FOR YOU I DIE (1947) 76 minutes (B&W)
Georgia: ‘Maybe you’ve got something. (He’s) almost like having a wild animal for a pet’.
Hope: ‘You make me sick’.
Convict Johnny Coulter (Paul Langton), nearing the end of a prison sentence, is forced to take part in a prison break organized by gangster and thug Matt Gruber (Don Harvey).
Coulter is told to hide out in a backwoods holiday camp. There he’s to make contact with Gruber’s woman, an ex-chorus girl Hope Novak (Cathy Downs) and let her know that Gruber will be along to fetch her as soon as things cool down.
Coulter locates the camp, makes the meet, and keeps his head down. However Novak is not at all the hard-bitten hoofer that he’d been expecting. And it turns out she no longer wants anything to do with Gruber.
Hope also believes she sees good in Coulter, a guy who’s taken every kind of beating there is and is now on the ropes. For his part he starts to see her as someone he might trust. It starts to look like there may be Hope for Coulter.
Meantime Gruber is out there and nothing‘s changed for him – which is going to present a serious problem for everyone else down the line.
For You I Die sounds like and is a film noir with some basically sound bones. However after a promising start the picture’s black magic gives way to wayward conjuring remindful of the foolishness in His Kind of Woman. The film wobbles wildly as the script/ director hands it off to a group of theatrical inanities who hang around the motor camp’s café in some unexplainable attempt at comic relief.
Among the misfits: Alex Shaw (Misha Auer), a manic Russian artist and spiritualist; Smitty, an alcoholic hash-slinger who’s sweet on Hope; Mac and Jerry, cartoon cops who live at the lunch counter and repeatedly challenge Coulter, ‘You know, you sure do look familiar’ or ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere’ (the joke is that Coulter’s wanted poster is knocking around in their black-and-white).
Thankfully after a time For You I Die’s central plot and characters are allowed to re-exert themselves and the movie again plainly threatens.
Johnny Coulter is straight out of the film noir workbook – though Paul Langton a journeyman character player at first doesn’t quite take as featured lead. However eventually he comes into focus bringing together something of Dennis O’Keefe’s unaffected brashness and Richard Basehart’s sinister calculation.
Maggie Dillion (Marian Kerby), the resort owner, is a toughened Ma Joad with a bible in one hand and deep-fryer in the other. She’s a sentimental character but she’s okay, our Maggie.
Georgia (Jane Weeks) is a blonde tramp in the tradition of all great blonde film noir tramps. She slinks around the cafe and comes on to every guy who walks in the door including Coulter. She might be listed on the menu as ‘Apple Strumpet’. But Georgia’s no fool and proves to be more dangerous than Coulter suspects.
However, it’s Hope Novak, Gruber’s once-girlfriend really who takes charge of the movie. Novak is a girl who’s had a life but wants another. She has no illusions about where she’s been and is resolute about never going back. Intially Hope seems a bit too much of a goody two-shoes for someone who’s had such a hard start. It’s also a stretch to think that she’d hook up with another felon. But the under-rated Downs is able to convince us that Hope knows what she’s about and what she’s doing.
Director John Reinhart (The Guilty, Open Secret, Chicago Calling) and Cinematography William Clothier (Confidence Girl, Track of the Cat, Gangbusters) do a reasonable job of things given the fractured script. The film, an abject poverty row cheapie, has a contained and theatrical construction but some of the framing and lighting of the stage-like sets are evocative, sometimes haunting.
But overall For You I Die is a bit of a disappointment. It’s obvious the film could have been rendered a more compelling drama, even a fierce and memorable noir.
Unfortunately, the commercial DVD release on May 15 this year by Alpha Entertainment didn’t prove to be all that much cause for excitement.
Written by Gary Deane ‘Night Editor’