Friday, September 26, 2014


Jack Diamond, a good-looking young buck looking for easy money, and his tubercular brother Eddie are adrift in 1920s New York City when they see an attempted jewel robbery in which the crooks are gunned down on the street. Jack decides to try that theft for himself, so he picks up a young dance instructor named Alice who becomes an unwitting accomplice in the crime. He manages to snag the jewels but is caught and sent to jail. A year later, free on parole, he gest Alice to find him a job, but soon dumps her and, fascinated with the thug life, goes to Miami to try to work for famous gangster Arnold Rothstein; though Rothstein likes Jack's cockiness, he doesn't hire him, but lesser mobster Augie does. When Jack and Augie become the victims of a shootout, Auggie dies and Jack, even though he had three bullets in him, survives, leading him to believe that he's invulnerable. Indeed, after Rothstein takes him on as a collector (and nicknames him "Legs") and he rises in his criminal career, he survives other attempts on his life. When Rothstein is killed, Jack is cut out by the other bosses and he goes on a destructive spree. He gets back together with Alice, but it's clear he doesn't care about her and is just using her. Eventually, when his brother becomes too much of a liability, he cuts him loose, and by the end, when Jack is on the run from a new crime syndicate that considers him a liability, he has no one to turn to for help.

This B-budget crime thriller has some good things going for it: glossy black & white cinematography by Lucien Ballard, a nice period feel, and a strong central performance by Ray Danton as Legs, who looks good with a constant snarl on his face. The film is a bit of a throwback to the Warner Bros. gangster movies of the early 30s in that the lead character is not sympathetic at all—he's basically a slick, handsome and dangerous sociopath, though he's not as vile as James Cagney was in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (or as Al Pacino would be in the 80s SCARFACE). It's pointed out more than once that Jack doesn't love anyone, and that winds up being his downfall as, by the end, he's alienated everyone who might have been able to help him. Karen Steele, an actress I was unfamiliar with, is good as Alice—in the beginning, she seems a little weak but as her character grows, so does her performance. Good support is given by Jesse White (TV’s Maytag repairman) as a gangster, Robert Lowery as Rothstein, Warren Oates as Eddie, a character who should have been developed more, Sid Melton as the obnoxiously giggly Auggie, and Simon Oakland in a thankless cop role. The first half-hour, as Jack goes from nobody to somebody, is quite fun, especially the sequence of the failed jewel heist; the rest is inevitably a bit downhill but it's worth seeing. [TCM]

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