Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Monday, 3 January 2011

Crashout (1955) (Republic Pictures Home Video, 1988) 88 mins.

Six tough convicts - five of whom are serving time for murder - break out of jail and are pursued across country by the police, with the promise of loot stashed by ruthless wounded group leader Van (William Bendix) keeping the group together as they flee. However, character flaws lead to their number being depleted as they hold up a roadhouse, catch a train and hole up in an isolated farmhouse occupied by an unwed mother (Beverly Michaels), her aged mother and young son before a final reckoning on a snowy mountainside...

A brisk and exciting hardboiled convicts on the run melodrama, featuring a stalwart cast of 50s B-Movie actors (in addition to William Bendix and Beverly Michaels, the group of escaped convicts led by Bendix is augmented by William Talman, Luther Adler, Gene Evans, Marshall Thompson and Arthur Kennedy as the only non-murderer in the group and Gloria Talbott also features in a memorable cameo as a train passenger who briefly offers one of the escaped prisoners the chance of a normal life beyond the prison walls). Given the time the film was made, a downbeat fate for the protagonists is assured, although this lends the film an air of fatalism that undercuts the hopes, desires and expectations of the central characters.

The pacing only lets up towards the end when a brief romance threatens to derail the convicts' plans, but the film remains a taut and tense experience overall, with some surprisingly gritty violence for the time including a vivid burning to death maintaining the excitement level. The characters are all well-drawn and effectively played by a cast that mostly consists of character actors and director Lewis R. Foster also keeps the pot boiling nicely throughout with the latent aggression, jealousies and petty hatreds meaning that it occasionally bubbles over.

All of which adds up to a punchy crime melodrama that seems to have been neglected and relatively unseen in recent years.

VERDICT: Con-vincing!

AFTERWORD: At the time of writing, this film remains unreleased on DVD. A now almost impossible to find 1986 UK video release was followed by a more easily obtainable 1988 US Republic Pictures Home Video release (new and used copies of this version are regularly listed on Amazon and, occasionally, on Ebay). It remains to be seen whether a rare theatrical screening at the 2011 Noir City Film Festival creates enough interest for a subsequent DVD release.

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