Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1950. Samuel H. Stiefel Productions. Screenplay by Robert Smith. Cinematography by Lionel Lindon. Produced by Mort Briskin. Music by Louis Gruenberg. Production Design by Boris Leven. Costume Design by Joan Joseff. Film Editing by Walter Thompson.
Mickey Rooney plays an auto mechanic who is out drinking with the boys when he spots a dangerous blonde (Jeannie Cagney) working behind the bar counter; he asks her out on a date and she eventually accepts, then he realizes he has no dough to treat her to a fine night. His friends can’t spot him a ten, so Rooney helps himself to a bit of cash from the register, knowing he’ll have plenty of time to get it back before the body shop’s accountant comes for his weekly visit. Unfortunately he does so on a week that the books are balanced early, forcing him to find other ways to get the money back that scale ridiculously out of control with each foolish maneuver, from the buying of a watch on timed payments that he tries to pawn, illegally, to eventually being on the run from the law for kidnapping and murder by the end of the movie. Made independently and with all the flavour of fifties film noir, this one’s plot reeks of Crime Doesn’t Pay moralizing (mostly to dampen down any suspicion of it having any communist sympathy for the working man), but it never feels didactic on either side of the scale, as director Irving Pichel has a great time indulging in the settings and relies on the performances by his intelligent cast (including a very sympathetic Rooney) to avoid the script’s possibilities for finger pointing. There’s enough humour in the way it plays out to make it feel so much more intelligent than it deserves to be, plus it has a sparkling supporting performance by Peter Lorre as Cagney’s jilted lover and ex-boss.