Associate Producer – Director: Joseph Kane
Screen Play byBruce Manning and Bob Considine
Director Of Photography: Reggie Lanning
Cast: Brian Donlevy (Sen. Bill Stephens), Claire Trevor (Connie Williams), Forrest Tucker (Charley Pignatalli), Vera Ralston (Marte Dufour), Luther Adler (Nick Mancani), John Russell (Joe Gray), Gene Lockhart, Grant Withers, Taylor Holmes, Richard Jaeckel, Roy Barcroft, Whit Bissell, William Schallert
Having been formed from a merger of several small film companies in 1935, Republic Pictures hit the ground running, immediately scoring huge success with their Gene Autry Western series. They followed this success with The Three Mesquiteers the next year and into the 40s with popular series heroes Don Barry, Wild Bill Elliott, Rocky Lane and, especially, Roy Rogers.
Right from the start, Republic were making a cross-section of film types even though their specialty was the Western.
1950-51 saw the Kefauver Committee set up in the U.S. Senate to tackle organised crime all across the U.S. To reflect this, Republic filmed Hoodlum Empire (1952), though naturally names were changed. Journalist and author Bob Considine wrote the story on which the screenplay was adapted by Bruce Manning and Considine.
The background to the story is the testifying to a Senate committee of various figures known as underworld leaders. Brian Donlevy plays the leader of the committee, determined to go after these crime lords, led here by Luther Adler and his vicious No. 2, Forrest Tucker. However, although he is listed sixth in the cast, the real central figure is John Russell, who is Adler’s nephew and had been heavily involved in crime pre-WW2. His wartime experiences have turned him around, however, and since 1945 he has been running a legit business. Adler and co. are determined to implicate him in criminal activity and thereby fade their own (real) involvement into obscurity. In the end, they do not succeed.
This is, of course, far away from the Western and yet the central theme is John Russell’s redemption (with the help of a good woman) — a strong Western motif, particularly throughout the 50s. Also, the director is Joseph Kane, Republic’s No. 1 go-to man for action, having by this point helmed countless Autry and Rogers films.
I even recognised the house used as John Russell’s family home as being “The Duchess’ Ranch” from the 1944-46 Red Ryder series, now tarted up with ‘modern’ frills like a picket fence and trees.
I found the script to be both literate and adult, and the cast just fine at putting it over. Claire Trevor in particular showing a vulnerable woman beneath her tough and wisecracking front, something she was skilful at doing. Grant Withers, also in the supporting cast, came across very well. He and Roy Barcroft appear, both regular Republic Western baddies, as well as Douglas Kennedy and John Pickard (both uncredited). So… a lot of familiar and welcome faces in the quite large cast. Seeing John Russell here again makes me wonder why he didn’t achieve greater stardom than he did.
For folks who like a good gritty crime drama with a great cast, this film would get my recommendation. It’s readily available on DVD in the US and elsewhere. That is regrettably not true of all too many of Republic’s crime dramas (they didn’t do ‘noir’ so much) which are locked away in the vaults and kept from film fans hungry to see them.
Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry, but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.