Wednesday, November 24, 2021


During World War II, Ma Dibson seems to live a quiet life in a suburban home, in a town that has become an embarkation point for military men, but actually she is the head of a family of small-time crooks who steal the wallets of drunk sailors and soldiers. Her lazy, passive son Posey and teenage daughter Rosalie do what they can, but most successful are Ma's oldest son Lefty, who has just come home from a stretch in prison for armed robbery, and her sexy daughter-in-law Jessie who gets a little more intimate with the servicemen. (Lefty dismissively greets his wife with, "You back to the dime-a-dance grind?"; her sneering reply, "Somebody has to pay the rent.") The local cops are aware of their activities but have had a hard time pinning anything on them. Lt. Lorrigan even tries to put Lefty on the straight and narrow by offering him a job in a dairy, but Lefty has other ideas, and begins planning to hold up a bar owner when he makes his night deposit. When the military threatens to declare the town off limits to its soldiers, Lt. Lorrigan comes up with a plan to crack down on the Dibsons by marking cash with fluorescent paint that's invisible under normal conditions but glows under ultraviolet light. Between that and the night deposit robbery gone wrong, our outlaw family is soon in big trouble.

This hour-long B-crime movie is basically wartime propaganda, warning men of the military away from potential thieves, something that really was a problem on the homefront. With the exception of the hardened Lefty (Tom Trout), the other family members seem quite casual about their activities. Though we never actually see Jessie head back to a serviceman's room for some slap and tickle--all the robbing is done in a bar when the soldiers are a little drunk--I assume that she wasn't above more intimate activity. More interestingly, Posey (Dan Duryea) seems ripe for further development; he's not played as gay, exactly, but he is weak and passive, matching gay stereotypes of the time, and I wondered if he ever rolled a sailor up in his room. This is the first film role for Audrey Totter who would become a film noir icon, and she's quite good, though not as hard and steely as she would be in later movies like TENSION. Selena Royale, who usually played sweet sacrificing mothers, is fine as the hardened ma who still worries about her crook kids. Edward Arnold is the cop, and he often seems like he wandered in from a different movie, relaxed and confident versus the tense and occasionally bumbling Dibsons. In the end, we're left with an observation from Arnold along the lines of, why can't criminals just make an honest living? Pictured are Trout and Totter. [TCM]

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