Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Undertow

Cinema Monolith: 8/10
IMDb: 6.6/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: **½ out of 4

Released on December 1, 1949
Not rated
71 minutes

Directed by William Castle

Written by Arthur T. Horman and Lee Loeb

Cast: Scott Brady, John Russell, Dorothy Hart, Peggy Dow, Bruce Bennett, Gregg Martell, Robert Anderson, Daniel Ferniel, Charles Sherlock, Franklyn Farnum, Marjorie Bennett, Rock ‘Roc’ Hudson

One of the many things I love about film noir is how the small, unheralded noir films quite often pack just as big a punch as their more popular, higher-budgeted counterparts. These rarely seen, off-the-radar gems are a blast to watch, especially if you’re a fan of noir, and can appreciate their use of noir techniques and themes, and the efforts of the cast and crew to deliver a film worthy of the style. I’ve found quite a few of these over the years (such as Follow Me Quietly, Quicksand, and Hell Bound), and now I’ve discovered another: the aptly named Undertow.

Scott Brady plays Tony Reagan, a man returning to the States from a stint in the military, who simply wants to settle down at a mountain lodge outside of Reno and live the quiet life. But like a rip current’s undertow, Reagan is soon helplessly pulled under by his past: when he returns to Chicago to pick up his fiancée, he suddenly finds himself framed for the murder of his former syndicate boss…who is also the uncle of his bride-to-be. Will he be able to clear his name before the mob, the cops, or even his friends put a bullet in him?

What I thought was great about all this was, you have no idea where any of it is leading; who is this guy, and why was he framed? And most importantly, who are the bad guys? This started out looking like a straight 1940s drama…then it became a crime drama…then, a crime melodrama. Then suddenly, out of the blue, it shifted into nothing but pure noir: a guy on the lam, shadows and light and rain-soaked streets, a femme fatale who takes you by surprise, some double crosses, and a fun pair of reveals I was somehow oblivious to.

All of which was brought to you by the skilled noir hand of…schlock horror director William Castle? Yes indeed, and believe it or not, he’d already directed a number of crime thrillers and noir films before this one. And though I’d seen Brady in a few other noirs, I think I liked his performance here the most; it seemed very straightforward and real, and fit his character well. Also providing quality work were a handful of familiar faces in supporting roles, including one of my new faves, John Russell, who seemed equally at home in these early noir films as he did in his later Westerns. As for newcomer Peggy Dow…well, I thought she was quite enchanting, and about as down-home adorable as one could get.

How obscure a title is Undertow? Well, it isn’t listed at all in my copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, or the Film Noir Encyclopedia, or noir king Eddie Muller’s Dark City, and it only appears in an appendix at the tail end of Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir. But don’t let that stop you; if you enjoy noir films a much as I do, I really think it’s worth checking out. In fact, I’ll even help you: click here to watch the HD version on YouTube. And if you do watch, let me know if you, like me, wanted to punch that damn nosy landlady right in the throat!  (8/10)

25 comments on “Undertow

  1. Dracula
    11/4/18

    I like the link to the movie on YouTube since you never know when it will be shown on TCM or AMC.

    • Todd B
      11/4/18

      The Monolith is a full-service operation, and is available 24/7 for all your cinematic needs.

  2. geelw
    11/5/18

    Hmmm. I could almost swear I’d seen this decades ago (as in… the 70’s, argh!) on some local network channel. I also recall seeing The Window and a few other noirs, maybe on that same channel. You kind of never knew what to expect outside of what was advertised in the paper’s TV section back then…

    • Todd B
      11/7/18

      That channel sounds like a good one! Maybe someday there will be a channel devoted entirely to noir…at which point I’ll subscribe to cable again. And oddly enough, I’ve never seen The Window, though I’ve always wanted to; for whatever reason, I’ve never been able to find it anywhere, cable or otherwise (of course, I could always buy it, but who wants to do that?).

      • geelw
        11/7/18

        Oh, you HAVE to see The Window if only for the whole riff on The Boy Who Cried Wolf and poor Bobby Driscoll getting put through the wringer. TCM runs it these days, so feel free to haunt someone near you who has cable.

      • Todd B
        11/8/18

        I’ll see if I can find any hauntable people in the area and give this thing a look. Of course, it might be more entertaining if this movie wasn’t more a riff on The Boy Who Cried WEREwolf, but you can’t have everything.

  3. Good to see a new post Todd and hitting the noir. Sweet run-time and big respects for the nudge to YT. Sounds like a perfect watch for a school night! I’ll be back when I watch it soon. Also made note of Follow Me Quietly and Hell Bound. I think I have Quicksand, though not seen it yet. Will keep an eye out for Peggy Dow 🙂

    • Doh! of course I’ve seen Quicksand that’s the ace Mickey Rooney film you put me onto and I did a post. Sometimes I’m as much a schmuck as the guys in the movies! Going into Undertow now.

