Railroaded

July 14, 2009 at 11:02 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , )


 

Railroaded is a film from 1947 directed by Anthony Mann (He Walked By Night, T-Men, Raw Deal) that goes largely unnoticed when talking about film noir from the 1940’s. It sure fits the bill as a film noir and has many elements that make it a nice little picture to watch. 

John Ireland, playing Duke Martin, is the star and a viscous character. Ireland does a wonderful job and is by far the brightest star in the film, though most of the supporting cast do a fine job. Ireland is probably best known for his portrayal of Jack Burden, the idealist journalist in All the King’s Men. He also teamed up with Mann in another film noir Raw Deal

Duke Martin is the muscle for a rich bookmaker. He has no qualms about using force of the most deadly kind. He perfumes his bullets as a trademark. He is mostly the stereotypical small time criminal who wants nothing more than to be the big boss. He hatches a plan with the boss’s girlfriend Clara (Jane Randolph) to knock off a beauty parlor/bookmaking joint, but things get hairy when a cop shows up and gets himself shot. 

This brings in Detective Mickey Ferguson (Hugh Beaumont) who is investigating the murder of the policeman. All of the early evidence points to the young, naïve Steve Ryan (Ed Kelly) as being the one who pulled the trigger. One of the heist guys fingers Steve on his death bed to get back at Steve over a grudge. 

Ferguson grew up with Steve and his sister Rosie (Sheila Ryan) but is not going to let that stand in the way of getting the evidence to put Steve away. As the evidence unfolds and it becomes clear to Ferguson that Steve is innocent, a romance begins to develop between Ferguson and Rosie. Ferguson is then determined to prove that Duke was the one who killed the policeman and send him to the gas chamber. 

Jane Randolph as Clara Calhoun is the femme fatale and that is evident from the very beginning as she lets the final beauty shop customer out the door and then gives her a disgusted look as soon as the lady turns her back. Clara then walks to the back of the beauty parlor and you realize she is running a small bookie joint. Randolph does a good job with this character, but the script didn’t do her any favors. 

Noir Elements 

You get the feel that Railroaded is to be a noir in the opening shot. The city is seen at a distance from above as the credits are scrolling on the screen. It is the city from high above and then you delve into the lives of the main characters—little people swallowed up by the massiveness of the city around them. 

Anthony Mann does a nice job with this film. The almost pitch black darkness works well in the foreboding and tension filled scenes. Particularly the climactic scene where there is only a bit of key light on the faces of those involved. 

You have a femme fatale, a smooth older gentleman running a criminal enterprise, some muscle who wants more, a patsy, a cop who is looking for justice and another cop who is bitter, brutal and distrustful of everyone he picks up. The noir story elements are their even if they feel contrived in a lot of instances. 

The most impressive of the noir elements are visual in Railroaded. The shadows of the film work well and certainly give you an uneasy feeling in many scenes, even if the reason for the darkness in many instances is budgetary. There is a nice contrast between the bright scenes inside the Ryan home and the dark, shadowy scenes throughout the rest of the movie. 

Recommendation 

I would recommend you to give this film a chance. It is not in the upper echelon of film noir by any means, but Mann’s style is interesting and Ireland is surprisingly good as a bad guy. Hugh Beaumont as Ferguson is dry and uninteresting but not enough to make the entire picture uninteresting. 

Railroaded has one particular scene that it is most noted for. There is a rather extensive chick fight between Rosie and Clara. It is something you have probably never seen in another film of this period and definitely gets your attention at a point when you think the picture is dragging a little. 

There are some scenes that are contrived. The first kiss between Ferguson and Rosie comes out of nowhere and makes no sense whatsoever, even in the noir world. The suave older criminal mastermind citing Oscar Wilde all the time is a bit annoying, and I don’t really care for the perfumed bullets of Duke. 

Railroaded gives you a pretty good story, some decent acting, very good visual imagery and takes you into a different world for 72 minutes.

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1 Comment

  1. Film Noir Reviews « What is Film Noir said,

    […] July 14, 2009 at 11:05 PM (Uncategorized) Railroaded […]

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