Friday, August 28, 2009

SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955)

I DVR'd this film I'd never heard of and almost erased it without watching it, but I'm glad I didn't because it turned out to be a great little character-driven anti-Commie B-film (not quite a noir, but close). The entire film takes place at a grungy little seaside diner owned by Keenan Wynn. The help staff consists of pretty, young waitress Terry Moore and craggy, rough-and-tumble cook Lee Marvin (the character's nickname is Slob). Marvin takes a lot of crap for being stupid, but we soon discover he's smarter than he looks: he's collecting atomic secrets from the nearby research university and selling them to an unseen big boss. There are a handful of frequent visitors to the diner: Wynn's war buddy Whit Bissell, who has a shell-shock problem; a fisherman who is a member of Marvin's ring; two easy-going poultry salesmen who aren't quite what they seem; and a physics professor from the university (Frank Lovejoy) who has the hots for Moore (and who also isn't quite what he seems). I don't want to ruin the twists and turns in the enjoyable plot except to say that there are guns and fisticuffs and snappy dialogue, and a satisfying ending.

The film feels very much like a play with everything happening on one set, the diner, with a handful of scenes outside on and near the beach, and though the direction is nothing special, the writing and performances are top-notch. The young Marvin (pictured above) is the best of the batch; occasionally he seems in danger of going comically over the top, but he never quite does; his character can switch on a dime between brooding violence and comic self-deprecation. It's a more interesting and nuanced performance than most of his later roles. Wynn is in love with Terry (though he knows he doesn't have a chance), but his homosocial bonds with both Marvin (with whom he engages in some amusing competitive shirtless weight-lifting) and Bissell are unusually strong. Lovejoy gets a good love scene with Moore--he quizzes her on her upcoming civil servant exam between kisses--though for most of the movie, he doesn't get a chance to do much except keep us wondering which side he's on. A surprisingly good unheralded B-flick. [TCM]

1 comment:

Jim said...

Wish I'd caught this one!