      • Todd B
        11/7/18

        D’oh, indeed! But I have to admit, that ‘sometimes I’m as much a schmuck as the guys in the movies’ line really really cracked me up.

      • LOL 🙂

    • Todd B
      11/7/18

      Thanks, Wolfey! Let me know if you watch those other two…and if you’ve never seen The Narrow Margin, that’s a B-noir classic definitely worth checking out as well (I watched it again for the hundredth time last night). And Quicksand? I don’t remember you EVER seeing that one! 😉

      • I have seen The Narrow Margin Todd, from your recommendation some time back. I have a few films that I hold back from my monthly round ups that I really want to do a post on. The NM is one such film. It’s been a while, sounds like a good excuse to revisit it. I was hooked right from the dark lit stairs at the beginning when they go up to get their package! Then it all goes crazy. Yep I need to rewatch.

      • Todd B
        11/11/18

        That entire opening scene is such pure noir; you could condense it to just the ‘descending the stairway’ bit, and you could teach an entire noir class on that moment alone. I’ll have to review it soon…I’ve seen it so many times, I could probably do it from memory.

  4. I really enjoyed that Todd. Thanks for the heads up. I’d give it an 8 too. Yep Peggy sure was sweet. John Russell had some killer cheek chesils! Scott Brady was a superb leading man, some camera shots I thought he had a slight Brando look. And man oh man you wouldn’t wanna be on the receiving end of man mountain Gene! I liked the fact that you never see uncle. An excellent find buddy, cheers.

    • Todd B
      11/7/18

      Hey Mikey, cool that you watched it! And glad you liked it, too…that Peggy is quite the dish, isn’t she? And yeah, watch you don’t cut yourself on Russell’s jawline! I thought he had a great look for a cinema cowboy, especially in Yellow Sky, but his noir parts weren’t that bad, either. I just found out he had a small, early role in The Dark Corner, so I’ll have to give that another look and see where he is.

      • Oh I didn’t notice him in The Dark Corner. Superb noir that one. Really enjoyed that. Esp William Bendix. … I see that the JAW stars in Hell Bound you recommended. Off to try track that one down.

      • Todd B
        11/11/18

        Hell Bound has what I think is a very well done ending…IF they’d only tweaked it just a little bit (if you see it, I’ll let you know what I’m talking about). The visuals at the end are cool, too. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere free, but it’s available as a MOD disc from MGM, which I’m very tempted to grab off eBay.

      • I will hopefully find a copy to watch soon. Look forward to chatting about that end with you when I do. Cheers Todd

      • Todd B
        11/15/18

        I haven’t been able to find it (ahem) ‘to borrow’ anywhere on-line, yet. If I do, I’ll let you know!

  5. Julie Dunning
    11/6/18

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Todd B
      11/7/18

      And three smileys back! Thanks, Julie!

  6. Oh BTW I randomly put on a film White Fire (1954) on YT at the weekend and our man from Undertow, Scott Brady was the lead. He comes over to the UK and gets himself in a right pickle. It’s a great twisting mystery with some cockney slang thrown in for good measure. I’m definitely gonna do a post on it soon.

    The brightness contrast is up too high and blasts the faces out at times but worth pursuing with it I thought. (if you haven’t seen it that is) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vu83jQZMbs

    • Todd B
      11/11/18

      I haven’t seen this one, but I did see it was on YouTube when I was searching for small noirs and crime films to watch. I can’t remember why I skipped over this one…it might’ve been the picture quality problem that you mentioned. But because of you recommendation, I’ll grab it and give it a look (and thanks for the link). I didn’t know it was a British noir, either…looking forward to that slang!

      • Yeah it can put you off at first as the faces are brighten out a fair bit but you do get used to it. It really twists and turns it way through the streets of London. I really enjoyed it.

      • Todd B
        11/15/18

        Cool, Mikey…I’ve got it saved, and I’ll give it a look. Who knows, I may even review the darn thing!

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Review Totals

Movies Reviewed: 219

From the Monolith: 123

Movies by Decade

1920s – 0
1930s – 6
1940s – 19
1950s – 34
1960s – 34
1970s – 35
1980s – 33
1990s – 5
2000s – 13
2010s – 40

Movies by Genre

Action/Adventure – 40
Comedy – 35
Crime – 20
Documentary – 4
Drama – 23
Horror – 38
Musical – 1
Mystery/Thriller – 19
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Western – 8

Movies by CM Rating

10 star – 10
9 star – 27
8 star – 35
7 star – 31
6 star – 22
5 star – 21
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3 star – 18
2 star – 17
1 star – 12
0 star – 3

Movies by MPAA Rating

Pre-1968 – 88
G – 1
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R – 57
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