Monday, August 3, 2015

Shield For Murder (1954)

(SLWB  - February 14, 2013)

Directors: Howard W. Koch and Edmund O'brien, written by Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins based on the novel Shield For Murder by William P. Mc Givern. The cinematography was by Gordon Avil.

The film stars Edmond O'Brien as Lieutenant Barney Nolan, 
Marla English as Patty Winters, 

John Agar as Sergeant Mark Brewster, 

Emile Meyer as Captain Gunnarson, 

Carolyn Jones as Girl at Bar (Beth), 
Claude Akins as Fat Michaels, 
Lawrence Ryle as Laddie O'Neil (as Larry Ryle), 
Herbert Butterfield as Cabot (reporter), 
Hugh Sanders as Packy Reed, and 
William Schallert as Assistant District Attorney Andy Tucker

Police detective Barney Nolan (O’Brien) commits a murder in an alley and collects 25,000 of mob money from the victim then frantically tries to cover his tracks. With His ill gotten gains he plans to buy a tract house for his cigarette girl girlfriend. The mob becomes suspicious and sends two muscle men after him. 

Barney soon finds himself caught between the mobsters and the police.

Biggest surprise in this was Carolyn Jones' bit performance as a tipsy B-girl, she looks quite stunning as a blonde, prior to this as a blonde in other films she always looked off. 


Nolan and Captain Gunnarson (Meyer)

Lieutenant Barney Nolan (O'Brien)

Nolan and Patty Winters (Marla English)

Nolan and Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders)

cigarette girl

Nolan (OBrien) & Beth (Jones ) 

 Laddie O'Neil (Lawrence Ryle) Fat Michaels (Claude Akins ) and Nolan

Carolyn Jones as B-Girl Beth:

Erom SLWB member Jessica Rabbit May 07, 2017 

“For 16 years I’ve been living in dirt, and take it from me, some of it’s bound to rub off on you. You get to hate people – everyone you meet. I’m sick of them… I’m through with them all.” 

Shield for Murder is an unpretentious Noir, co-directed by its star Edmond O’Brien. 

Embittered and crooked veteran cop Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) has come to the conclusion that the straight and narrow is the path to nowhere and decides it’s time to get a piece of the action. He wants his slice of the American Dream, a suburban model home with a two-car garage and backyard BBQ. Instead of saving, he opts for the easy route: he kills a bookie for $25,000 which should buy him the middle-class domestic bliss he’s been longing for with his girlfriend Patty (Marla English). 
Unfortunately the 25G was mob money, and the mob wants it back. On top of that, a deaf mute old man saw Nolan commit the crime, and Nolan knows he can’t leave any loose ends… 

The 50s saw several “dirty cop” Noirs, that dealt with police corruption in one way or another (Rogue Cop, Private Hell 36, The Prowler, Pushover), hit the screen. 
A decided shift in tone could be noticed compared to the 40s. It was less about powerlessness in the face of pre-ordained fate, more about moral corruption, with emphasis on personal culpability. 

Shield for Murder is a good example of that type of movie, but it’s neither the most stylish nor the most hard-hitting of its kind. The photography is slightly uninspired, and the storytelling is straight-forward and not overly imaginative, it’s nuts and bolts. It offers nothing particularly new in its depiction of disillusionment and dashed dreams. A bit more polish and subtlety may have elevated it to A status, what it does well though is realism. 
Unfortunately, it plays too much like a morality play, O’Brien’s character would have benefited from a little more moral ambiguity. 

O’Brien though, who was by then in his character actor phase, is absolutely believable in his role as burned-out cop. His everyman good looks were gone. He is sweaty and bloated, and it’s easy to believe the anger that is seething in him. Killing doesn’t lie heavily on his conscience. In his view the people he goes after are not dead because he killed them, they’re dead because they didn’t deserve to live. 
Bitter and hateful, he’s been working the streets too long and his attitude on the job has become more and more vicious over the years. He’s been sliding for a long time, the precinct is well-aware of his less than orthodox methods. Not long before he shot two Mexicans for no particular reason at all. Even before he killed the bookie, brutality and strong-arm tactics were his MO. 

But interestingly, he is not a loner but a man in love. Only his girlfriend is able to mitigate his cynicism somewhat. She is the reason behind his rather banal suburban Dream. 
It is telling that we only ever see the housing development with the model home at night, it is nothing more than a pre-fab dream in the darkness, a promise that doesn’t come true. 

Just once do we get a glimpse of the man Nolan used to be when a young man is brought to the police station who has been arrested for stealing a bag of groceries. One look at him tells Nolan it was the kid’s first crime and that he did it to feed his family. He lets him off with a warning. 
He still is capable of understanding and compassion. It's a quick flashback to the man who became a mentor to his young friend on the force, John Agar, himself a former street kid. 

Later the same night Nolan brutally pistol-whips two private dicks who were tailing him at a bar, to the horror of the patrons watching. 

