The Allied Artists Blogathon: Cry Vengeance (1954) By Guest Blogger John Knight.

Cry Vengeance OSDirected by Mark Stevens
Written by Warren Douglas and George Bricker
Starring Mark Stevens, Martha Hyer, Skip Homeier, Joan Vohs, Douglas Kennedy, Don Haggerty, Cheryl Callaway, Warren Douglas, Mort Mills, John Doucette

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This is an entry in The Allied Artists Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s rich and varied output.

The writer/producer team of Warren Douglas and Lindsley Parsons made some interesting Westerns and Noirs for Allied Artists in the Fifties. Their impressive roster includes Jack Slade (1953), Loophole (1954), Finger Man (1955), The Come On (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957).

Douglas was a B Movie lead actor who became a screenwriter, later working on many classic TV Western series. Cry Vengeance is a follow up to the stark Jack Slade, which was a surprise hit for Allied Artists. This time, Jack Slade’s leading man, Mark Stevens, also directs.

s-l1600-2Stevens plays ex-cop Vic Barron, just released after three years in San Quentin, having been framed by the mob with a hoard of “dirty money.” Worse still, the car bomb intended for Stevens killed his wife and daughter — and left Stevens with half his face blown away.

Upon release, Stevens buys a gun and heads for Ketchikan, Alaska, where his intended quarry (Douglas Kennedy) now resides. Ex-mobster Kennedy is now a respected member of the small Alaskan community.

In an unexpected plot twist Stevens actually bonds with Kennedy’s young daughter (Cheryl Callaway). On their first encounter, the child asks, “Does your face hurt?” “Sometimes,” is Stevens’ terse reply. In a chilling scene Stevens gives the child a bullet — a present for her father. Stevens clearly intends to make Kennedy sweat before he moves in for the kill.

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Stevens plays his part with unblinking intensity and gets great performances from his cast. Standouts are Skip Homeier as a sadistic hit man and Joan Vohs as his abused, alcoholic girlfriend. There’s a great scene where an already-sozzled Vohs enters a bar and asks for a tumbler full of whiskey.

imageLovers of the work of Don Siegel will find much to enjoy in this film. The way it’s shot and cut, the feel for the location and sense of community — these are constant reminders of elements in Siegel’s later work. The scene where Homeier casually skims a stone across a lake after dispatching one of his victims is a pure “Siegel” moment. I’m not saying anyone influenced anyone — these are merely observations or miscellaneous musings (thanks, Laura :)), if you will. Homeier’s Roxey seems to prefigure the bad guys in later Siegel films who are by turns florid, psychotic or misogynistic — or in the case of Homeier and Joe Don Baker in Charley Varrick (1973), all three!

It’s great fun to compare Homeier’s performance to those in Siegel’s wonderful version of The Killers (1964), in which Siegel artfully contrasts Lee Marvin’s hardboiled stoicism with Clu Gulager’s fidgety scene-stealing antics.

This abrasive revenge thriller is available on DVD or Blu Ray from Olive Films.

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19 Comments

Filed under 1954, Don Siegel, Olive Films

19 responses to “The Allied Artists Blogathon: Cry Vengeance (1954) By Guest Blogger John Knight.

  1. Jerry Entract

    Great choice, John! I have yet to see this film but it sounds terrific. My order for the Olive Films release will be fifthwith!!
    The film has a great cast and Stevens was at the height of his artistic powers at this time. Seems to me he played a large part in speeding-up the move towards darker, more brutal films at that time yet films that were not brutal for their own sake, not gratuitous.

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  2. I watched this film a few weeks back and found it very impressive indeed. The cast is uniformly solid and the Alaskan location work adds a lot to the experience.
    It’s Stevens’ movie all the way though – his direction is smooth and tight, and moves at pace. His performance too is hypnotic; he’s more or less unhinged for long stretches, so much so that you find it hard to feel sympathy for him – especially when it reaches that point of passing on the bullet. He does redeem himself though and the moment when he realizes what he’s been preparing to do and the hollowness of revenge is very poignant and touching. An excellent film.

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  3. john k

    Thanks guys,
    Jerry, you will not regret “splashing the cash” on this one.

    Colin,glad you too admire this film.
    I thought Homeier was sensational in this one. It’s a shame he
    never got the opportunity to play more roles in that style.

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    • Homeier is excellent in a showy part – really unpleasant and sociopathic. I don’t think anyone gave a poor performance and all had chances to shine, Ms Vohs, Mort Mills, Hyer and Kennedy etc.

