director/writer: Boris Ingster; screenwriters: Leo Townsend/from an unpublished story by Milton M. Raison and Bert C. Brown; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Christian Nyby; cast: Don DeFore (John Riggs/Nick Starns), Andrea King (Nora Craig), Bret Hamilton (Car Attendant), George Tobias (Reggie), Barry Kelley (Evans), Morris Ankrum (Eugene Deane), Robert Osterloh (Albert), Charles Cane (Harris), Kippee Valez (Singer), William Forrest (Warden), Douglas Spencer (Chaplain), John Harmon (Willy, Pickpocket); Runtime: 73; Allied Artists; 1950)
“Acts like it’s a public relation movie for the Treasury Department.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This B&W pseudo-documentary-styled noir film comes with a patriotic message supporting the U.S. war effort in Korea and offering a scathing commentary on counterfeiters. It compares them to saboteurs. The film states the most powerful weapon in America’s arsenal against communism — is money. Southside acts like it’s a public relation movie for the Treasury Department.
Southside is directed and written by Boris Ingster, who directed the first reputedly made American noir film, “Stranger on the Third Floor” (40). In this film Ingster never brings about any tension or real shock, as he did in his first noir work. Ingster simply goes about showing how cunning is master counterfeiter Eugene Deane (Morris Ankrum), even while serving a life sentence in San Quentin. He tells how he was able to engrave some plates of money currency and smuggle them out of prison by fooling the prison chaplain (Spencer) into hiding it in the liner of his bag.
The movie reminds me of the 1950s TV series Dragnet.
Deane gets religion in jail. He’s a model prisoner, perhaps making peace with his Maker because he is very ill and about to die soon. It seems strange that he would be interested in still pursuing his criminal activities, especially since money can’t be of use to him anymore. In his cell, he is always with his Bible. He is quite fond of showing off his knowledge of the scriptures, even correcting the padre on one of his sermons about money being the root of evil. He tells the padre that St. Paul in his epistle said: “It is the love of money that is the root of evil, not money itself.”
A bunco cop working the beat by a major league baseball park, spots a pickpocket (Harmon) and when he’s arrested the cops realize that he possesses “queer money.” The Secret Service is informed about this and they put a tail on the man. It leads them to a smoke shop where the suspect exchanges good money for counterfeit ones, and the Treasury Agents arrest the smoke shop owners. T-Man John Riggs (Don DeFore) tails another counterfeiter named Evans who is out on bond, facing a 10-year sentence. They set a trap for Evans when he meets his contact man, a wily criminal named Reggie (Tobias). But the criminal loses the tail and the cop’s pigeon is thrown out of a window, and there goes the best lead that they had.
Riggs goes undercover, using the name Nick Starns, as he checks into a hotel he knows Evans frequents. He poses as an underworld figure who is a bank robber, and catches the attention of the hotel manager Nora Craig (Andrea King). They get to know each other and soon become romantically and professionally linked together, though she suspects that he might be a cop and has him watched by her henchmen.
To make a short story shorter, she’s the daughter of Deane and the big boss of the syndicate. Deane dies soon after he escapes from prison. His daughter looks through his belongings and recognizes a sketch he made of Riggs, depicting him as a T-man. Since her boys are in the middle of a counterfeit deal with Starns, she goes to warn them that he’s a copper.
Warning: spoiler in the next two paragraphs.
Nora doesn’t hesitate for a second to give the order to kill Riggs. He was outwitted by the ever-careful Reggie, who foiled any attempt at being followed to where the deal was to go down. Yet, Riggs was smart enough to have a $10 bill with an emergency message and the number SO 1-1000 of the local Secret Service agency on it, which he used to pay for the beer he ordered in a grocery store. He was lucky to have the immigrant grocer’s wife call the agency.
The agents arrive in time to rescue Riggs from being burned to death and arrest all the criminals but for Nora, who runs into the downtown area and across a trestle and slips to her death onto the railroad tracks below. She embraces Riggs as she is lying on the trestle, but this time her embrace is filled with hatred as contrasted to their loving embrace in her apartment. This final scene was filmed aboard Los Angeles’ “Angel’s Flight,” a cable-car service dangling 40-feet above the ground.
The film was based on a true story.
REVIEWED ON 12/6/99 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/