Movie Diary 4/19/2021

Street of Sinners (William Berke, 1957). Continuing my investigation into the films of William Berke, prolific B-movie maker. This is from his late period of independent crime pictures, and although it doesn’t have the New York atmosphere of The Mugger or Cop Hater, it’s got some interesting and/or flat-out weird scenes. George Montgomery plays a new, by-the-book beat cop, who inherits a notorious neighborhood run by tavern owner Nehemiah Persoff. (Either that, or a cigar-store wooden Indian plays the cop; it’s hard to tell.) Montgomery’s flatfoot is so uptight you wonder whether some great neurosis is going to be revealed about him, but no, he just needs to become more realistic about his methods. And speaking of Method, Geraldine Brooks gives a high-powered Actor’s Studio performance as a lush who takes a liking to the cop, a twitchy, occasionally startling turn for a character doomed to end badly. Lots of juvenile delinquents and hot rods; the Wild One moment comes with the question “What’s wrong?” and the answer “The whole world.” The cast includes Marilee Earle, who also starred in Berke’s The Lost Missile and Island Women, Joseph H. Lewis’s Terror in a Texas Town, and Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers and basically nothing else. The well-traveled Stephen Joyce makes his film debut and leans heavily on James Dean’s ghost; also debuting is Andra Martin, soon to be immortalized in The Thing That Couldn’t Die. Overall, not exactly great, but there are some inventive shots, including a dangerous-looking stunt with an out-of-control hot rod.

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.