Saturday, June 26, 2010


The Slattery of the title is played by Richard Widmark; he's a pilot who, during the war, single-handedly shot down a number of Japanese forces during a battle, saving many Americans, including his buddy John Russell. However, because his actions couldn't be officially verified, he was never recognized as a hero. Years later, Widmark is working in Miami as a private pilot for the shady boss of a candy company, flying him on drug smuggling trips, and he is carrying on an affair with the boss's secretary (Veronica Lake), who has become an addict. When Widmark runs into Russell, he starts an affair with Russell's wife (Linda Darnell) who was an old flame of Widmark's. Things start to fall apart when the smuggling candy-maker dies of a heart attack, Lake collapses and needs rehab, and Russell takes to drinking. In the middle of a hurricane which may be heading toward Miami, Russell, who works for the Weather Service, gets a call to fly into the eye to gather important information on the hurricane's path. Because Russell is drunk and could get court-martialed, Widmark knocks him out and takes his place, using his own un-stormworthy plane. Did I mention that the Navy suddenly decided it had the evidence it needed to belatedly award Widmark the Navy Cross?

This heavily plotted melodrama, co-written and later novelized by Herman Wouk, is more complex than the above summary shows, as the bulk of the story is told in flashback, with many of the details emerging slowly over the film’s running time; the movie begins with Widmark flying into the hurricane, and as his plane is battered about, he remembers the past events of his life. The scenes of the storm are impressive, and the acting is generally good. Widmark is fine as usual, Russell is as handsome and stoic as he needs to be, and Darnell, never a critic's darling, is solid, though Lake is rather lifeless, which makes the revelation that she's a hophead especially surprising. Gary Merrill appears in one of his first credited film roles. Despite being made during the Production Code years, the movie seems unusually lax in its moral messages: no bones are made of Widmark and Lake's relationship (I had assumed for the first part of the film that they were married), nor of Widmark and Darnell's; the drug addiction aspect of the plot, a fairly strict no-no under the Code, is somewhat veiled for a while (the viewer has to catch the word "pharmacopsychosis" on a diagnosis pad to figure out why Lake collapses) though we do see Widmark find a package of heroin on his dead boss. Most surprisingly, no one really "pays" for his or her bad behavior; in fact, the ending is rather too nicely wrapped up considering all the mess that's gone before. Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes for fans of melodrama. [FMC]

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