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Author Topic: Highway Dragnet (1954)  (Read 840 times)
cigar joe
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« on: December 21, 2012, 05:48:28 PM »

Director: Nathan Juran, Stars: Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Reed Hadley, Mary Beth Hughes and Wanda Hendrix.



This is more of a Film Soleil than a Film Noir and its entertaining enough.   


The Strip


A Korean War vet (Conte) drifts into Las Vegas picks up a drunken blonde floozy (Hughes) at a bar. They fight, they get "friendly"... he wakes up the next day and continues hitching towards California. He gets picked up by the homicide squad led by a Native American Det. Lt. Joe White Eagle (Hadley), it seems that the floozy was strangled Conte was last seen with her and Conte's alibi buddy is MIA so he flees from the law in the company of a woman photographer (Bennett) and her young female model (Hendrix) on assignment shooting desert resorts.

Conte & Hughes


This film has some great location shots of Vegas, great desert locations of beaneries, filling stations, desolate highways, etc., etc. The final denouement takes place in a flooded flyspeck pounded by the surf of the Salton Sea. Conte and Hadley are great and Hendrix is cute.

Det. Lt. Joe White Eagle (Hadley)


Hendrix & Bennett


Bennett in this flick is closer to her Elizabeth Collins "Dark Shadows" persona than her characters from Scarlet Street and Woman in the Widow. Its the persona that I first became familiar with so she worked for me.

desert fyspeck


Hendrix & Conte falling for each other


Salton Sea... Closed til Forever


It's streaming on Netflix  Afro








« Last Edit: December 22, 2012, 03:47:01 AM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2012, 05:49:55 PM »

here is a review from The Professor on Back Alley Foums

Highway Dragnet (1954)
I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that I enjoy Poverty Row film noirs a little more than other crime film buffs, but I occasionally wish big stars would stay away from them. 1954’s Highway Dragnet is a case in point. Richard Conte is as steady as ever, but Joan Bennett is done a great disservice, and devotees of hers would do well to stay as far away from this film as she should have.

The movie’s “man on the run” premise is a cliché, but it’s the sort of cliché that got that way because it’s such great film fodder. It goes something like this: Conte’s character has just drummed out of the Marine Corps after a rough stint slogging a flamethrower up and down hills in Korea. With a few bucks in his pocket and plenty of time on his hands he heads for the Vegas strip. He plans to connect with an old pal (he never makes it) and do the strip before heading west to renovate his dilapidated fixer-upper on California’s Salton Sea. While waiting on his buddy, Conte gets bored with the penny slots and wanders into the casino bar — wood-paneled like a basement rec-room and chock-full of lounge lizards and greasy pompadours. He settles into an unmanned stool right beside a peroxide blonde, Mary Beth Hughes, dolled up but cheap-looking, two sheets to the wind and working on three. The stage is set for the best sequence in Highway Dragnet — a scene so authentic that it only makes the subsequent letdown all the more painful.

Bars make for a useful narrative setting in cheap filmmaking, and are consequently a B-noir staple. But they also resonate with me, because I spent more than a decade standing at the doors of shitty dives with my arms crossed, trying to make like a tough guy — and occasionally having to be one. I’ve seen my share unpleasant things in the thousands of hours I’ve spent eyeballing barrooms, and I have an understanding of, and undoubtedly some affection for those sad souls who rot away on barstools — perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to the losers that populate crime films. The bar offers filmmakers a convenient place to aim characters at one another, to set them on a collision course, particularly characters of the opposite sex. What better symbolizes the seediness of the city than the bar? What could be a more emblematic of recklessness, danger, and the allure of easy sex? What better place to be noticed, or to go unnoticed; to conduct nefarious business or a illicit affair? And then there’s the booze itself, any screenwriter’s most expedient gateway to sex, violence, or oblivion — in life, as in art. Bars are often put to such purpose in film noir, so it’s hardly surprising that Highway Dragnet, a 70-minute chase picture, opens with a man and a woman sparring over drinks. The scene is brief, spectacular, and best of all: absolutely authentic — so I’m going to slobber over it. If you are anxious for a summary, just go watch the movie — it’s plenty short enough, and if I know you it’s already in your instant queue.

