Saturday, June 07, 2008
Written by Raven
While Abandoned boasts a boat load of colorful characters; Shoeshine Sammy, Morrie the Bookie, Doc, Winey, Punchy, and Scoop seemingly plucked from the beloved New York streets of Damon Runyon this film ain’t no Guys and Dolls. It’s more like Babes for Dough, a rough and dark social commentary/police procedural on the heinous crime of selling unwanted newborns in addition to the assorted murders, and double dealings that accompany this path to ill gained riches.
Abandoned, produced by Universal in 1949 rolls its opening credits to the melodic stains of a prior Uni noir, 1946’s The Killers. While there’s no Charles McGraw or William Conrad emerging from the shadows we do get Dennis O’Keefe, as Mark Sitko a world-weary newshound and Raymond Burr as Kerric a crook in gumshoes clothing, both a couple of not too shabby noir stalwarts for viewers to feast upon for the next 78 minutes. It bears noting, while Burr doesn’t get star billing, he’s literally the biggest thing in the picture! This in no small part thanks to the costumer. His wearing of a striped, double-breasted suit literally fills the screen to the point a twin bill could be shown across the broad expanse of his ample rear end with space left over for a Chilly Willy cartoon.
The female leads, lesser known perhaps for their work in film noir than in other genres or mediums are more than adequate and played by Gail Storm (Paula Considine) and Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Donner) she being the “brains” behind the whole scam and who also succeeds in stealing every scene she’s in.
Given star billing along with O’Keefe and Storm is Jeff Chandler who’s little more than window dressing in providing the voice over narration and playing Police Chief MacRae complete with a head of dark hair! Giving ample support are Will Kuluva as the sadistic, crime boss “Little Guy Decola” who gets his jollies playing with matches, and everyone’s favorite muscleman, Mike Mazurki as Little Guy’s big gorilla “Hoppe” who gets his jollies bustin’ heads.
Direction is by Joseph M. Newman (no relation to Alfred E.) who also directed several other entries in the noir/crime genre; 711 Ocean Drive, Dangerous Crossing, I’ll Get You for This, and Flight to Hong Kong among them during his thirty plus year career. That said, I’d be remiss if not noting along with these he also directed one of the all time greats in the annals of 50’s sci fi, 1955’s This Island Earth.
Writing credits are shared between the rarely used Irwin Gielgud for screenplay and twice Oscar nominated William Bowers for additional dialogue. While the story’s OK, it’s the bits of “additional dialogue” that put the sizzle on the steak. As during an exchange between Kerric and Mrs Donner when he notes “I’d be just as happy if we committed our murders in a state that doesn’t have capital punishment.”
Snappy repartee is used to great effect throughout Abandoned but it always seems directed at or delivered by Kerric as when he wishfully says to Mrs. Donner “I was just thinking how nice life used to be when I stuck to blackmail and petty larceny.” Later on during a meeting, Little Guy pretty much sums up the thin ice Kerric finds himself on by telling him “There’s a rumor going around town I’m getting soft. Whenever that happens I always cut a couple of throats just to prove a point.”
The film opens with the obligatory voice over warning the viewer this could be your city. But it’s plain to see from the massive concrete erection of City Hall rising before us the city in question is that bastion of west coast noir (with heartfelt apologies to San Francisco) Los Angeles. The City of Angels provides a nice supporting role with the aforementioned City Hall figuring in a number of exterior and interior shots, along with numerous street scenes and venerable MacArthur Park getting its unmistakable mug in the act too.
It seems “your city” has among its inhabitants a villainous group, led by Mrs Donner, prying upon young unwed mothers. Passing out bibles and a line of hooey about good care and good homes for their unwanted babies is nothing more than a cover for her real intent which is the sale of the babies to well-healed customers seeking to forgo the normal channels of adoption. While the old broad puts up a good front for the girls that entrust themselves to her and to her customers, behind closed doors she can sling it with the rest of the cretins as demonstrated when she tells Kerric “You might sell your mother. It’s the only thing you haven’t tried” when he’s trying his best to cobble together funds so he can skip out of town.
The heroine, young, beautiful, and bewildered Paula has come to “your city” to find her missing sister Mary. Paula’s in receipt of a letter on hospital stationary from her sister telling her she’s had a baby but very little in other details. Only knowing Mary’s in the city Paula makes her way to the Police Missing Persons Department in an attempt to locate her. As fate would have it, while dealing with the Missing Persons' clerk in strolls newspaper man Mark Sitko who immediately takes a fancy to Paula.
Listening to her story he’s not thoroughly convinced there’s much more than the obvious young girl in trouble giving little credence to the missing person’s angle. However trying his best to get in good with the distraught Paula he suggests they take the clerk's directive to the next logical stop and head towards the morgue. As they exit the building into the night air Mark’s aware they’re being shadowed by Kerric (how could he not be aware, Kerric’s shadow probably weights 10 pounds) and thinks perhaps there’s more going on than he originally thought.
Grabbing Paula and forcing her down a flight of stairs leading to an underpass, they take cover behind a corner and await the arrival of Kerric. Once confronted Sitko and Kerric engage in a heated debate that includes these zingers;” I couldn’t sleep so I just decided to take my gun out for a walk,” and “You going legitimate is like a vulture going vegetarian.”
A quick going though Kerric’s papers reveals a photo of Paula and the disclosure he’s been hired by her father to track her down in hopes she’d lead him to Mary. Later on the coincidence that the very private dick Pop hires just happens to be in cohorts with the dame running the baby brokerage firm his daughter was duped by is a real stretch. Be that as it may, at this juncture the wheels start coming off the baby buggy as the three of them make their way to the morgue. Once there, sure enough whose photo do we see? None other than Mary’s with the notation her demise was by suicide via carbon monoxide poising and found behind the wheel of a car out in the boonies at a country club construction site.
Funny thing though is Mary didn’t know how to drive and of course Paula’s convinced her sister would never do such a thing. To the point she’s so determined she convinces Mark to forego his merely chasing her skirt and instead start chasing a story. Trying to convince the police there’s something shady going on is a bit trickier. But once Chef MacRae’s on board he unleashes all the high-tech gadgets at the force's disposal with the hidden microphone in the shrubbery being priceless.
The final collaborative efforts between private citizens and police result in unearthing the whole babies-for-sale racket but not before taking the viewer on a heck of a thrill ride complete with double crosses, car crashes, beatings, falling off ledges, shootings, killings and all crammed in one of the best bang-up and darkly filmed, bring all the perpetrators to justice conclusions in film noir.
Lastly, Abandoned also has perhaps the best example ever of what evil can befall one when a “little guy” plays with matches. Poor Kerric, he should have taken the advice of Sitko when he told him “That just about closes the case. You can report to your client now and have him take you off the gravy train.” Fortunately for us the lug didn’t take the advice and literally gets burned for it but his loss is the viewer’s gain.