Monday, September 28, 2009

Bonus Noir: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947, Felix E. Feist)

Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Robert C. DuSoe (novel), Felix E. Feist (writer)
Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford, Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 2 only]

By all accounts, Lawrence Tierney was one mean customer. He got his break in Hollywood playing the titular gangster in Dillinger (1945), and its success saw him typecast as the ultimate bad-guy. In Felix Feist's The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), Tierney gives a powerhouse performance as Steve Morgan, a scheming fugitive who hitches a ride with law-abiding salesman Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North). As a short, sharp low-budget thriller, the film has plenty to recommend, any weaknesses early on compensated for by a mounting air of tension that you could cut with a knife. Steve Morgan is a riveting character from the moment he appears on screen. For one, he's not afraid to speak his mind, even insulting the appearance of the gas station attendant's (Glen Vernon) baby daughter. When Morgan propositions a virginal runaway (Nan Leslie), his flattering advances sound more like threats than complements. Only fellow hitchhiker Agnes Smith (Betty Lawford) can rival his hardness, a callous tramp looking out for herself.

Given the B-movie budget, the other performances as about as good as one could expect. Ted North is almost too amiable as the main character, constantly appearing smitten by the mere thought of his pretty wife. Betty Lawford is good, playing her role precisely as Claire Trevor might have – incidentally, Tierney would co-star with Trevor that same year in Born to Kill (1947). Harry Shannon's San Diego police chief inhabits the quaint universe of B-movie law enforcement, playing poker between phonecalls and recruiting an enthusiastic boy-scout gas station attendant to come along for the ride. These idiosyncracies come with the territory, I suppose – very few low-budget noirs are without the occasional weak performance or dubious plot turn. More damning is that Steve Morgan is denied an ending that befits his mighty presence, the film cutting to the next scene without allowing his fate to sink in. At least the meagre finances allow greater freedom for risk-taking: certainly, no big-budget studio picture would have delegated the young, innocent beauty to lie face-down in a lagoon.

Currently my #10 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed)
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves)
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles)
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel)
8) The Web (Michael Gordon)
9) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
10) The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix E. Feist)


ratatouille's archives said...

Hi! Andrew,
Andrew said, “More damning is that Steve Morgan is denied an ending that befits his mighty presence, the film cutting to the next scene without allowing his fate to sink in.”

I agree with you wholeheartedly, I think that actor Lawrence Tierney, end (death) should have been in the same way that actor James Cagney's character(s) life ended in the films White Heat, (1949) Public Enemy, (1931)or Angel with Dirty Faces. (1938)

His death in this film should have been more like a "canon fire," instead of, ending like a "firecracker."

Nevertheless, in the end it is a very interesting low budget "B"film that I do own and rewatched recently.

By the way, this film was recently screened at the Roxie Theatre (In their salute to "B" films that are film noirs.) here in California.

Andrew, once again…what an interesting review of the 1947 film "The Devil Thumbs A Ride."

Thanks, for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

ackatsis said...

You're absolutely right, DeeDee.
If anybody could have done with a "Look Ma, Top of the World!" style ending, it was Steve Morgan!

Thanks, as always, for dropping by and leaving your thoughts,

Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

The Devil Thumbs a Ride

Take a look at what I found over there on eBay.

By the way,I wonder if the asking price is to low for this lobby card?!?...I think that I'am going to watch this rare item in order to find out the final bid.

DeeDee ;-D

Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

Oops! I used the wrong word...I meant to say "cannon fire.."
...and not canon.