As the conflicted protagonist, the audience should be on Nolan's side but it’s hard to identify with him. His crook is not human enough for that, Nolan is not a basically good man gone wrong. He's firmly in bad guy territory. In the end we think he gets his just deserts, dying on the lawn of his dream house in front of a phalanx of squad cars. 

Marla English plays O’Brien’s finance. She looks fabulous in her cigarette girl outfit and those two make a strange but intriguing couple. She is attracted by his strength, but gets more and more scared by the out-of-control brutality he shows. Beauty and the Beast in Noir country. 

Carolyn Jones (as a blonde) has a small role as a flirty B girl in a bar who throws herself at Nolan and whose preferences seem to be decidedly on the kinky side. 

Unpretentious but effective B Noir. Recommended. 

From Shadowsandsatin IMDb

Favorite scene:

This was kinda hard – there are several scenes that stand out, but I finally chose this one: Detective Nolan is seated at a restaurant bar, trying to drink his troubles away and attempting without success to reach his girl, Patty (Marla English) on the telephone. A blonde (Carolyn Jones) seated nearby sidles over and throws him a couple of lines, including a suggestion on how he can look more tough by shrugging his shoulders and squinting his eyes. Barney’s not interested, but when a cop enters the establishment, he abruptly decides to take the dame up on her offer to move to a booth. Between more drinks, Barney continues his efforts to contact Patty, and when he finally does, he is incensed by the news that she was harassed by a couple of private dicks who have been trailing Barney. Barney promptly makes another call and before long, the two dicks are walking into the bar to meet him. We’re not quite sure what Barney has in mind when he joins the two men at a table and meekly asks one for a light, but we don’t have to wait long to find out – before you can say Jack Robinson, Barney commences to beating the crap out of both men with his pistol. We don’t see the men during the violent thrashing – instead, we’re able to envision the results via the horrified looks and frightened shrieks of the restaurant’s patrons, including a man who never stops munching on his spaghetti even as he seems to be trying to climb into the wall behind him. (Honorable mention to the chase scene/shoot-out at the public swimming pool later in the film. It’s awesome!)

From IMDb

Edmond O'Brien as bad cop in brutal Eisenhower-era look at police corruption, 18 August 2004

Author: bmacv from Western New York

In Shield for Murder (a movie he co-directed with Howard Koch), Edmond O'Brien plays a Los Angeles cop `gone sour.' Bloated and sweaty, he's a sneak preview of another bad apple – Orson Welles in Touch of Evil. In a pre-title sequence, he guns down a drug runner in cold blood, relieves the corpse of an envelope crammed with $25-thou, then yells `Stop or I'll shoot' for the benefit of eavesdroppers before firing twice into the air. When his partner (John Agar) arrives, there's only a few hundred dollars left on the body, and it looks like a justifiable police action – though O'Brien's shock tactics have already drawn the unwelcome attention of his new captain (Emile Meyer).

O'Brien wants the money to buy into the American Dream – to put a down-payment on a tract house, furnished (oddly enough) right down to the table settings. It's a bungalow to share with his girl, Marla English, as well as a handy place to bury his cash in its yard. But a couple of things go wrong. First off, a local crime boss wants back the loot O'Brien ripped off and dispatches a couple of goons to retrieve it. Then, though there were no eye-witnesses to the murder, there was in fact an eavesdropper – an old blind man whose acute hearing picked up a sequence of shots that don't add up to the official story. When this good citizen decides to tell the police what he heard, O'Brien decides to pay him a nocturnal visit....

Based on a novel by William McGivern (who also wrote the books from which The Big Heat, Rogue Cop and Odds Against Tomorrow were drawn), Shield For Murder embodies some of the shifts in tone and emphasis the noir cycle was showing as it wound down. Its emphasis is less on individuals caught up in circumstance than on widespread public corruption; its tone is less suggestive than ostentatiously violent. The movie ratchets up to a couple of brutal set-pieces.

In one, O'Brien, knocking back doubles at the bar in a spaghetti cellar, is picked up by a floozie (Carolyn Jones, in what looks like Barbara Stanwyck's wig from Double Indemnity). `You know what's the matter with mirrors in bars?' she asks him. `Men always make hard faces in them.' While she eats, he continues to drink. When the goons track him down there, O'Brien savagely pistol-whips one of them (Claude Akins) to the horror of the other patrons who had come to devour their pasta in peace. Later, there's an attempted pay-off (and a double-cross) in a public locker-room and swimming-pool that ends in carnage. It's easy to dismiss Shield For Murder – it has a seedy B-picture look and a literalness that typified most of the crime films of the Eisenhower administration. But it's grimly effective – almost explosive.

Nolan breaking bad

The taglines for the film were: “So savage, so stark, so vicious, it’ll make your skin crawl!” and “If ever a picture was crammed with guts, this is it.” 7/10

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