on pulling off "the perfect score" while on a particular case, thinking he needs money to land this particular woman that didn't bat at eye, earlier on, at his cop's meager salary. Suddenly, though, for no reason whatsoever, she gets nice and doesn't care how much he makes. This is good news for him but destroys an interesting character we've grown to enjoy, and who'd created the story before our very eyes in the first place. Plus, the robbery he set in motion cannot be undone. So what follows is a decent amount of suspense as the score, by reports from his radio during their rural honeymoon, is pulled off, and here's when things hit a wall...

The main problem with ROADBLOCK is the guy who turns out being the hero. Joe's old partner Kendall Webb, played by a sturdy-eyed Lowell Gilmore, isn't the person you'll want to root for, or enjoy playing cat to the proverbial mouse in a vulnerable anti-hero McGraw eventually becomes, who did try to do the right thing but couldn't get out: so when the clock's running, and the title becomes clear. And being a Film Noir, crime doesn't ever pay. But in this case, and in film's like, for example, THE PROWLER and a handful of others, you might want the "bad guy" to actually win, especially if a sore winning go-gooder is dogging their heels.

Foreign Poster looks more Casablanca
THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT: An early Noir that, like many a Humphrey Bogart vehicle, inspired the genre, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT doesn't belong to Bogart really at all, playing a sidekick, at best...

Alas, this should have been his first starring vehicle as the capable yet sometimes drowsy George Raft plays his older brother, a truck driving tough guy who thinks on his toes and never falls asleep at the wheel, unintentionally hypnotizing two beauties – a tall waitress and a rich man's trophy wife – as if he didn't resemble a pygmy hobo...

Then again, James Cagney and even Bogie himself weren't exactly Clark Gable types, making the dames dizzy without trying very hard... It just too far fetched here, and Raft doesn't even seem to be in the same movie most of the time. Not only that but the story – another of several (to come) A.I. Bezzerides adaptations dealing with the struggle of the working class trucker against the big bad companies – detours into a dizzy romantic triangle with murder thrown in, taking away from the adventurous plight of the two male leads right when it was getting good and as their job was becoming second-hand knowledge for the audience, feeling their hardship as truck driving underdogs.

Year Released: 1940 MOVIE SCORE: ***
There's a bit too much GRAPES OF WRATH moping where the characters only talk about their desperation without enjoying any peripheral humor or an escape from the long ride, so what should be a character-driven piece is too plot-heavy and preachy. Raft, though, while not a perfect romantic lead, is the best thing the movie has going. His narrowed yet grinning, knowing and world-weary eyes seem as if they were part of the road we hear about more than experience...

The best scenes involve his wheeling and dealing with independent dealers while Bogart stands nervously behind. It's too bad murder, which does actually catapult this into the Film Noir Melodrama category with gusto when the second act veers into the third, and Raft gets higher up in the company owned by Alan Hale's happy drunk rich guy with a lustful trophy wife in Ida Lupino, who takes the proverbial baton and runs with it – not only is she smitten, but is willing to throw everything away for her dream man, and, for better or worse, you'll forget all about the plight of the working man once she's in the spotlight.

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