Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Strip (1951)
Written by Raven
The Strip is Mickey Rooney’s second of his three early 50’s noirs and is sandwiched nicely between and Quicksand and Drive a Crooked Road. In the former Mickey plays an auto mechanic lead astray by a dame. Ditto the latter so it’s no small coincidence automobiles play a major role in Mickey’s deadly dilemma in The Strip but more on that later.
Released by MGM in 1951 with the tagline “M.G.M.’s Musical Melodrama of the Dancer and the Drummer," The Strip is rather an unconventional noir to say the least, but more on that later.
The Strip, besides the aforementioned Rooney as Stan Maxton, stars Sally Forrest as Jane Tafford, James Craig as Sonny Johnson and William (Uncle Charley) Demarest as Fluff. More than ample support is provided by noir regulars Tom Powers, Don Haggerty, and Robert Foulk. Support on the musical side is given by Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and 23 year old Vic Damone, one gent in Tinseltown who’d never be caught wearing a monogrammed sweater! Also of note is the rotten kid played by pre-Lassie, Tommy Rettig.
We open with the conventional wide angle shot of the city and voice-over narration introducing the viewer to Los Angeles at 5:00 A.M. and more specifically “...The Strip. It’s just a piece of land running a mile and a half through Hollywood.” Seems a prowl car is racing down the road for reasons unknown to which the narrator tells us “Might be a traffic accident, or a prowler, or maybe something for Homicide?” Give you three guesses which the first two don’t count.
The deputies rush into an apartment and find the limp body of Jane Tafford lying on the floor. Soon thereafter in another part of the city, police detectives find local gangster and playboy Sonny Johnson dead of a gunshot wound. Both he and the weapon are laying on the floor of his Hollywood Hills bachelor pad. The connection between Tafford and Johnson? If you guessed Stan Maxton go to the head of the class. Seems one was Stan’s squeeze and the other his boss and I’m not telling which was which.
The cops of course easily find Stan at his apartment, worse the wear from a recent beating and packing his bags for a quick trip out of town to Sun Valley. Once downtown he’s shown a photo of Tafford, and he admits he knew her. Shown a photo of Johnson, he also admits he knows him. When this is done, the investigating officer, Lieutenant Detective Bonnabel (Powers) tells Stan that Jane is “very ill.” To which Stan replies “If Sonny Johnson’s hurt her at all I’ll kill him dead as a doornail!”
Bonnabel points out that’d be tough given the fact Johnson’s already dead and begins grilling Stan for info about Johnson and his connection with him. “If I tell you my life’s story I’ll be here forever,” states Stan and of course that’s precisely what he proceeds to do and the noir staple, the flashback kicks in.
Several years earlier we see Stan before a board of doctors at a Veterans Hospital. While it’s never made clear, it appears to be more of a mental hospital as once the doctors give him his release Stan tells them “Thank you doctors for helping to straighten me out.” While inquiring about future plans and if he’s been on the drums, Stan indicates he’ll be heading for Los Angeles and getting his old band back together. As a going away gift the other G.I.s have pitched in to give Stan a drum set on which he’s given the first opportunity to display his ample talents on the skins.
Soon on the road with his drums piled high in the back of his jalopy, Stan makes his first of several fateful encounters with automobiles. While attempting to pass the slow motoring Stan another car forces him off the road wrecking both his car and drums. The errant driver stops to give assistance, offers to pay for all the damages and even drives Stan all the way to LA. This is none other than Sonny Johnson.
Once in LA Sonny convinces Stan to forgo the drums and instead cast his lot with him to the tune of two hundred bucks a week working in one of his bookmaking joints. Things are going great till the joints are knocked off by the cops. Here’s where being short of stature pays off, for as the cops are rounding up the bookies, Stan’s able to slip under a table and scoot out a window. In his flight to escape he hops into the moving car of one Jane Tafford whom he tells the story he’s running from his wife and eight kids!
In real life, Rooney at the time only had two children and it’d be several more years until he finally had and surpassed eight with nine! Talk about life imitating art!
Anyway, Jane doesn’t buy his story but figures he’s harmless and lets him know she dances at a place on The Strip know as Fluff’s and he should stop on by sometime. Of course “some time” turns out to be that very night. Ends up Fluff’s is a Dixieland joint and no less than Louis Armstrong and His Band are the headliners! Jane doubles as the cigarette girl and dances at the club and of course Stan falls all over himself trying to get her to give him a tumble.
In that Jane won’t date a fellow unless Fluff gives him his blessing, Stan hangs around till closing and once the place clears out begins messing around on the drums. So impressed is he Fluff not only gives the Stan the green light with Jane but also offers him a job to play drums.
What follows is Stan walking out on Sonny for Jane and Fluff, Jane walking out on Stan for Sonny, Stan involved in two more automobile accidents, Sonny offering Stan the chance to head up his Phoenix bookie operation, Stan refusing and getting his brains beat out and Jane rushing to his defense and a double murder. Talk about a tin of mixed nuts!
While clocking in at 85 minutes the action, combined with top notch musical numbers, discounting the duet Stan and Fluff sing, the whole production moves very quickly. While mentioning musical numbers, I’m not a fan of the obligatory numbers that are woven within the fabric of many noirs. There are some exceptions, Road House and Gilda come to mind, but The Strip offers first class talent doing what they do best and there’s never a distraction from the story. The whole production comes together very nicely and as the tagline says it’s the “Musical Melodrama of the Dancer and the Drummer.”