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.