(director: Walter Matthau; screenwriter: story by Richard Grey & V.J. Rheims/Paul Purcell; cinematographer: Max Glenn; editor: Radley Metzger; music: Leonard Barr; cast: Walter Matthau (Jack Martin), Carol Grace (Carol Logan), Bruce McFarlan (Earl Dawson), Garry Walberg (Adolph), Raikin Ben-Ari (Hood), David Leonard (Palmer); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jonathan Daniels; Alpha Video; 1960)
“If a famous star like Matthau wasn’t in such a low-grade film, it would probably receive no attention.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This black-and-white low-budget (made for $75,000 and though receiving only a limited distribution still managed a bigger box office than the big-budget and widely distributed Gary Cooper-Charlton Heston film, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, which was released at the same time) straightforward crime drama is the only feature film noted actor Walter Matthau ever directed. It was shot with a five-man non-union crew in Anaheim, California. The lead actress Carol Grace, formerly married to the writer William Saroyan, would later marry Matthau. Gangster Story is stuck with stiff acting and dialogue, and a Matthau whose curmudgeon charm was yet to break through on the screen. Interesting only in watching how desperately Matthau tries to make things happen in such a crude film. It seemed more like a cop TV show than a feature movie.
Matthau plays Jack Martin, a dangerous bank robber of small-town banks in Southern California who escapes from police custody. While holed up in a dumpy hotel, Martin schemes to rob the United States National Bank by first visiting the bank under an assumed name to rent office space and then arranging with the police that he’s shooting a movie at the bank with a hold-up scene and wants a police presence to help in the shooting. The scene suffers, even though it was slightly amusing, because it was hard to believe that the police would be that gullible. The successful robbery leaves local crime boss Earl Dawson (Bruce McFarlan) hopping mad that someone else worked his territory without permission and that the cops are trying to pin the heist on him. He orders his henchman Adolph (Garry Walberg) to find the robber. While Martin is on-the-run, he meets innocent librarian Carol Logan (Carol Grace) and convinces her to take up with him. Martin is also tracked down by the Dawson gang and agrees to work for the behind-the-scenes boss by leading a heist team in the field. The reform-minded Carol convinces her boyfriend to quit the gang and go straight. When the escaped felon, Martin, who is wanted by the FBI for robbery and causing the death of two policemen, tells Dawson he wants out of the gang, the boss double-crosses him and informs the FBI where he can be located. Before Martin jumps across the border to Mexicali, it leads to a final shootout among the police, Dawson and Martin.
If a famous star like Matthau wasn’t in such a low-grade film, it would probably receive no attention. The theme song, “The Itch for the Scratch,” was adequately performed during the opening credits by Ted Stanford.
REVIEWED ON 10/7/2006 GRADE: C
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