Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) Pseudo NYPD Noir

Here is a late "Classic Noir" cop film that has great cinematography, a decent story about NYPD police corruption undercover work fifteen years before Serpico, and the always enjoyable Darren McGavin in the title role. It's missing one thing....

B R O O K L Y N ! ! !

Now  how the hell can you make a film about corruption in the NYPD Brooklyn precincts and NOT have any second unit or even stock footage establishing shots of the boro the film is set in? I'm spoiled, I guess after seeing the likes of The Naked City, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Blast Of Silence, backlot NYC just doesn't float my boat. You expect more not less.

No footage of the Brooklyn, Manhattan or Williamsburg bridge, no East River, no skyline, no subways, no avenues. A two second clip of Brooklyn Boro Hall is it. It's a  big omission.

It's not as if they couldn't afford stock footage, they actually have a clip of a truck going off a curve and turning over from Thieves Highway (1949). It's jarringly out of place, and looks like California where it was shot, lol.

Thieves Highway fruit truck wreck stock footage

A token second unit footage sequence of an el train
What they have is a few pathetic still shots of Grand Army Plaza, either the Gowanus Canal or Newtown Creek, a still of part the Brooklyn Bridge and some anonymous avenue but all of these are hidden behind the opening credits. All this spells out cheap.

The film does at least have some cuts to an el train going by along with the audios of passing subway cars during one sequence, but again, it needed a lot more sprinkled here and there, if it was going to compete on a level playing field with all of the more well known New York City noirs, The Naked City,  The Window, The Dark Corner, Kiss of Death, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Cry Of The City, The Unsuspected, The Glass Wall, The Killer That Stalked New York, Sweet Smell Of Success, etc., etc.   If those are all considered "B" Noirs The Case Against Brooklyn,  A Columbia Pictures release, looks like a "C" Noir. Hell even cheapo "D" noir, Blast Of Silence has beaucoup more New York City ambiance, of course it had the advantage of actually being shot in New York.

Because of the lack of second unit footage the film has that "stylized" almost dreamlike, depopulated, relatively garbageless, antiquated backlot city look and feel, hell they don't even have the old bishop's crook street lamps, they give us these "California" globe type lamps. You get this exact same look and feeling when viewing The Man With The Golden Arm, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rear Window, and the weird split personality look of The Money Trap (1965) which jarringly segues between real LA and a backlot New York brownstone street. That film sorely missed using the old Bunker Hill Locations. But I'm digressing.

An antiseptic New York  City backlot, note  the globe street lamp, I never saw those in NYC. 

Also MIA is any New York/Brooklyn accents, you'd think it would have been a casting concern for a film set in NYC, even that would have helped more with the ambiance.

Mobster Finelli (Nestor Paiva) and Gus Palumbo (Joe De Santis)
Other than those minuses The Case Against Brooklyn is a tight little film directed by Paul Wendkos who gave us (The Burglar (1957) and that film did include location shots of Atlantic City). The story was by written by Ed Reid based on his story “I Broke the Brooklyn Graft Scandal”, Daniel B. Ullman (screen story), Bernard Gordon (screenplay) (originally as Raymond T. Marcus) and Julian Zimet. Cinematography was by Noir, Crime, and SiFi vet Fred Jackman Jr. (Dangerous Passage (1944), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The Night Holds Terror (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957).

Franklin (Warren Stevens)

Franklin (Stevens) and drop collector (Herb Vigran)

getting rough on Gus

Franklin, Gus, and  Lil Polombo (Margaret Hayes)

Dist. Atty. Michael W. Norris (Tol Avery)

Pete Harris (Darren McGavin)

Harris (McGavin)
The film stars Darren McGavin (Fear (1946), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Mike Hammer (TV Series), The Outsider (1967 TV film and 1968-1969 TV), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (TV Series)) as Pete Harris.

The supporting cast provides quite a bit of cinematic memory, Margaret Hayes as Lil Polombo (Saboteur (1942), The Glass Key (1942), ), Warren Stevens (Women's Prison (1955), The Price of Fear (1956), Accused of Murder (1956), The Twilight Zone (TV Series) ) as Rudi Franklin, Peggy McCay as Mrs. Jane Harris, Tol Avery (Where Danger Lives (1950), Gambling House (1950), His Kind of Woman (1951), Naked Alibi (1954), ) as Dist. Atty. Michael W. Norris, Brian G. Hutton as Jess Johnson, Emile Meyer (The People Against O'Hara (1951), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Shield for Murder (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Lineup (1958), ) as Police Capt. T.W. Wills, Nestor Paiva (The Fallen Sparrow (1943), Cornered (1945), Rope of Sand (1949), Split Second (1953), I, the Jury (1953), New York Confidential (1955).  ) as mobster Finelli, Robert Osterloh as Det. Sgt. Bonney, Joe De Santis as Gus Polumbo, Herb Vigran, and Bobby Helms as Himself - Vocalist (his biggest hits were My Special Angel and Jingle Bell Rock).

The story is a quasi police procedural, about the investigation of a breaking news story about police corruption infesting Kings County (Brooklyn). Police corruption was already addressed in earlier Noir films such as The Big Heat (1953) - Philadelphia, is probably the first film that comes to mind, but we also have The Turning Point (1952) -  Los Angeles, Rogue Cop (1954) - New York, and Shield for Murder (1954) - Los Angeles that all travel to some extent down the same track.

Rudi Franklin: You got that cop look
Det. Sgt. Bonney: What's that?
Rudie Franklin: Like you never missed a meal in your life.

The film goes into high gear at the 13:50 mark when Ex-Marine Intelligence Sergeant, Pete Harris, is taken out of his Police Academy Graduating Class due to his undercover experience to investigate and identify police corruption in the 65th Precinct, Brownsville. Dist. Atty. Norris is in charge of the 40 man, police academy graduate, undercover squad. Harris is assigned to illegal betting parlors run by gangster Finelli and his second hand man Rudi Franklin. He also must get close to the widow of Gus Polumbo (a parking garage owner) who killed himself in a truck rollover to collect on a double indemnity policy so that his wife could pay off his gambling debts.

When Pete's hand picked partner Jess Johnson is gunned down by a crooked cop, Pete becomes obsessed with avenging his death to the point of alienating himself from the undercover squad and his wife.

Margaret Hayes as Lil Polombo

Darren McGavin is excellent, you can see why he was tagged to play Mike Hammer in the 1958-59 TV series, which BTY in case you are interested has quite a few noir-ish episodes The series is available on DVD.

Harris goes around with a chip on his shoulder, a hair trigger temper and a Colt .45 Automatic (too bad the Mike Hammer series didn't include the .45). The rest of the cast is good, my only small quibble is with the female leads, you mean to tell me Columbia couldn't come up with some of their better known female talent, Kim Novak, Anne Bancroft, Jayne Mansfield, Martha Vickers, or Felicia Farr? I guess they were cutting costs all down the line. The film uses plot points and stylistic devices from other films noticeably The Big Heat, and Desperate. It's entertaining enough, 7/10.

Screencaps are from the SPHE DVD.

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