Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Commercial artist Aldo Ray is in downtown Los Angeles seeming a bit paranoid when he's chatted up near the bus station by James Gregory—we soon find out Ray has good reason to be paranoid: Gregory is an insurance investigator who's been trailing Ray, thinking he's got some missing bank heist money. But it's not Gregory that Ray is afraid of, it's the two tough guys (stoic Brian Keith and sadistic Rudy Bond) who actually stole the money, lost it, and now think Ray has it. Later that evening, Ray is approached in a bar by Anne Bancroft, a fashion model who’s lost her purse and needs Ray to pay for her drink. The two hit it off, but when they leave the bar, Keith and Bond show up and abduct Ray. Ray thinks Bancroft set him up (which she didn't), and Bancroft thinks the men are cops (which they aren't). Ray is taken to an oil derrick, beat up and interrogated, and when he keeps claiming he doesn't have the money, they threaten to tie him down and let the oil pump kill him. Ray manages to escape, finds Bancroft, and goes on the run. Flashbacks fill us in on Ray's backstory: he and a buddy (Frank Albertson) were camping in snowy Wyoming, and got accidently tangled up bank robbers Keith and Bond. Bond killed Albertson and shot Ray, leaving him for dead. He also took the wrong satchel and when Ray returns to consciousness, he grabbed the money but lost it in the snow, where it remains. Back in the present, they all wind up in Wyoming where Gregory, believing Ray's story, helps him and Bancroft look for the cash, with Keith and Bond in hot pursuit.

This is an interesting film noir with a handful of standout features. The first half has that traditional noir look, with lots of shadowy nighttime city streets, but the climax plays out in sunny, snowy hills, not your typical noir setting. The flashbacks are unconventional, presented piecemeal through the first two-thirds of the story. It's not completely clear, but Ray seems to have a memory problem in the beginning, so the fragmented backstory may be reflecting his own dawning realization of what’s going on—the memory thing feels like something that was present in a first draft of the screenplay but largely removed by the time filming started. Gruff, beefy Ray plays against type, not only because he's an artist, but also because he is largely a passive physical presence who reacts to the threat of violence like most average people would; not in a blustery, "bring it on" way but more in a "hey, buddy, don’t hurt me" way, not exactly cowering, but not confrontational. It's fun to see Keith, who I know mostly as kindly Uncle Bill in the 60s TV show Family Affair, as a bad guy. Bond, an actor I was unfamiliar with, does a nice job as a hair-trigger sadist psycho—Keith is able to keep him under control, but just barely. The chemistry between the rough-hewn Ray and the smooth Bancroft (both pictured above) works nicely. At one point, she murmurs to him, "You’re the most wanted man I know." The climax, involving a runaway snowplow, conjures up images of the climax of the Coen Brothers' FARGO (though we don’t see any blood or gore in this film). [DVD]

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