Riffraff (1947)


(director: Ted Tetzlaff; screenwriter: Martin Rackin; cinematographer: George E. Diskant; editor: Philip Martin; music: Roy Webb; cast: Pat O’Brien (Dan Hammer), Anne Jeffreys (Maxine Manning), Walter Slezak (Eric Molinar), Percy Kilbride (Pop), Jerome Cowan (Walter Gredson), George Givot (Major Rues), Jason Robards Sr. (Mr. Domingues), Marc Krah (Charles Hasso); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nat Holt; RKO; 1947)

“Opens to five minutes of silence and some beautiful cinematography by George Diskant.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An overweight and aging Pat O’Brien easily handles the snappy banter and just about manages the physicality needed for this action-packed crime thriller. Ex-cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff did the directing; it was written by Martin Rackin. The film opens to five minutes of silence and some beautiful cinematography by George Diskant. In an amazingly well-done classic scene aboard an airplane that left Peru in a storm bound for Panama, an airplane door is opened and a passenger is missing. Charles Hasso (Marc Krah) is questioned upon landing by Major Rues of the Panama secret police as to the events leading up to the supposed suicide of one of the passengers, because he was last seen alive while in his company. Hasso killed the man, a Peruvian agent, and took his valuable map. Expecting to be in town for only a day or two, the frightened Hasso hires Panama City private eye Dan Hammer (Pat O’Brien) for a hundred smackers without telling him why he’s in danger. Oil company executive Gredson (Jerome Cowan) also hires Hammer, but for $5,000, to find Hasso and the valuable map, as it’s later learned by the gumshoe that it shows the sites of where to find rich oil deposits in Peru. Also looking for the map, but in a less businesslike way, is Eric Molinar (Walter Slezak), who pretends he’s a tourist on a sketching vacation. When Hammer goes to the hotel to start earning his Hasso pay, he finds him strangled to death in the bathtub. Hammer learns that Molinar and his two henchmen are the killers, as they visit the detective’s office while he’s out and wreck the place searching for the map. Maxine Manning (Anne Jeffreys), a pretty nightclub singer, set to marry Gredson once he consummates this oil deal and becomes wealthy, was in Hammer’s office spying on him as arranged with her distrustful boyfriend when the thugs knocked her out. The detective takes a shine to the singer, and the two become romantically involved. The thugs return to give Hammer a beating, but he doesn’t talk since he doesn’t know where the map is. By the finale, after the predictable outcome, it’s learned the map was stashed in Hammer’s office, but in such an obvious place that it was easily overlooked.

This oilfield crime thriller was fast-paced and entertaining. The wry humored Percy Kilbride is in his usual role as a laconic and stone-faced character; this time as a taxi driver who helps Pat O’Brien.