      Like

  4. Jerry Entract

    OK guys, you sold me!

    Like

  5. john k

    Colin-thanks for giving Joan Vohs a mention.
    She had few movie lead credits but did extensive TV work.
    According to imdb she turned down “dumb blonde” type roles….
    good for her!
    In contrast to her work in CRY VENGEANCE I liked her role in
    FORT YUMA where she played a do-gooder missionary who finally,
    in a typical Selander ironic twist, accepts the need to kill.
    I keep getting on Laura’s case for making FORT YUMA her “clunker”
    of the year recently 🙂
    Possibly Joan’s best known role was in the Sam Katzman 3D special
    FORT TI.
    We have talked much recently about the “last gasp” B crime thrillers
    Republic made in their final days. Joan made one called TERROR
    AT MIDNIGHT with Scott Brady and it sounds really good.

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  6. Jerry Entract

    I have that one, John. It’s not half bad.

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  7. The Olive Films DVD has been sitting in my “watch” stack, John, and your review certainly interests me. I love the idea of location filming in Alaska! Stevens was a special talent who should be better remembered. The echoes that you see in later work from Siegel are interesting. (Incidentally, I was reminded a few days ago that Siegel’s son, Kristoffer Tabori, directs a lot for TV, such as Hallmark TV-movies…kind of the opposite of his dad’s material!)

    Given the fact that I also just enjoyed DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE from this production team, I’m looking forward to this even more. Thanks for a great review. (And for the shout-out! LOL.)

    PS I might have to try FORT YUMA again one day just to make sure I wasn’t in a bad mood when I watched it (grin!).

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    Like

  8. john k

    Many thanks Laura,
    I’m only teasing about FORT YUMA it’s certainly
    not everyone’s cup of tea.
    It was Kristoffer Tabori who suggested to his father
    that Andy Robinson play “Scorpio” in DIRTY HARRY.
    This was of course Andy’s breakthrough role.
    Interestingly on the extras on the German Blu Ray of
    Charley Varrick there is an interesting interview with
    Andy Robinson.
    He loved Siegel but did not at all like his co-star Joe Don
    Baker. The scene where Baker really roughs him up in the
    caravan was really tough for Andy to endure. It took all night to
    film.

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  9. Hi John,

    That’s very interesting about Andrew Robinson! When I was a teenager I saw him up close in a stage production of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, starring James Whitmore — who coincidentally stars in an Allied Artists film Kristina just wrote about at Speakeasy, FACE OF FIRE. That theater production would have been around a decade after DIRTY HARRY.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    • john k

      Hi Laura,
      Many thanks for the Andy Robinson feedback.
      Kristina certainly gets the” AA Blogathon Award” for choosing
      the most obscure and little known AA picture….well done!

      Like

  10. Nice! I need to watch this soon, enjoy Siegel movies and Stevens was so good, yet another of many underrated talents. Great post.

    Like

  11. ross

    I got it through interlibrary loan a little while ago and I’m sorry to say I was bored with the film and couldn’t get through it. I liked the locations and the acting but it didn’t grab me.

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  12. Nick Beal

    Definitely concur with the largely positive views here regarding CRY VENGEANCE. If I was being hyper-critical I would say that Mark Stevens performance was a little ‘one-note’ but I’ll settle for ‘remorseless’ and the Alaskan locations give this picture quite literally a breath of fresh air. Good as it is CRY VENGEANCE IMO pales into insignificance when compared to
    Steven’s work in Forties Noirs such THE DARK CORNER and THE STREET WITH NO NAME but there is another self-directed effort that gives
    these two stellar Noirs a run for their money and that is TIMETABLE from 1956. With sterling support from uber-babe Felicia Farr (was there a more beautiful woman in pictures?), Stevens scores a ten in the duplicity stakes
    as a dodgy insurance investigator on the make and ultimately on the run in Old Mexico. To repeat the often repeated phrase: This one really needs a proper DVD/Blu-Ray release. There is an Alpha DVD of this one but it’s an abomination even by their low standards.
    Thanks to John and our host Toby for continuing to highlight the work of
    intriguing second-stringers such as Mark Stevens.

