Thursday, April 26, 2018

Death In Small Doses (1957) Speed Freak Noir

A late night trucker is hauling freight down a stretch of two lane blacktop. He's popping "bennies", "co-pilots", "speed", "zip", "uppers", i.e., Benzedrine pills, the first pharmaceutical drug that contained amphetamine.

Bennies had a euphoric stimulant effect, and it was widely used for recreational purposes. Benzedrine and other derived amphetamines were used as a stimulant for armed forces during World War II and the Korean War. It became a popular drug with the Beat Generation and long haul truckers who used 'bennies" to stay awake.

The trucker is wolfing down pills. Over dosing. Out of control. He's swerving all over the road and begins to hallucinate on coming headlights. He turns the wheel and goes over the embankment. Crash and Burn!

The rash of trucking accidents across the nation with amphetamine overdosed drivers, alerts the FDA they send undercover agents across the country to infiltrate the various trucking firms to get leads on dealers and suppliers. Tom Kaylor (Peter Graves) is sent winging it to Los Angeles.

Mink (Connors), Val (Powers) Tom Graves)
Tom is assigned to Bodmer Freight Lines as a trainee. He gets accommodations at a rooming house run by Val Owens (Marla Powers), a widow of a trucker. One of the roomers is a "cowboy" trucker named Mink Reynolds (Chuck Connors). Mink is a real piece of work, and if your used to seeing Chuck Connors only in re-runs of The Rifleman, this performance is an eye opener. Instead of a Stoic and cool as ice rancher, here Connors is a juking, jitterbugging, wild eyed and a bit wound too tight truck driving man.

Cab over with "drom box"
Wally (Roy Engel)

Tom gets assigned at first with old man Wally Morse (Roy Engel). Wally has been driving 19 years and was a good friend of Val Owen's deceased husband, also a long haul trucker. Tom and Wally hit it off well, and begin driving the haul to Portland, Oregon.


the grade


Tom, Dunc (Robert B. Williams), Wally

Along the way Tom begins his investigations. He keeps asking about bennies around the various truck stops, service stations, and Ma & Pa beaneries that they frequent. Tom is showing a believable, for a trucker, interest in bennies.  He asks questions about getting copilots from Dunc Clayton (Robert B. Williams) who is a truck mechanic and owner of Dunc's Truck Stop who also was once a trucker. From Dunk and everyone else he asks, he gets the brush.

Six Points
At a truck stop called Six Points Wally and Tom run into a barely in control, high flying Mink who is jitterbugging with a waitress Amy (Merry Anders). When Mink and Amy finish their dance Tom still watching Amy sees her take a small envelope out of her pocket and pop a few pills.

The Six Point beanery

Amy (Merry Anders) and Mink

When they get back at the freight terminal one of the loaders starts hallucinating and attacks his fellow workers. During the struggle he has a heart attack. It's found out that he too overdosed himself.

On the long haul to Portland, Tom talks with Wally again about bennies, trying to get some info out of him. Wally says that the use is wide spread and is killing all his old friends. Talking with Tom about the situation gets Wally fired up to find out who is supplying the drivers. So Wally starts doing his own poking around. He ends up getting beaten to death.

Tom is now teamed up with Mink on another run and Mink offers Tom some copilots to help him get through the run. At Six Points Tom stops by Amy's cabin and accuses her of pushing bennies, he accuses her of having an active hand in killing the truckers she's selling the pills to. Tom wants her to rat out the suppliers. She tells him she'll think about it and let him know on his return run back to L.A.

Of course it all goes Noirsville with a few nice twists after Amy powders and leaves Tom a note naming names and Mink finally overdoses himself trying to kill Tom in the process.


Val's boarding house


The film is a real hoot, mostly for the revelation that Chuck Connors has quite some range. He is  obviously the  highlight for me. Every time you see him he's upped the wattage on his drugged out performance. The rest of the cast plugs away adequately at their rolls. Tom and Val get some sparks going in the romance department.

The film has some great footage depicting the "the Road" of the 1950s and 60s the big rigs and outfits doing the hauls, the working truck stops, and the service areas on the highways and byways. One aspect of the film was head scratching and got my curiosity up. We are used to seeing semi trucks everyday while driving, but the trucks for Bodmer Freight Lines, looked a bit strange to me. Instead of the usual semi-tractor trailer rigs, the boys are driving a Cab over Peterbilt with an eleven foot "drom box" short for dromedary. So their outfit looks like an ordinary box truck with a tractor trailer attached to that. This was a popular setup for truckers out West for a number of years. The theory behind the drom box was the ability to haul more cargo while remaining within the established length limits of the time. Also the "drom boxes" were a handy storage area for chains, spare tires, tools, hand carts, etc., etc.

Death In Small Doses was directed by Joseph M. Newman (Abandoned (1949) 711 Ocean Drive (1950), Dangerous Crossing (1953), The Human Jungle (1954)), The film was written by John McGreevey and was  based on an Saturday Evening Post article by Arthur L. Davis. The cinematography was by Carl E. Guthrie (eleven filn noir) and the music was by Robert Wiley Miller  and Emil Newman.  Screen caps are from Youtube. Entertaining, 6-7/10.