Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in December, 1959
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Written by Charles Ellis
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Richard Coogan, Brad Dexter, Barry Atwater, Carol Nugent, Frank Gerstle, Joseph Sullivan, Chris Alcaide, Nestor Paiva, Jeanne Bates, Mushy Callahan, John Dehner (narrator)
Syndicate Owned Sin-Center Smashed! Besides needing to add more titles to the ‘V’ section of my film index, I was intrigued by that tag line—a sin-center?—and the fact that cheesecake model Mamie Van Doren was starring in a crime thriller focusing on…you guessed it, cheesecake models (or more specifically, ‘public relations girls’, if you get their drift). Adding to the intrigue was the sight of noir veteran Brad Dexter in the cast list, playing the part of a racketeer. And then, when I saw it clocked in at a swift 71 minutes, I knew I’d found the perfect way to end a lazy Saturday night.
The boss of an unnamed New York crime syndicate, whose ‘dirty tentacles reach into every dark and corrupt corner of the country’, is having trouble with the local cops, and asks the Detroit office to send him a girl with both a bod and a brain. The idea is to use the girl to frame a particularly pesky police detective; the bait, of course, is Miss Van Doren, in all her curvy, blonde-bombshell glory. And everything goes according to plan, but when Doren’s innocent kid sister is manhandled by one of the mob goons, she’s determined to switch allegiance and help the good guys bust the syndicate.
Though it did offer some lurid appeal to noir fans, and boasted the star power of Dexter in a typically suave but oily part, Vice Raid still couldn’t quite escape its B-movie trappings; this was most evident in its lack of production value and the pedestrian direction of Edward L. Cahn, whose closest—and apparently only—foray into noir territory had been 1950’s Destination Murder. And though I did get a kick out of how seamy it all was for a late-’50s movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the look and quality of a TV crime show of the era, such as The Detectives or M Squad.
So here’s the big question: should Vice Raid be classified as film noir, or something else entirely? Both IMDb and Wikipedia call it a crime drama, but it is mentioned in a few of my noir guides, so if you ask me, I’d say it straddles the line: there was nothing at all noir-like about Cahn’s direction, and the story offered no private detectives, chump heroes, or dark, rain-slicked locales to at least give it some context. But Doren’s character made for a passable femme fatale, and Dexter’s mob boss was straight out of a noir textbook, so perhaps I’ll give it some slack and call it ‘minor league‘ noir.
But is it worth a look? Sure, why not…it’s a quick watch, I enjoyed the performances of Dexter and Frank Gerstle, who played the police captain (and should’ve played the lead role over Richard Coogan, in my opinion), and Doren is at least easy on the eyes, if not so easy on her acting. And how does it fare on my Ten Rules of Film Noir list? A solid 6 out of 10, which alone should qualify it for noir membership, but with no trains, flashbacks, or sour endings in sight, and the fact that the thugs punched like sissies, it ends up teetering right on the noir edge. But if you’re like me, and have free time to kill on a weekend night, it sure beats reruns of Three’s Company. (5/10)