STRIP, THE (director: Leslie Kardos; screenwriter: Allen Rivkin; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Albert Akst; music: Georgie Stoll; cast: Mickey Rooney (Stanley Maxton), Sally Forrest (Jane Tafford), William Demarest (Fluff), James Craig (Delwyn “Sonny” Johnson), Kay Brown (Edna), Tommy Rettig (Artie), Tom Powers (Detective Lt. Bonnabel), Jonathan Cott (Behr), Tommy Farrell (Boynton), Myrna Dell (Paulette Ardrey), Jacqueline Fontaine (Frieda), Tom Quinn (Doctor), Vic Damone (Himself), Monica Lewis (Singer), Louis Armstrong (Himself), Jack Teagarden (Himself), Earl “Fatha” Hines (Himself), Barney Bigard (Himself); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Pasternak; MGM; 1951)
“It’s an above-average mystery story that could be categorized as film noir because of Rooney’s pained expression as a victim of love.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A minor mystery story that’s given some high gloss in its production by the MGM studio system, as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his distinguished band made up of Jack Teagarden, Earl “Fatha” Hines, and Barney Bigard serenade us with a few numbers and there are various other jazz pieces included from singers Monica Lewis and Vic Damone. It’s set on the intriguing Sunset Strip where Mickey Rooney plays the sincere little guy, Stanley Maxton, a jazz drummer who is accused of murder.
The film opens at 5 a.m. and the police are called to the Strip, and they find a woman named Jane Tafford (Sally Forrest) who is in critical condition from a gunshot wound. The neighbor who called, Paulette Ardrey, is an aspiring actress and close friend of the victim. She mentions that Jane worked as a dancer at Fluff’s Dixieland Club. Later that morning the police find the body of mobster Sonny Johnson (James Craig) in his ritzy home and connect his murder with Jane’s. The police bring Stan down to the station for questioning because they believe he is somehow involved. He worked for Sonny and dated Jane. When he’s grilled by Lt. Bonnabel (Powers), the film goes into flashback as Stan tells his tale of woe from the time he was discharged from a VA hospital. In the Korean War he was injured but after a long rehabilitation he was cured and was heading to LA to pursue his career as a jazz drummer, when his car was knocked accidentally off the road by a speeding car driven by Sonny Johnson. Sonny’s girlfriend Frieda talks him into paying for the damages to Stan’s car and his drums, which was a gift from his fellow patients. Sonny then talks him into working for him in the gambling rackets and getting big money–$200 a week. The kid sees this as a chance to save up some serious dough and open a club of his own in a few years, as Sonny promises him that he can quit whenever he wants to.
After working the rackets for a year under the cover of being in the insurance game, his gambling house is raided by the police but he manages to escape by jumping into a car driven by Jane. When he goes to see her act at Fluff’s, he discovers she’s a cigarette girl who also performs as a dancer. She tries to put off his advances by saying she can’t go out without the club owner’s approval. When Fluff (William Demarest) is about to perform his bouncer’s duty for her, he discovers Stan is a first-rate drummer and offers him a job for $90 a week. But Stan turns him down. As a return favor for Fluff, who really needs a drummer to replace his regular one who is going into the army, Jane promises to go out with him only if he takes the job.
Sonny has no problem with Stan’s leaving, but warns him not to rat him out. But Jane turns out to be an obstacle. She’s an aspiring actress who is career-crazy, as she won’t date anyone unless they can help her get into pictures. Stan feels he has no choice but to take her to see Sonny for help and in that way gain favor with her, but that turns out to be a mistake as Sonny promises her he can help with his Hollywood contacts but quickly moves in on the blinded-by-ambition beauty and never gets her a movie deal. But Jane falls for his gift of gab and rebuffs Stan for the wealthy and handsome gangster, whom she doesn’t know is a gangster. Meanwhile Stan stalks her and out of jealousy tells her Sonny’s a big-time hood. This upsets Sonny, and he arranges for Stan to go to Phoenix and work there in one of his illegal gambling houses. When Stan refuses to leave town, he is beaten up by Sonny’s thugs and his life is threatened. When Jane finds out what happened to Stan, she tells him that she doesn’t love him but is going over to Sonny’s to straighten things out. That’s where the flashback at the police station ends and the surprise conclusion clears up the murder mystery.
The breezy story line, the snappy jazz interludes, and some engaging scenes made it very appealing. Craig as the smooth villain who has a fixation with his horticultural collection he keeps in his office, gave his part a strange sinister tone. Rooney is super as the perennial victim who only finds his soul when he’s lost in his music. The film effectively captured the existential mood and the glee derived from the club scene on the Strip. It’s an above-average mystery story that could be categorized as film noir because of Rooney’s pained expression as a victim of love.
REVIEWED ON 2/28/2003 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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