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CRIME WAVE(director: André de Toth; screenwriters: from a story by John & Ward Hawkins/Crane Wilbur/Bernard Gordon/Richard E. Wormser; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Thomas Reilly; cast: Sterling Hayden (Lt. Sims), Gene Nelson (Steve Lacey), Phyllis Kirk (Ellen), Ted de Corsia (Doc Penny), Charles Bronson (Ben Hastings), Jay Novello (Dr. Otto Hessler), James Bell (O’Keefe), Dub Taylor (Snider), Timothy Carey (Johnny), Ned Young (Morgan); Runtime: 73; Warner Bros.; 1954)
“This low-budget B-flick was very entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A solid but routine film noir, shot on location in Los Angeles. It is noteworthy for its great B&W location shots of the busy L.A. streets and of capturing a noir look of alienation. The plot revolves around the familiar noir tale of an innocent man trapped in circumstances beyond his control. André de Toth only directed one other noir film, Pitfall (48).

Three escaped felons from San Quentin rob a gas station and kill a motorcycle cop. One of the men, Morgan (Young), is severely wounded. The men split and Morgan flees to the apartment of an ex-con gone straight, Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson), who is reluctant to help because he has a good job as an airplane mechanic and has married a good wife, Ellen (Kirk). Morgan pulls a gun on him and has a debarred medical doctor who is now a veterinarian, ex-con Dr. Otto Hessler (Novello), come over to treat his wounds. But, he dies in Lacey’s apartment before he can be treated. Hessler flees with Morgan’s share of the robbery money and upon Ellen’s urgings Lacey calls his understanding probation officer (James Bell), just as the cops arrive at his place.

Lacey is taken to the police station and grilled by Lt. Sims (Sterling Hayden), a hard-nosed detective, who doesn’t believe criminals can reform. Sims lets him go with a severe warning that he will send him back to prison if he’s involved with the escapees, or if he doesn’t cooperate. When Lacey comes back home the two vicious thugs, Doc Penny (de Corsia) and Ben Hastings (Bronson), are waiting and force him to go along with a bank robbery scheme and to fly them to Mexico; or else, they threaten to kill his wife.

Lacey has no choice but to pretend to cooperate, but figures out a way to foil the robbery and get Sims there. Sims chews toothpicks as a substitute for cigarettes, as he tries to kick the habit. One of the film’s derived pleasures is in the offhand gestures it makes to Sim’s quirks. When the case is solved, Sims lightens up for the first time and brings out a cigarette from the pocket of his rumpled suit and takes one drag before throwing it away and putting the toothpick back in his mouth.

This low-budget B-flick was very entertaining. It has a fast pace and a good eye for detail.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”