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MERRY ANDERS WITH JOHNNY DESMOND 1957 DOUBLE-FEATURE

Merry Anders with villain Richard Devon in ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN Year: 1957 Rating: ****1/2

ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN: More a legit film noir than the b-crime programmer it otherwise seems from the action-faring, plot-describing title, which can mislead viewers into thinking ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN centers more on high-octane breakout bedlam than dialogue-driven suspense with a side dish of gun-wielding intrigue since all the usual hackneyed prison devices are absent, including makeshift underground tunnels, irritable guards, a Fascist warden and put-upon convicts tapping dire/urgent messages along the walls...

Instead, the rudimentary setting is a work farm not a prison; and it's one man's occupation, or in this case, previous skill that makes real life crooner Johnny Desmond a lucrative player for his hardened convict and cellmate "buddy" Richard Devon, whose tough lifer character, Roy, unlike Johnny's Mike who has only two years left, goads him into flying a small plane to freedom in what's ultimately a much too simple escape, especially for the movie to be named after: the duo headed to the same town where Roy buried a bag of loot...

Merry Anders and Johnny Desmond in ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN

The good guy's no-good wife, who wants nothing to do with her convict husband, has a younger sister in Merry Anders' girl-next-door, Robbie, with a lifelong crush on her brother-in-law. She alone turns out being used and abused by the film's progressively desperate and vile heavy, Devon's Roy, in order to keep his sidekick from ratting out and ruining the whole plan: One that entails far more than picking up a load of hidden cash – surrounded by a group of backstabbing thugs, Roy didn't steal that money by himself, but he alone buried it...

Eventually there are far too many cooks here, making ESCAPE a bit too crowded. Meanwhile, Merry Andrews stands out as pretty and vulnerable and Johnny Desmond (singing just one tune while lounging in prison) has an easygoing and laidback aura; that is, until the end when his wild-eyed expressions channels old Warner Bros gangster flicks...

Merry Anders and Richard Devon in ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN

Either way it's his vicious cellmate and overall orchestrator, Devon, in over his head with the assembly of even more last-minute troubles (cops this time, and semi-kidnapped Mexican lawyer Victor Millan), and who not only carries the picture but is the only person carried by the plot he's responsible for. Plus, his anti-chemistry with our token distressed-damsel far exceeds her more brotherly than romantic connection with the hero...

And despite spending more time outside the work farm than inside, b-director Fred F. Sears' ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN has a great first act behind bars, with terrific devil-temping dialogue between good convict and bad... feeling like a short movie in itself: one that truly stars buried lead/stock heavy Richard Devon, the only character who really needs something and who returns in another B-Picture — directed by Roger Corman titled WAR OF THE SATELLITES.

Merry Anders and Johnny Desmond in ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN
Merry Anders and Johnny Desmond in ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN with Richard Devon
Richard Devon and Johnny Desmond in Escape from San Quentin

Title: CALYPSO HEAT WAVE Year: 1957 Rating: ***1/2

CALYPSO HEAT WAVE: The first feature pairing singer/actor Johnny Desmond with starlet Merry Anders before the crime thriller ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN was CALYPSO HEAT WAVE, more befitting Desmond being about the music business (albeit he sings calypso here instead of popular ballads)...

And recently, anyone who saw veteran icon Alan Arkin serenade his Pandemic fans might not know, he's wasn't merely an actor who could sing but a bonafide former musician/singer who, a decade after playing with his band The Tarriers during the11th hour gig that everything leads to, had an extremely soulful voice...

Michael Granger in Calypso Heat Wave with Meg Myles

Yet the most important character is the villain: like deadly convict Richard Devon not only stole but completely controlled ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN, it's Italian mobster-looking character-actor Michael Granger, playing the crooked (albeit in a goofy over-the-top fashion) owner of a monopolizing jukebox company that will only back (or play) certain artists and, basically, without him no one has a chance... especially Desmond's Johnny Conroy, whose career might vanish before it begins...

Meanwhile, Merry Anders plays the perfect-woman record company assistant, and sometimes seems she could be the perfect girlfriend for singer Desmond, only she's dating the friendly yet beguiled owner of a more honest record studio compared to the bad guy...

Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave

And had jukebox-selling villain Granger's Barney Peel been a gangster, and this film led to a criminal robbery or getaway instead of a concert, it'd be what it almost is anyhow: a lightweight yet sometimes suspenseful calypso exploitation that also features the first live performance by Maya Angelou along with a young and energetic, extremely hard-working music company employee Joel Grey... 

Who has a huge crush on the villain's floozy-moll Meg Myles, whose would-be music career winds up meaning more than the surrounding legitimate acts — all being promoted by this low-budget Fred S. Sears programmer. 

Meg Myles and Joel Grey in Calypso Heat Wave
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Merry Anders in Calypso Heat Wave
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Merry Anders in Calypso Heat Wave
Meg Myles in Calypso Heat Wave
Meg Myles and Joel Grey in Calypso Heat Wave
Merry Anders and Paul Langdon in Calypso Heat Wave
Merry Anders and Paul Langton in Calypso Heat Wave
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Paul Langton in Calypso Heat Wave
Meg Myles and Joel Grey in Calypso Heat Wave
Meg Myles and Joel Grey in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Paul Langton in Calypso Heat Wave
Joel Grey and Paul Langton in Calypso Heat Wave
Alan Arkin in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Paul Langton in Calypso Heat Wave with Michael Granger
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Meg Myles and Joel Grey in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Meg Myles in Calypso Heat Wave
Michael Granger and Meg Myles in Calypso Heat Wave with Joel Grey
Alan Arkin and The Tarriers in Calypso Heat Wave
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin
Richard Devon and William Bryant in Escape from San Quentin
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Victor Millan & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Johnny Desmond
Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Victor Millan & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with  Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon in Escape from San Quentin with Merry Anders & Johnny Desmond
Richard Devon and Merry Anders in Escape from San Quentin
Richard Devon and Merry Anders in Escape from San Quentin with Johnny Desmond and Victor Millan

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