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TIGHT SPOT(director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: William Bowers/from the play “Dead Pigeon” by Leonard Kantor/William Bowers; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Viola Lawrence; music: George Duning; cast: Ginger Rogers (Sherry Conley), Edward G. Robinson (Lloyd Hallett), Brian Keith (Vince Striker), Lucy Marlow (Prison Girl), Lorne Greene (Benjamin Costain), Katherine Anderson (Mrs. Willoughby), Allen Nourse (Marvin Rickles), Doye O’Dell (Mississippi Mac), Eve McVeagh (Clara Moran), Alfred Linder (Pete Tonelli); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis J. Rachmil; Columbia Pictures; 1955)
“Ginger Rogers should stick to Fred Astaire musicals–she was miscast as a smart talking jailbird.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Phil Karlson (“Scandal Sheet”/”Kansas City Confidential”) directs this crime thriller that is based on the play “Dead Pigeon” by Leonard Kantor. The routine script is by William Bowers. It’s an ordinary work that is only slightly helped by a talented cast. The main problem is that the familiar gangster tale never excites and Ginger Rogers should stick to Fred Astaire musicals–she was miscast as a smart talking jailbird. What always seemed out of place was the theatrical dialogue, seemingly left over from its short run on Broadway and sounding shrill on film.

Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) is a streetwise, sassy talking, ex-model con, serving a five-year sentence in an upstate New York prison when she’s suddenly released and taken to a Manhattan hotel under tight security. At the hotel she learns from the DA, Lloyd Hallett (Edward G. Robinson), that her testimony is needed to convict longtime ruthless mob boss Benjamin Costain (Lorne Greene). When Pete Tonelli was ready to testify, he was gunned down on the steps of the court by Costain’s goons. Sherry was on Costain’s yacht with her friend Pete when a mafia boss from Italy was smuggled into the country. The only way they now can convict Costain and deport him, is if the reluctant material witness agrees to testify. The DA offers to suspend the remaining 11 months of her jail sentence, but she still refuses the offer.

While at the hotel Sherry orders expensive meals, acts brazen, flirts with the unfriendly veteran detective, Vince Striker (Brian Keith), guarding her, and warms up to the widowed policewoman guard escorting her from the prison, Willoughby (Katherine Anderson). After several attempts on her life are thwarted and her hostile sister Clara’s visit, Sherry becomes more determined not to testify; that is, until she learns Willoughby died in the earlier assassination attempt. She suddenly changes her mind, agreeing to testify because Willoughby was always nice to her and leaves a child behind.

Costain has always found policemen he can buy off and one of the dirty cops is Vince, who is ordered to leave the bathroom window open so an assassin can knock off the witness. Vince wrestles with his conscience, as Sherry has gradually hit a soft spot with him and he feels rotten about how low he has sunk.

This film resembles Karlson’s 1951 The Texas Rangers, in that both films focus on a skeptical convict let out of prison to cooperate with the police and both convicts gradually change their minds throughout the course of the film. Purportedly the story was inspired by Estes Kefauver’s tactics in coercing Virginia Hill to testify in the Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel prosecution.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”