|Diane - left in hotel, right as racketeers squeeze|
Gruff Charles McGraw stars in swift, satisfying noir
Author: bmacv from Western New York
27 May 2002
Drop a laurel wreath on Charles McGraw's huge, sculptural head – you can almost see it in the Greco-Roman wing of a museum, perched atop a pedestal. He was one of the noir cycle's most serviceable pieces of furniture, along with Raymond Burr and Elisha Cook, Jr. Most often he lurked in the murky background, but sometimes, most memorably in The Narrow Margin, he stayed front and center. He also shuttled uncomplainingly between the underworld and the keepers of law and order. Starring in Roadblock, he tries to straddle both worlds.
This no-frills noir opens with a tease: McGraw stages a murder, then abducts a witness whom he manipulates into buying his way out of certain death with the loot from a bank job. But the movie is setting up McGraw as a straight-arrow insurance investigator who'll stop at nothing to achieve his goal.
Until he crosses paths with Joan Dixon, that is. A crafty gold-digger, she finds him sweet but `honest;' she's saving her sexual artillery for more affluent game, which she finds in a smooth racketeer (Lowell Gilmore). But McGraw can't get her out of his blood and, knowing that furs and jewels are the path to her mercenary heart, strikes up a deal with the mobster. He offers him a million-and-a-quarter, insured by his company, which he knows will be traveling by train; if Gilmore pulls the job off, McGraw will settle for $400 grand.
The irony – and the script's least convincing turn – is that Dixon falls for McGraw anyway and renounces her grasping ways. (Not only does this ring false, it also makes her far less arresting a character.) Despite second thoughts, McGraw gets his share of the take. Then, naturally, he's assigned to the team of investigators trying to crack the case....
Harold Daniels, who had a brief and largely undistinguished career as both actor and director, keeps the action swift and simple – it races down an hour-plus of highway until it reaches its titular roadblock. The movie goes down as easily and satisfyingly as a hot dog and a beer.