Joan Dixon and Charles McGraw in Roadblock (1951)


(director: Harold Daniels; screenwriters: Steve Fisher/George Bricker/from a story by Richard H. Landau & Geoffrey Homes; cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: Robert Golden; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Charles McGraw (Joe Peters), Joan Dixon (Diane), Lowell Gilmore (Kendall Webb), Louis Jean Heydt (Harry Miller), Milburn Stone (Egan), Joseph Crehan (Thompson), Steve Roberts (Matt De Vita), Peter Brocco (Bank Heist Man), Joseph Forte (Brissard); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis J. Rachmil; RKO; 1951)

“A typical low-budget film noir of the early 1950s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There was nothing special about Roadblock, a typical low-budget film noir of the early 1950s. It gallantly points out that the root of mankind’s problems are sex and greed. Harold Daniels directs this pulp story in a workmanlike manner but without inspiration. The cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca is strictly routine. While co-screenwriters Steve Fisher and George Bricker take the story written by Richard H. Landau & Geoffrey Homes of a weak man who succumbs to lust and wrap it around the postwar economic boom of the middle-class striving to get further ahead.

Joe Peters (Charles McGraw) and Harry Miller (Louis Jean Heydt) work as a crack team of insurance investigators for the Los Angeles firm of Southwest Indemnity. After capturing a bank robber in the Midwest by setting an imaginative trap and recovering all of the loot, they fly separately back to L.A. to receive congratulations– with Harry taking the money. Joe on the flight home is attracted to good looker Diane Marley (Joan Dixon), who poses as his wife to get half-fare. She’s a hardened poor girl from Texas moving to L.A. to strike it rich, who turns him off by not only being a chiseler but being only interested in a guy with dough. Yet he can’t get her out of his mind. Turbulent flight weather causes them to spend a sex free night together in a hotel room, where we get to know them somewhat as they share the room. Diane thinks Joe’s a sucker to work for $350 a month and says she would never marry anyone who couldn’t support her in style. She mockingly calls him Honest Joe.

Back in L.A. the insurance investigators are assigned to a fur robbery at Brissard’s and believe without proof that the robbery was planned by untouchable racketeer Kendall Webb (Gilmore). While questioning him, Joe spots Diane in his company and learns he’s her sugar daddy. She works as a model and is content to be his mistress, as his wife lives in Las Vegas. The temptation of seeing Diane again and how he knows she likes him but won’t give him a tumble until he comes into some serious dough, has him set up with Webb a mail train robbery that his firm insures. He provides the insider information and Webb will mail him a 1/3 of the take, which amounts to $400,000. When Diane tells him she’ll marry him for himself–that she’s had a change of mind after being alone for Christmas–he doesn’t believe her and goes through with the job. They marry and honeymoon in his hunting vacation spot in the California mountains. But when Joe is called back from his cabin to work on the case, the government agent in charge, Egan (Stone), informs him a train worker was killed and the pilot that flew the five hold-up men in their getaway was picked up and identifies one of them as being associated with Webb.

Trapped by his partner’s police savvy who figures out Joe was in on the job, he tries to escape to Mexico. But a roadblock traps him in a dried up L.A. riverbed. The dead-end spot is a metaphor for the way Joe’s life turned sour, as he learns too late that the girl of his dreams could have been his without the robbery or a need for him to wine and dine her.

In the end everything was done in such a flat manner, that it was hard to care that straight-shooter McGraw lost his integrity and life for an icy broad who ironically would have loved him the way he was. The sudden moral collapse, if he really was such an honest joe, and his obsession for such a cold-hearted woman who was supposedly his opposite, never rang true.