WORLD FOR RANSOM
(director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriter: Lindsay Hardy/Hugo Butler; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Frank De Vol; cast: Dan Duryea (Mike Callahan), Gene Lockhart (Alexis Pederas), Patric Knowles (Julian March), Reginald Denny (Maj. Bone), Nigel Bruce (Gov. Coutts), Marian Carr (Frennessey March), Arthur Shields (Sean O’Connor), Douglas Dumbrille (Inspector McCollum); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert Aldrich/Bernard Tabakin; Allied Artists/Monogram; 1954)
“A marvelously understated film noir that parodies all those big-budget spy/adventure films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
World for Ransom is a Monogram cheapie (shot in ten days on a budget of $90,000) crime thriller that is derived from the popular 1950s NBC TV series China Smith. It is directed by the great Robert Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen”/”The Big Knife”) and written by Lindsay Hardy and Hugo Butler (uncredited). Dan Duryea plays Mike Callahan, an Irish emigré and war veteran working in Singapore as a private eye. He takes on a case for his ex-lover during the war, Frennessey March (Marian Carr), who is a nightclub singer. She thinks her hubby Julian March (Patric Knowles) is involved in criminal activities and asks him to help out–if possible. Callahan quickly learns that a big-shot black marketeer named Alexis Pederas (Gene Lockhart) has involved Julian in a plot to kidnap a prominent nuclear scientist Sean O’Connor and hold him for ransom to the highest bidder–West or East. The background of the Cold War plays an important part in the story.
Julian poses as an Army major and kidnaps the scientist at the airport. Pederas then informs the British command of his ransom demands. Through the work of one of Callahan’s photographer informants, pictures are taken of Julian and O’Connor together. When Pederas is told this by Julian, the informant turns up dead the next day and Pederas plants incriminating evidence in Callahan’s hotel room. When police inspector Dumbrille confronts Callahan with the false evidence, the private eye jumps the cop and flees. He spends the night at Frennessey’s place and comes to the conclusion that the scientist is being held in a deserted jungle island, and decides to go there. British intelligence agent Major Bone (Denny), who is not sure if the private eye is on the level, follows Callahan to the island, and keeps a watch on him from a distance. The two will team up when circumstances make it not possible for the major to get help from his support team when it’s discovered that the scientist is alone with his kidnappers. In the attempt to free the scientist Bone gets injured, but Callahan is able to get into Julian’s bunker hideout and hold the captors off with just two grenades. When the scientist is outside the bunker, he tosses the grenades killing all the bad guys.
When Callahan returns to tell Frennessey that her criminal hubby is dead, hoping to renew his romance with her–she surprisingly rejects him and slaps his face hard and mentions that she never loved him. She further tells him that her relationship with Julian was only platonic, and that all men disgust her. Callahan after that brush off returns to Singapore and walks the streets in disbelief, wearing his white suit (representing purity and the innocence of the West) as he walks past the cheap bars and the tawdry neon signs of the bustling Singapore nightlife (representing the dark side and the mystery of the East).
Dan Duryea is the perfect film noir protagonist, who survives the dangers in the world only to be emotionally destroyed inside by Carr’s hard slap across the face. His idealism, already a casualty of both the war and the post-war era, falls to the point where it is uncertain if he can get it together again and continue to survive. The only hope comes from the come-on of a street fortune teller, who urges him to “Take a chance, Mr. Callahan. Love is a white bird; yet you cannot buy her.”
This is a marvelously understated film noir that parodies all those big-budget spy/adventure films and in my opinion does a better job than most in getting to the underbelly of that genre. Aldrich was upset with censors for lifting the scene where Duryea learns his love interest is a lesbian. He could forgive her love for other men, but not with other women. The 1950s wasn’t ready for such relationships, at least not in films. Nevertheless, this was a compelling film doing a fantastic job exploring the uncertainty of partnerships and the indeterminate nature of trust.
REVIEWED ON 3/17/2004 GRADE: B