The scene gets moving after Conte does the polite thing and offers Hughes a drink in exchange for the vacant seat, currently occupied by her handbag. She hungrily accepts, but not before making a floozy’s feint at good-girl morality: “I’m not here for that.” Oh, yes she is. They chit-chat about their pasts, how they each got from there to here, with both actors coming over as only casually interested in one another — or maybe suspiciously disinterested. Here are two performers who understand the way that life-hardened souls interact in a bar, nursing secret little hopes as they rattle the ice in their drinks. Men and women let their guards down over cocktails, sitting side-by-side instead of across from one another. Everything comes so much more easily when looking up doesn’t mean looking at, and lighting a cigarette isn’t necessarily foreplay, it’s just another step in a tried-and-tested ritual. Conte and Hughes intuit all of this, and their performances take on the unexpected air of truth.

He’s good, but she’s great, playing tipsy just right, Hughes’s head not quite steady as she smiles in his direction, her brassiere showing under her dress as she shifts unsteadily on her stool. The pair share the easy banter of those who believe that sex is either impossible or inevitable, and their certainty is what makes this scene so good: Hughes thinks she’s hooked him while Conte is just wasting time. She tells him she’s an ex-fashion model — her glossy is hanging on the wall, just over there, on your right — yet he blunders when he says, “Hey, you were really beautiful then.” There are few creatures more perilous than the woman sitting alone at the bar: her vulnerability makes her dangerous, and Hughes reacts like a classic mad drunk: she gets aggressive. Conte grabs her, pinning her arms behind back, but to his surprise she smiles — she’s finally getting what she wanted the whole time: human contact. Hard or soft, it doesn’t matter. Her body relaxes and she leers into a kiss, just like she planned it that way, and the scene fades out. It’s a moment that reminds me why I love B-pictures: sometimes, because of their meager budgets and lowbrow subject matter, these tawdry movies get it exactly right.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the film continues. In the harsh light of desert mornings and hangovers, we next find Conte at an arid crossroads thumbing his way west. Too bad for him that the first car by is rocking its springs with law enforcement, not surprisingly on the lookout for our boy. A certain peroxide blonde is splayed blue-in-the-face on the floor of her bungalow, and everyone from the bar remebers her and Conte’s fireworks. The uniforms put him in bracelets and haul him to the scene of the crime, where the script contrives to make Conte look guilty as hell. For the sorts of reasons that only make sense on Poverty Row he has a bloody shirt in his suitcase, and when the detectives check his alibi by trying to call the no-show buddy’s hotel, Conte suddenly recalls that his pal is on a “top secret” assignment and isn’t traveling under his real name. Why the film puts us through all of this rubbish is unclear, there’s never a moment where we believe Conte to be guilty — he’s got a Silver Star for Pete’s sake (they’re always war heroes, aren’t they?) — though it’s possible the writers want to keep us guessing. After all this is a picture with four producers and six credited writers (including Roger Corman), so some confusion is inevitable. (We never do get an explanation for the bloody shirt.) With his chances at freedom fading fast, Conte makes with the judo and busts out. He dives into one of the idling prowl cars and skedaddles. Believe it or not, at this point the film is only ten minutes old.

The rest of the picture takes place on the run. Conte dumps his khakis and the police car, and then stumbles upon two women broken down by the side of the highway. Joan Bennett is a magazine photographer; Wanda Hendrix (you might know her from Ride the Pink Horse) is her model. Conte gets their pistons firing and they pay him back with a free lift. The remaining reels are concerned with a series of near misses at various roadblocks and diners — all full of donut chomping cops — and the unfolding group dynamic when the girls finally discover that their passenger is a murder suspect. Eventually he’s compelled to hold them in check at gunpoint, but as the minutes go by the vivacious (and horny!) Hendrix is more and more in his corner, while Bennett has a different idea. There are a few twists and turns along the route, though nothing — not even the film’s payoff — will come as a big surprise. What is surprising, however, is poor Joan Bennett.

