Blu-Ray Review: A Life At Stake (1955).

Directed by Paul Guilfoyle
Produced by Hank McCune
Screenplay by Russ Bender
From a story ideas by Hank McCune
Director Of Photography: Ted Allan
Film Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music by Les Baxter

Cast: Angela Lansbury (Doris Hillman), Keith Andes (Edward Shaw), Douglass Dumbrille (Gus Hillman), Claudia Barrett (Madge Neilan), Jane Darwell (Landlady), Gavin Gordon (Sam Pearson), Charles Maxwell Lt. Hoff), William Henry (Myles Norman)


Between my two blogs, I’ve said this about a thousand times (and I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it) — it makes my heart feel good to see low-budget movies get the high-end treatment on DVD and (especially) Blu-Ray. One of the companies making these happen is The Film Detective, and their new Blu-Ray of A Life At Stake (1955) joins their growing (and very interesting) list of great-looking pictures.

A Life At Stake (1955) is an independent mini-noir starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes and Douglass Dumbrille. It was shot in about a week in 1954, then it sat for nine months or so before finally making it to theaters. This delay explains why a 1955 release is still in the 1.37 aspect ratio.

Andes is a down-on-his-luck architect who ends up part of a life insurance caper cooked up by a wealthy couple (Lansbury and Dumbrille). They take out a hefty policy on Andes as part of a large development project, then plan his lucrative demise. (Her first husband croaked off under kinda shifty circumstances and with a nice insurance payoff.) As you’d expect, once Andes finds out about all this, he’s not in favor of it.

Of course, life insurance thing may sound like a riff on Double Indemnity (1944), which I’m sure it is, but writer Russ Bender steers clear of obvious imitation and his ending is a bit of a surprise.

Angela Lansbury is lovely and diabolical as the femme fatale. Her career was in a bit of a lull here, not too long after she left MGM. After years of making movies there, the budget and schedule for A Life At Stake must’ve been quite a shock. She did A Lawless Street (1955) at Columbia not long after this. 

Keith Andes is pretty good as the sap who gets involved with people he shouldn’t, namely Lansbury. He was a stage, radio and movie actor. He appeared in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) at RKO, then like a lot of others at that studio, went a long time between pictures, which might’ve hurt his career’s momentum. He wound up at Universal International where he was in pictures like Pillars Of The Sky and Away All Boats (both 1956).

Douglass Dumbrille is, of course, Douglass Dumbrille, and that’s about as good as it gets. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time here. The great Jane Darwell — from Ford’s The Grapes Of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953) — plays Andes’s landlady. She’s always a treat.

The picture’s director was character actor Paul Guilfoyle. He only directed three features, but did quite a few TV shows. As an actor, he’s the guy in the trunk in White Heat (1949).

By the way, Lansbury’s crazy-looking convertible is a 1954 Kaiser Darrin. They had fiberglass bodies and pocket doors. Only 435 production cars were built.

The Film Detective has done a terrific job with A Life At Stake. It looks and sounds quite nice, with a few blemishes (and perhaps some warping) that happily remind us we’re watching an old movie. With something like this, you have to work with what you can track. In this case, they gave it a 4K restoration. Les Baxter’s score has a nice range.

You can always count on The Film Detective for an extra or two (or three). There’s a commentary and essay from “film noir scholar and critic” Jason Ney, along with a short documentary on The Filmmakers, Ida Lupino’s production company that had a hand in A Life At Stake. All are top notch.

There was a film at stake, a pretty good one, and The Film Detective came through. Recommended.


Filed under 1955, Douglass Dumbrille, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

7 responses to “Blu-Ray Review: A Life At Stake (1955).

  1. Boppa

    The Kaiser Darrin was Clark Kent’s car on The Adventures of Superman.


  2. john k

    I like to support Film Detective releases but I’m not too sure about this one.
    I’m afraid the two leads do nothing for me,but then again that’s just me.
    I do get a kick,however of seeing poverty row films get stunning
    restorations like Warner’s recent releases of I WOULDN’T BE IN
    Our friend Laura has mentioned that Flicker Alley are prepping a
    John Reinhardt/Don Castle double bill of THE GUILTY/HIGH TIDE.
    John Reinhardt if he is remembered at all, would be for several ultra
    low budget Noirs and the same could be said for his troubled star
    Don Castle. Castle had a frailty which made him ideal for Noir.
    THE GUILTY is more cruel and mean spirited than the duo’s other Noirs,
    both together and separate, the mean streets are ultra mean in this
    one and the shabby tenement apartments are even meaner. It’s the
    sort of film where a body is conveniently disposed of down a garbage
    shute and in spite of the distaste the viewer really knows they have been
    through something after watching this one.
    HIGH TIDE is even rarer; watchable versions of this title have been impossible to find so a new scrubbed up version should be a real treat.
    This Flicker Alley release and the Warner Archive one should help
    the reputations of Reinhardt and Castle grow further and that’s a good
    Finally,how can any Noir fan not look at the screengrabs for I WOULD’NT
    BE IN YOUR SHOES at DVD Beaver and not think how can I live without
    this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. john k

    The problem is I just don’t see Lansbury as a Femme Fatale.
    I would be far more attracted to this film if any number of great B Movie
    actresses had the female lead;for example………………………..
    Susan Cabot,Faith Domergue,Mala Powers,Marie Blanchard,Coleen Gray,
    Gloria Talbott,Mara Corday; I’d have jumped at this release if any of those
    gals were involved.
    BTW,Laura has just announced Warner Archive have a Val Lewton
    double bill in October BEDLAM/THE GHOST SHIP more Boris in
    high def is always great news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m right there with you, John. Or I was till I saw the movie. She impressed me. Pulled it off quite well, I thought.

      You left Marie Windsor off your list.

      Ghost Ship and Bedlam will be terrific. Can’t wait!


  4. john k

    I see A LIFE AT STAKE has got an OK review over at Cinesavant
    but a rave review over at DVD Beaver so 2 out of 3 swings the deal
    I really cannot resist these poverty row flicks getting the 5 star treatment.
    The GHOST SHIP/BEDLAM artwork is wonderful.

    Yep! Marie was a major oversight.


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