Wednesday, May 04, 2016

THE BRIBE (1949)

Robert Taylor is a federal agent visiting the town of Carlota on a Central American island, hoping to break up a war surplus smuggling ring. His chief suspects are a sultry club singer (Ava Gardner) and her husband (John Hodiak), an alcoholic war vet with a heart problem who can't keep a job. Taylor himself seems to be under surveillance by a slovenly and sweaty low-life (Charles Laughton) who eventually offers him $10,000 to leave the island.  The owner of a Peruvian mine (Vincent Price) with whom Taylor arrived on the island shows up on occasion, and while Taylor is on his fishing boat, Price engineers it so Taylor takes a spill into shark-infested waters. Boat hand Emilio saves him, but Emilio winds up eaten by a shark. Emilio's father offers to help, and tells Taylor that: 1) Hodiak, Gardner and Laughton are all involved in the smuggling and 2) Price is actually the brains of the ring. Now Taylor has to struggle with his conscience as he's fallen in love with Gardner.

Film noir in look if not in details, this is a slow-moving crime tale which benefits from a mildly exotic setting and a slam-bang ending which plays out against a nighttime fireworks display. Taylor, whom I rarely find appealing, is at his most wooden and artificial here, and though Gardner tries hard, there is zero chemistry between the two. Often when the leads are inadequate, I can find some positives in the supporting cast, but not so much here. Laughton (pictured behind Gardner) is usually reliable, hamming it up if he thinks he's slumming, but here he can't even bring himself to show any real interest in his character. Price is a little better, but his role is fairly small. Hodiak, an actor I'm not crazy about, is pretty good as a guy who's basically given up on life when the movie begins, and goes downhill from there. The noir elements are mostly visual, though Gardner's character is a kind of half-hearted femme fatale. It has its moments but overall, not recommended. [TCM]

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