Bennett was still a household name in 1954, though she was a decade past the vibrant sexuality of Scarlet Street, and the old-gal stability of Dark Shadows was still miles away. Like Barbara Stanwyck she had transitioned to mature roles, having scored with critics as the determined mother in The Reckless Moment and then successfully partnered Spencer Tracy in the highly commercial Father of the Bride pictures. But in 1951 she veered into career hell. Walter Wanger, Joan’s big-shot producer husband, shot her agent in a Beverly Hills parking lot. Wanger thought the pair were fooling around, and attempted to settle the issue like he’d seen some guys do in the movies. The agent, Jennings Lang, survived the shooting, and rehabilitated while Wanger did a few months at the honor farm. The real victim was a scandalized Joan, suddenly a scarlet woman and the chief subject of Hollywood’s gossip machine. By the time she landed Highway Dragnet her career was in purgatory. She looks — and it’s painful to write this — awful. Severe and shrill, she seems angry to even be in the picture, forced to play second fiddle to someone as unbearably young and perky as Wanda Hendrix. Bennett’s role is important, but Highway Dragnet’s final scene is excruciating. It’s the sort of thing that must have pained her in the years that followed, and were she still with us she’d undoubtedly be upset that this film has become available.

Highway Dragnet is a watchable B-thriller and a legitimate film noir — though one with very little style (cinematographer John Martin only did westerns) and a few cringe-inducing moments. It’s unmistakably Poverty Row — in ways both good and bad. Just remember one thing as you watch it: give the woman in the window a break. She deserves it.


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Spikeopath
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« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2017, 02:35:29 PM »

Rock It Baby!

Highway Dragnet is directed by Nathan Juran and written by Herb Meadow, U.S.Anderson, Roger Corman and Jerome Odlum. It stars Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix and Reed Hadley. Music is by Edward J. Kay and cinematography by John J. Martin.

All I did was buy her a drink. One drink, and for 65 cents I bought a martini mixed with dynamite!

Though indexed in some sources as film noir, this barely resonates as such. It is basically a man on the lam picture, where Conte is wrongly accused of murder and has to go on the run to escape police arrest. He hitches with two gals, who start to become wary of their newly acquired companion. So, we have cops trying to capture their target, with near misses and with Reed "The Voice" Hadley heading up the dragnet operation, whilst there's the mystery element of who is the killer hanging in the air. Cast are fine and the production is standard fare, the finale at least serves up an atmospheric locale, and there's some decent snatches of dialogue. But really it's average at best and not one to seek out as a matter of urgency. 5/10

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« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2017, 06:03:47 PM »

Spike and Joe, agree with both of you. A very disappointing film unfortunately, because it had so much potential. Conte and Bennett sound great, but not even they could save this movie.

Great review btw, joe. So full of truth. Smiley

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2017, 08:42:54 AM »

Sorry, I didn't read it right. I see the long review is from someone else.

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Jessica Rabbit
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cigar joe
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« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2017, 03:51:01 PM »

Sorry, I didn't read it right. I see the long review is from someone else.

Yes it was The Professor from the old Back Alley Forums (and maybe Noir Of The Week also)

Any way that sequence at the Salton Sea at the end was very surrealistic for me.

« Last Edit: March 19, 2017, 04:38:20 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2017, 08:20:47 AM »

Has The Back Alley Forum been taken down? It doesn't seem to exist anymore.

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2017, 12:23:47 PM »

Has The Back Alley Forum been taken down? It doesn't seem to exist anymore.

Sadly yes. The guy who ran it for years had some personal problems and just quit the whole thing. You would have loved that Jess, it was an awesome site. Sad

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Jessica Rabbit
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« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2017, 12:50:53 PM »

That sounds very intriguing, Spike. I see some of his reviews are on the Noir of the Week site though.

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Jessica Rabbit
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