Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 1, 1949
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)