Movie Diary 6/7/2020

Four Boys and a Gun (William Berke, 1957). Another one from B-picture-generator Berke, shot in New York, about four juvenile delinquents involved in a robbery at a boxing match. A cop gets shot, and the rest of the movie flashes back to how the boys got there, plus a curious extended sequence – sort of a police station Breakfast Club – with the quartet arguing over who’s going to take the fall. The four are played by Frank Sutton (future Gomer Pyle drill sergeant), James Franciscus (his debut), Tarry Green, and William Hinnant (a diminutive chap, he played Snoopy in the original You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown production). The movie has a fairly cornball tone, along the lines of a social exposé, but some of the lingo is good (“When you’re out with me, you’re in,” says Sutton to a date). The screenwriters were Philip Yordan and Leo Townsend. There are a few scenes that catch a whiff of real crumminess, like when Sutton goes home with a barfly he picks up, and they quarrel about how much booze she has; we’re not too far away from the seedy world of Hubert Selby, Jr., albeit cleaned-up. There are brief bits for David Burns and Ned Glass, and future author Patricia Bosworth plays one of the boys’ girls. You wait for the big reveal at the end, but there’s a surprise in store, and the movie’s abrupt finish is actually pretty strong.

The Lost Missile (Lester Wm. Berke, 1958). IMDb credits this film to the above Berke, but apparently he died on the first day of shooting, and the onscreen directing credit goes to his son, Lester. All of which could account for how bad this one is. A rocket comes screaming into Earth’s atmosphere, apparently from outer space, headed for New York City. Can scientist Robert Loggia stop it, despite the conflict with his own wedding (to Ellen Parker, from Cop Hater). Almost half the running time is made up with dull stock footage of various military actions, and it gets interesting only at the climax, which includes an interlude with some young punks stealing a radioactive bomb. So don’t count this one against the average for William Berke’s 90+ other credited films.

Movie Diary 7/6/2020

muggerCop Hater (William Berke, 1958) and The Mugger (William Berke, 1958). Two directed by a prolific B-movie man, from the last year of his career and life. Both are adapted from Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels, both shot in New York with plenty of nervous Actor’s Studio talent on display. Cop Hater tracks a killer shooting cops, apparently at random; Robert Loggia (rail-thin, super-twitchy) and Gerald S. O’Loughlin (stocky, swarthy, manner pitched between Borgnine and Brando) are the lead officers, and there’s a heat wave on. Loggia’s engaged to a deaf-mute (Ellen Parker), O’Loughlin is married to a hot number (Shirley Ballard) who wears a leopard-skin swimsuit. The cast includes Jerry Orbach (his first role, as a gang member, looking not yet formed), a forehead-mopping Vincent Gardenia, Glenn Cannon, and Steve Franken. The procedural business is not bad. The actors tend to be performing in their own little worlds, presumably thinking of childhood trauma in order to access the emotion of the scene.

In The Mugger, another crime spree goes on, this time a psycho who discreetly cuts women’s faces. Kent Smith plays the police psychiatrist developing a profile of the killer; he’s dating an undercover policewoman, played by Nan Martin, who is terrific here and could have been a great leading lady for Sam Fuller. (Both movies carry quite a bit of Fuller-esque punch.) The cop ranks include Leonard Stone and Dick O’Neill; James Franciscus, also showing off his Method chops, is a cab driver with a troubled sister-in-law (Sandra Church, who would play the title role in Gypsy on Broadway a couple of years later). The movie goes into some very sleazy places, and the cast includes George Maharis (giving off weirdness as a “screwball” who might easily turn into one of those beatniks you’ve heard about), Michael Conrad, and the unsettling Arthur Storch. The violence – including the ultimate fate of the villain – is really nasty. There’s a great scene with cops going to a nightclub and short-cutting their detective work through a conversation with the owner – conversation rendered into legwork.

Along with some tasty location shots, both movies have occasional visual inspiration, like a dame crooking herself into the jumble of a fire escape to enjoy a cigarette on a hot night. The lingo is tart; surely some of it was taken from the books. “This case is drivin’ me outta my mind!” says Robert Loggia. “Buggin’ me! Buggin’ me!” I haven’t figured out whether William Berke is truly worthy of re-discovery, but there’s more Berke in this space tomorrow.