Friday, May 8, 2009

Target #54: Armoured Car Robbery (1950, Richard Fleischer)

Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Robert Leeds(story), Robert Angus (story), Earl Felton (screenplay), Gerald Drayson Adams (screenplay)
Starring: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman, Douglas Fowley, Steve Brodie, Don McGuire, James Flavin

Most noir enthusiasts would, I'm sure, agree that the modern heist thriller was basically born with John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950). But it wasn't alone for long. Just one month after its release, Richard Fleischer released his own heist flick, a low-budget B-movie with no star power (unless you count supporting player Charles McGraw, who was no stranger to film noir – see Roadblock (1951)). With its very brief running-time, Armoured Car Robbery (1950) strips away all unnecessary fat, leaving hardly a moment to draw breath as the gang of thieves execute a brilliant heist, before losing out to the authorities, all in 67 minutes. The one classic crime element we're denied is the preparation for the heist itself. When the four co-conspirators first approached the intended site of attack, I thought that they were going through a trial-run as part of their planning, but, no, they went straight for the hit. As such, most of the film is concerned with how their "perfect" heist unravels, like a ball of yarn with a trailing thread.

The film's low-budget is readily seen in its production values. Rather than the shadowy, stylised noir photography with which we're most familiar, cinematographer Guy Roe instead opts for a documentary-style realism. The performances also reflect this approach, though there are some some strong actors in the mix. William Talman, as Dave Purvis, is a classic criminal mastermind, a calculating genius who engineers every movement to the nearest second. Square-jawed McGraw, whom I maintain is a dead ringer for Kirk Douglas, is also excellent as tough cop Cordell, who's eager to dish out retribution for the death of his long-time partner (James Flavin). Icy dame Adele Jergens plays an alluring exotic dancer, though her role in the film is mostly passive. A swift and blunt piece of storytelling, Armoured Car Robbery lives up to its matter-of- fact title, not putting anything new on the table, but utilising its resources well. The ending, with thousands of dollars in notes flittering across an airport runway, seems to have inspired Kubrick in The Killing (1956).

Currently my #12 film of 1950:
3) Harvey (Henry Koster)
4) In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray) *
5) Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger) *
6) Destination Moon (Irving Pichel)
7) All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
8) The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston) *
9) Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan) *
10) Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
11) Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa)
12) Armoured Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer) *

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