    Like

  13. john k

    Hi Nick,
    Good to see you here.
    Only watched THE STREET WITH NO NAME last week.
    A cracking Fox Noir and Stevens more or less at the top of his game.
    In the mid Sixties Fox showed the film in a double bill at the Rialto
    cinema in London’s West End. They paired it with THE GUNFIGHTER
    and called it “the greatest action double bill ever”
    On all the press ads Richard Widmark’s name was above Stevens’
    and in much bigger type. Round about the same time Stevens made
    one final film for Fox a “cameo” role in FATE IS THE HUNTER.
    Totally agree about TIMETABLE and I hope Kino Lorber can give
    this film the re-issue it deserves.
    I still feel uneasy about seeing lovely Felicia on the wrong side
    of the law. Still her role in TIMETABLE is not as harrowing as the
    evil nurse role she played in BIG HOUSE USA.

    Like

  14. Blake Lucas

    I remember this movie and liked it quite a bit back when I saw it–and was much as you describe.

    Mark Stevens is interesting–very grim or intriguingly inward or both seem to be the registers in which he excels (so, he’s just right for a “Jack Slade” or “The Dark Corner” but I can’t imagine him being a lot of fun in a comedy) and this role falls in that line and so does the mood of the movie so good for him to direct. I don’t know his directing as well as his acting but I remember him doing right by this in all aspects.

    I was interested to read further comments, especially Nick on “Timetable.” That’s one I haven’t seen but i responded pretty strongly to his description of Felicia Farr as “uber-babe”–and for me “3:10 to Yuma” alone would have clinched that.

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    • john k

      Thanks Blake,
      On the aforementioned CHARLEY VARRICK I enjoyed seeing
      an older but still lovely Felicia in the sack with Walter Matthau.
      TIMETABLE is great and I think has a higher reputation
      among Noir fans than CRY VENGEANCE.
      A lighter Stevens film is LITTLE EGYPT where he is paired
      with Rhonda Fleming (an uber babe if ever there was one.)
      Rhonda never looked more ravishing than she does in this film.
      Sadly the film is nigh impossible to track down in decent quality
      and I’d buy a Universal Vault version in a heartbeat.

      Like

  15. Nick Beal

    This may not be precisely the right context but I never tire of 3:10 TO YUMA
    (not the 2007 version obviously, in itself a metaphor for how far movies have declined) and Blake’s comment about Felicia Farr in YUMA immediately brought to mind the brief, memorable and utterly poignant encounter in the deserted saloon between Farr and Glenn Ford. Surely one of the most beautiful love scenes in any kind of picture from any, era let alone the Western. Exquisitely acted and directed this scene in particular is a master class in subtlety and is truly ‘adult’ in the correct sense of the term. The intensity of the emotion is underplayed and understated and brings to mind a
    line from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST : “Make believe it’s nothing”.
    I’ve always felt that Delmer Daves and his co-creators were channelling something ancient, even Pagan, when making this picture. Both the female protagonists are symbolically damaged: Farr’s Saloon Girl (a ‘coded’ prostitute) is consumptive and Leora Dana’s ‘Earth Mother’ (an often overlooked yet essential part of the plot) both find redemption either directly or indirectly through their encounter with Ford’s Mephistophelean gunman.
    However, for me the core of the movie is how Ford provokes Van Heflin’s
    farmer into undertaking a heroic quest, all the time tempting him with fear of
    a lonely death against overwhelming odds or the lure of easy money.
    The final scene is the clincher. Heflin and Ford are aboard the train and suddenly it starts to rain… It has to be remembered that YUMA unfolds against the background of a catastrophic drought. The land has dried up and so, both metaphorically and literally, has the fertility of the the people. At one point Leora Dana’s character looks meaningfully at her husband and says “If only we weren’t so tired all the time”. As the final credits roll Dana’s Alice Evans exults as the open plains around her are drenched in a life-giving deluge and Heflin and Ford ride on the rails to Yuma (with Ford looking sublimely indifferent to his fate). Just as in the ancient myths of many cultures, particularly the Arthurian cycle which has its roots in the fertility cults of pre-history, the heroic journey of the simple Knight (Heflin) restores the fertility to the land and the ‘King’ (in this case Ford’s Ben Wade) is the symbolic sacrifice. Or maybe it’s just a good Western.

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  16. john k

    Awesome write up on the Daves classic Nick.
    The Carlotta France Blu Ray was my top release of 2015,
    the best high def black & white transfer that I have ever seen
    The Felicia Western nobody talks about is George Sherman’s
    vastly underrated HELL BENT FOR LEATHER…my all time fave
    Audie Murphy Western. She is wonderful in this film.

    Like

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