Tuesday, August 04, 2009


An alternate title for this almost interesting B-melodrama, possibly inspired by THE PETRIFIED FOREST, could be "Everybody Comes to Autotopia." The narrative covers one 12-hour period, from roughly noon to midnight, at a gas station/diner/motel (called Autotopia) in the middle of the desert. The place is run by an older married couple, their daughters Ann Revere (who has a little son) and the teenaged Gale Storm (pictured), and hired hand Billie Seward. Truck driver William Haade stops in to flirt with Seward, and gas station attendant Dick Hogan is sweet on Storm. We find out later that Revere’s husband is in prison in Duluth on armed robbery charges, though he is awaiting a parole decision. It seems that the usual high point of their day is when the bus makes its scheduled fueling stop and a passel of passengers come rolling in for burgers. Today, they get a few more adventures than usual. First, a female passenger faints and is given a room; it turns out she’s pregnant and on her way to San Diego to see her sailor husband. Then a down-on-his-luck elixir salesman (J. M. Kerrigan) gets a flat tire and asks for a room while his car is being fixed. Then Revere’s husband (Paul Guilfoyle) shows up, fresh from a jailbreak, trying to get the goods on the crooks who framed him. Then two cops show up to stay the night with an AWOL sailor (Charles Lang) who by bizarre coincidence is the pregnant woman's husband. Finally, two gangsters take a room, and guess what? They're the guys Guilfoyle is trying to track down. All these plot lines plus a few more criss-cross before getting resolved. Given the film's title and short length, you would think this would all move along quickly, but the pace is sluggish until the last 15 minutes. It generally holds your attention, though the top-billed actors, Seward and Haade, are non-entities (although Haade has over 100 roles listed on IMDb, mostly in B-westerns and often uncredited). My favorite line: Kerrigan pouring his (alcoholic) elixir into a glass of soda pop, watching it bubble over, and saying smugly to Gale Storm, "Knowledge is power." [TCM]

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