Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Nickel Ride (1974) Death of the Key Man

 LA Smog Noir, circa 1974, directed by Robert Mulligan (The Rat Race (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Summer of '42 (1971),) Cinematography was by Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner (1982)). It was written by Eric Roth (The Drowning Pool (1975)) and stars Jason Miller as Cooper, Linda Haynes as Sarah, Victor French as Paddie, John Hillerman as Carl, Bo Hopkins as Turner, Richard Evans as Bobby, Bart Burns as Elias, Lou Frizzell as Paulie, Mark Gordon as Tonozzi.

Cooper "Coop", is a small but successful cog in the LA underworld. He on top of his world, He is a fence, receiving stolen goods which he stores in the various warehouses around 5th Street in downtown LA. He is known as the "Key Man" for the large ring of keys he always carries. Business is booming, and there is a serious shortage of storage space.

The film begins at night, a tractor-trailer backs up to a loading dock. The hijackers pile out and a hood in a seersucker suit and straw hat beats on the sliding steel door of a warehouse as the rest of the crew unload the goods. The watchman opens up the door and tells the hood in the seersucker there is no room.

Cooper has been cobbling a deal to get "the block" a very large brick warehouse complex, 400,000 square feet, with rail spurs, comprising nineteen addresses, that sits on a full city block down in the 5th and Alameda district. It will be "like Grand Central Station". The word is out that the old street boss is losing control, if he doesn't deliver this block, 5th Street goes down the toilet and he'll go with it. The deal is in limbo because crooked LAPD official Elias and his downtown cronies are dragging ass, wanting more juice. Cooper's immediate boss Carl is putting pressure on him to get it done. Carl's bosses are a new breed, razor cuts, bookkeepers and lawyers who don't understand the streets.

Coop and Carl
Carl also has Coop lean on boxing manager Paulie. He wants, to have boxer Tonozzi, who has been making a bit of a comeback, take one last dive in his next bout. When Tonozzi doesn't deliver, Carl thinks Coop is slipping. Coop tells Paulie to leave town but Carl's goons get to him first. Carl also hires a goofy looking enforcer named Turner, a quasi hippy-ish, off-putting hayseed imported from Texas who wears a cowboy hat and boots with denim bell bottom jeans and a jacket embroidered with flowers on the front and a marijuana leaf on the back.

Coop has been on the job for 19 years, an ex carney, con man who worked his way West to LA then up the crime ladder. He has a live in gal pal Sarah who was working as a keno gal in Vegas when he found her, but in one sequence she demonstrates some bumps and grinds to Coop and his long time friend Paddie, the owner of the local bar.  Coop's become a respected and loved 5th street neighborhood fixture, his friends and the patrons of Paddie's  even throw him a surprise birthday party. This respect and love proves his undoing, the new breed of crook wants to rule on fear and brutality and Coop is coming to the end of his nickel ride.

Happy Birthday

The Street

Jason Miller is practically a double for Charles McGraw without the gravelly voice, there are some great believable performances here from Victor French (who you won't recognize) he comes off as an interesting mix of Art Carney and Walter Matthau,  and from Linda Haynes the smalltown born, ex Vegas showgirl. The side story of Coop and Sarah and their affection for each other is well done. John Hillerman is the "Hollywood-ish" mob underboss, and Bo Hopkins is outlandish as the politely creepy "Cadillac Cowboy" hit man. This film builds slowly in tension much like Night And The City (1950) does.

The Block



The noir-ish cinematography is excellent, emphasising gritty, smoggy, downtown LA, an LA that's slowly succumbing to high rises and parking lots, but it also is juxtaposed by nicely composed 2.35 : 1 widescreen closeups and also throws in a sequence reminiscent of the Big Bear Lake segment featured in the Van Heflin-Robert Ryan Noir Act Of Violence (1948) The subtle soundtrack nicely compliments the storyline. 8/10. The DVD is from Shout Video.

A bonus to this film is Tom Waits song about this skid row section of Los Angeles, called On The Nickel, so here it is, enjoy.

On the Nickel
Sticks and stones will break my bones I always will be true
and when your mama's dead and gone I'll sing this lullaby just for you
and what becomes of all the little boys who never comb their hair
they're lined up all around the block on the nickel over there

so better bring a bucket there's a hole in the pail
and if you don't get my letter then you'll know that I'm in jail
and what becomes of all the little boys who never say their prayers
they're sleepin like a baby on the nickel over there

and if you chew tobacco and wish upon a star
you'll find out where the scarecrows sit just like punch lines between the cars
and I know a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair
and even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there

so ring around the rosie sleepin in the rain
and you're always late for supper man you let me down let me down again
and I thought I heard a mockingbird Roosevelt knows where
you can skip the light with Grady Tuck on the nickel over there

so what becomes of all the little boys who run away from home
the world just keeps gettin bigger once you get out on your own
so here's to all the little boys the sandman takes you where
you're sleepin with a pillow man on the nickel over there

so climb up through that button hole and fall right up the stairs
and I'll show you where the short dogs grow on the nickel

over there

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