Hartford, Connecticut. By the way, Devil Take Us (1955) is an Oscar-nominated documentary short shot by the great Floyd Crosby.
Category Archives: Bel-Air
Directed by Abby Berlin
Produced by James T. Vaughn
Screen play by Lee Berman & Charles S. Belden
Story by Don McGuire
Director Of Photography: Frank Redman
Film Editor: Robert Swink
Music by Michel Michelet
Cast: Marie Windsor (Terry Miller), Richard Denning (Buzz Doyle), Taylor Holmes (Corpus Mills), Fay Baker (Lilli Sebastian), James Griffith (Walter Karns), Carleton Young (Reno Sebastian), Tom Browne Henry (Sheriff L.G. Morelli), Paul E. Burns, Walter Burke, Frank Felton
This is an entry in The Marie Windsor Blogathon, a celebration of the actress’s life and work.
Bel-Air Productions cranked out some terrific little movies in the 1950s, such as the B crime pictures Big House U.S.A. (1955) and Hot Cars (1956). The very first Bel-Air film was Double Deal (1950), released by RKO Radio Pictures. It was the first time Marie Windsor received top billing.
Double Deal concerns oil wells, the extremely dysfunctional Sebastian family, gambling, a monkey and murder.
Richard Denning is Buzz Doyle, an engineer who steps off the bus just as the Sebastian family squabble turns deadly. (Have you noticed how many noir pictures open with a guy getting off a bus in some strange town?) Marie Windsor is Terry Miller, a nice girl who takes a shine to Buzz, inherits an oil well and ends up a murder suspect. Fay Baker is a conniving hag who doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as she gets what she wants. Taylor Holmes is an attorney and “walking gin mill.” And James Griffith is a slimeball who runs a crooked dice table.
Double Deal is a cheap little mini-noir that gets almost everything right. It was shot in nine days on the RKO lot, and the completed picture runs just 65 minutes. There’s a whole lot of story packed into that 65 minutes, from a couple murders, lots of wildcatting for oil and a truckload of double crosses.
Throughout the picture, Fay Baker and James Griffith are perfectly despicable, while Richard Denning is completely likable (at one point, Kevin McCarthy was up for the part, which would’ve been his movie debut).
Marie Windsor is charming, cool and beautiful — whether she’s all dolled up for a night on the town or wearing jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap and a smudge of oil on her cheek. 1950 was a busy year for Windsor: Dakota Lil, The Showdown, Frenchie and Double Deal. Each was for a different studio — Fox, Republic, Universal International and RKO, respectively.
Director Abby Berlin was on Broadway and vaudeville as half of a comedy team with Ken Brown. He headed to Hollywood and worked as an assistant director, until he got the chance to direct with Leave It To Blondie (1945). He directed a number of the Blondie movies and quite a bit of TV before passing away in 1954.
The story for Double Deal came from Don McQuire. He had an interesting career, from acting in Armored Car Robbery (1950, the same year as Double Deal) to directing The Delicate Delinquent (1957) to supplying the story for Tootsie (1982). Screenwriter Charles S. Belden has a story credit on both Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) and House Of Wax (1953). He also wrote some Charlie Chan and Hopalong Cassidy pictures.
Director Of Photography Frank Redman spent the 40s and early 50s at RKO. He shot a lot of Falcon, Saint and Dick Tracy pictures. Leaving RKO, he went to TV, where he stayed plenty busy. He shot over a hundred episodes of Perry Mason, among other things. His work on Double Deal is nothing flashy, looking like so many other RKO pictures from the period.
Double Deal is not classic film noir. It’s no Narrow Margin (1952). And it was certainly done on the cheap — the crew on the oil well is limited to Denning, Windsor and Paul Burns. But I wish there were a hundred movies around just like it — cheap, short and cool.
Directed by Don McDougall
Produced by Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Don Martin & Richard Landau
Based on a novel by H. Haile Chace
Photography by William Margulies
Edited by George A. Gittens, ACE
Music by Les Baxter
John Bromfield (Nick Dunn), Joi Lansing (Karen Winter), Mark Dana (Smiley Ward), Carol Shannon (Jane Dunn), Markel (Arthur Markel), Dabbs Greer (Detective Davenport)
Every once in a while, you need a 50s crime picture. Nothing else will do. I recently landed on Hot Cars (1956), a Bel-Air picture produced by Howard W. Koch. Look at that poster — the title, the cast, Joi Lansing as a “stop-at-nothing blonde,” the guy falling off the rollercoaster. Consider that it was shot mostly on location around Santa Monica and it’s only 60 minutes long, and you just know it’s gonna be great.
Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) and his wife Jane (Carol Shannon) are in a bad way financially when their son gets sick and needs an operation, so against his better judgement (and to their quick regret), Nick takes a job at a used car lot run by Markel (Ralph Clanton), Karen (Joi Lansing) and their sinister flunky Smiley Ward (Mark Dana).
They turn out to be a pretty shifty bunch — they’re selling the hot cars of the title, and before you know it, a cop looking into the operation (Dabbs Greer) turns up dead. I probably don’t need to mention that Karen puts the moves on Nick — and that he’s suspecting of rubbing out the cop.
The big finish takes place on the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica, with some great POV stuff on the old attraction as Nick and Smiley duke it out. The picture’s location shooting is probably its strong suit, featuring a couple of cool Culver City car dealers (Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s) and Jack’s At The Beach, a Santa Monica restaurant near POP that you might recognize from The Rockford Files.
Koch and Bel-Air excelled at these low-budget, lurid little crime pictures — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House USA (1955), Three Bad Sisters (1956), Untamed Youth (1957, with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran!) and so on. A few of my favorite 50s movies came from Bel-Air.
John Bromfield made quite a few cool B movies, stuff like The Black Dakotas (1954) and Revenge Of The Creature (1955). He starred in the TV series The Sheriff Of Cochise, which was also called US Marshal. He retired in 1960 when the show was cancelled and became a commercial fisherman. He’s quite good in Hot Cars, appearing in about every scene. Joi Lansing does what’ she normally does in movies like this — stand around and look sultry. She’s really good at it.
Director Don McDougall stayed plenty busy doing TV, from the 50s well into the 80s. Lots of cool shows, from The Roy Rogers Show to Bonanza and from M Squad to The Night Stalker. He also did the Star Trek episode “The Squire Of Gothos.” Hot Cars is one of only a handful of features he directed, and while it’s nothing flashy, he and DP William Margulies avoid the studio-bound staginess of a lot of cheap movies from the period. They must’ve had a blast manning those cameras on the rollercoaster! Margulies spent the bulk of his career at Universal, where he shot tons of TV, Gunpoint (1966) with Audie Murphy and the great Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).
Hot Cars also boasts an ultra-cool jazzy score from Les Baxter. Baxter composed music for quite a few Bel-Air movies, and some Regalscope pictures, before hitting his stride at American International. Of course, at the same time, he was making great records like 1958’s Space Escapade. Wouldn’t you love a big fat CD boxed set of Baxter’s 50s an 60s movie work?
Truth be told, Hot Cars is cooler than it is good, and its appeal might be limited largely to fans of cheap noir. But if you fall into that group, you’ll find it quite a thing. You can get Hot Cars on DVD as part of MGM’s MOD program. It’s full-frame, but it looks pretty good. A Blu-Ray would be terrific.
* This map post-dates Hot Cars.
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Patricia Blair, Tor Johnson
Kino Lorber’s announced The Black Sleep (1956) for a Blu-ray release in early 2016. It’s been ages since I’ve seen this one, and I’m dying to revisit it. A lot of fans of cheesy 50s horror have a soft spot for this one.
Here’s a terrific picture of Lon Chaney, Jr., Tor Johnson and Bela Lugosi have lunch during production.
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Broderick Crawford, Ralph Meeker, Reed Hadley, William Talman, Lon Chaney Jr., Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson
Part crime picture, part prison movie, Big House, U.S.A. (1955) is one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen — so vile, so nasty, so mean. Let’s see. A kid is chucked off a cliff. A guy is trapped inside a giant boiler — and steamed like a lobster tail. One of the leads has his face and fingertips seared off with a blowtorch to conceal his identity. And that’s the short list.
Howard W. Koch will never make a list of the Great Directors. But with this one, he serves up a solid exploitation film — and gives a dream-team cast of 50s movie bad guys a real field day. With all these heavies working on the same film, did the rest of Hollywood have to shut down?
Kino Lorber is bringing Big House, U.S.A. to your house on Blu-ray this August. Highly, highly recommended.