Crime Wave (1954) 6/12/2005
Noir Of The Week 'CRIME WAVE' (1954) Dir. Andre de Toth *SPOILERS* Posted by David on 6/12/2005, 4:18 pm
A late night gas station knock-over goes South for a trio of escaped thugs when one is killed and an intervening cop is killed. The L.A.P.D. suspect the culprits will converge on - and hole up at - the home of Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson), an ex-con anxious to leave the life and that ilk far behind.
Gruff Detective Sims (Sterling Hayden) wants nothing more than to collar the crew - and Lacey - whom he suspects is a willing harborer. With his innocence doubted, Lacey and his loving wife Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) inform his Parole Officer and Sims that the wounded hood showed up and promptly died - but that's as far as his involvement goes. Soon after, the other two (Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson) show up and demand Steve's assistance in a bank heist they've long been planning. When one of the fugitives murders an underworld physician who knows too much - and leaves Lacey's car at the scene - Sims sets out to nab them all. Following a meeting at the lair of an offbeat associate (Timothy Carey), the crew - including the reluctant but threatened Lacey - make their way to the bank, which they discover has been filled with tipped-off cops - and a bloody shoot-out ensues. Lacey high-tails it back to where Ellen is being held - and after freeing her - is freed himself by a newly convinced Sims.
A crackerjack nocturnal thriller elevated by strong acting and assured direction - 'Crime Wave' could've easily been just another routine potboiler in lesser hands. De Toth, who has proven himself capable in several genres (Kirk and Bronson were also in his 'House of Wax' the previous year) eschews rapid-fire editing and cheap thrills here - opting for a more cool, stately pace which oddly makes the flow of the narrative even more gripping. Much of the film is set in the wee small hours - and the night-for-night shooting benefits the film immeasurably.
The uniformly solid acting is yet another highlight of the film. Hayden is perhaps even stronger here than in his portrayal of 'The Asphalt Jungle's doomed crook - his surly, toothpick-chewing Detective an alternately intimidating and darkly funny presence. Nelson, who I confess I've never seen before or since, gives an exceptionally restrained and sensitive performance - creating an anti-hero who elicits deep empathy despite limited screen time and dialogue. His Lacey, not unlike Jeff in 'Out Of The Past', is forced to re-visit his former life which - in an unsettling early scene of intimacy invaded, comes in the form of a jarring late-night phone call - in his and Ellen's bedroom.
Kirk, De Corsia, and a thirty-something Charles Bronson all bring their fine work to the table - as does the great Timothy Carey who shines (kinda like a rusty switchblade) in a smallish role. He increases, late in the proceedings, the already considerable tension exponentially - with a twinkle from his crazy eyes. The uniquely chilling Carey makes Christopher Walken look like Mr. Rogers.
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