Sunday, August 28, 2022

Desperate (1947) Midwest Noir

irected by Anthony Mann. (The Tall Target, Side Street, Border Incident, Reign of Terror, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal, T-Men, Railroaded!)

Written by Harry Essex, with Martin Rackin adding additional dialogue, and based on a story by Dorothy Atlas and Anthony Mann. The Cinematography was by George E. Diskant and the Music was by Paul Sawtell.

The film Stars Steve Brodie (Crossfire, Armored Car Robbery, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, M, Two Dollar Bettor, ) as Steve Randall, Audrey Long (Born to Kill) as Anne Randall, Raymond Burr (13 Classic Noir) as Walt Radak, Douglas Fowley (The Glass Alibi, Backlash, Key Witness, Flaxy Martin, Armored Car Robbery, Edge of Doom) as Pete, William Challee (Deadline at Dawn, Force of Evil, On Dangerous Ground) as Reynolds, Jason Robards Sr. (Born To Kill, Impact) as Ferrari, Freddie Steele as Shorty, Lee Frederick as Joe, Paul E. Burns as Uncle Jan. Ilka Gr√ľning as Aunt Klara and Larry Nunn as Al Radak.  

Steve Brodie as Steve Randall

Audrey Long as Anne Randall

Raymond Burr as Walt Radak

William Challee as Reynolds

I don't recall how long ago I first saw this film, probably on TV in the 50's/60s. It was long before I knew what Film Noir even were. The next time I saw it I was by then an avid Noir fan and this was my first impression written down back on June 17 2012,  over ten years ago on the SLWB.  

"Wow! Blown away by another exceptionally stylish Noir, Mann is at top form right out of the starting gate, some great cinematography sequences here that definitely look as if they influenced [Sergio] Leone. There is a back room beating of Steve Brodie that is reminiscent of the introduction to Harmonica at the trading post in Once Upon a Time in The West, and a countdown to an execution that will recall the editing of the three way shootout at the end of The Good The Bag And The Ugly, involving a clock, and ever increasing closeups of Brodie, Burr, and Challee."

I was so impressed with the Visuals that I excused the some of the crazy plot points.


Steve Randall's 1942 Chevrolet G-7107 1½-ton Cargo Truck

Steve Brodie with neighbor kid

A Chicago independent trucker and four month newlywed, Steve Randall (Brodie) is given a message by his wife Anne to call a Mr. Reynolds about a job. When Steve calls from the phone out in the hall Reynolds tells him that he has some perishables that have to be moved tonight. Steve hesitates because this is his and Anne's four month anniversary and they were planning a special night. 

However when Reynolds offers $50 dollars it's hard to pass up, that is the equivalent of $665.00 today. He told to be at Warehouse 3 on West Street at 7:00PM. As soon as Steve hangs up we cut to Reynolds.

He's in some garage hideout that belongs to local mobster Walt Radak. Reynolds tells Radak that you see he jumped at the money. 

Radak isn't sure, he'd rather use Biggies truck, but the police got a stakeout on his garage and put a tail on Biggie every time he leaves in the truck. So it's no dice using Biggie. 

Al Radak, Walt's younger brother asks Walt if he could tag along as part of the gang. Walt says sure, this can be his first job, and he hands him a revolver. 

Larry Nunn as Al Radak

Steve makes his appointment driving up in his 1942 Chevrolet G-7107 1½-ton Cargo Truck and backs it into the loading dock. 

When he gets out he drops the loading gate and is met by Walt Radak who he is surprised to see there. He asks Walt if he's seen a Mr. Reynolds. Radak tells Steve that Reynolds works for him and that he's inside. Just about that time Al comes out of the warehouse the holding a gun and announces that there is a second vault inside and it's full of furs. 

Put him in the truck and keep him there

Steve puts two and two together and tells Walt they can forget about his truck he's pulling out. Walt pulls out his gun, covers Steve and tells Shorty to put Steve in the truck and keep him there.

At this point in the tale let me take you off on a little autobiographical detour. This was back in the late 1960s. I had a holiday job making office Christmas and New Years Eve party liquor deliveries for an Italian liquor store in Astoria, It's owner was Crazy Domenic. It was also the name of the store. If it was a front for something else I never found out, but the first thing Crazy did when I was applying for that job was open his suit jacket and show me his gun carried in a shoulder holster. 

So I was making these deliveries throughout the five boroughs and also New Jersey. There was a delivery to a Cold Fur Storage warehouse somewhere in Long Island City or Greenpoint around Newtown Creek. 

So I get to this warehouse and park open the van door and place the order cartons on the hand truck. It's late December, with the wind whipping around it had to be some wind chill say felt like 20 degrees and it was humid cold. I wheel the order over to the warehouse service entrance door. 

The place had to be three or four stories high. A big white building with a huge "COLD FUR STORAGE" sign embellished with icicles and snowflakes etc. The letters were big enough to be read from the nearby expressway. So there I'm standing all bundled up with my order in hand and my cart, and I ring the buzzer. 

Some wise guy in a wife beater t-shirt opens the door lets me in, and its got to be 90 degrees in there. The place was a total scam. I wheeled the cart through racks and racks of fur coats and stoles to the breakroom at the back unload as the guy checks off the items and was sweating my ass off by the time I got back outside. Cold Storage my ass. Back to Desperate.

So Shorty grabs Steve and puts him in the cab at gunpoint. The rest of Radak's gang continue to load furs. 

Sitting in the cab with his revolver pointed at Steve, Shorty has his head turned and is watching the loading progress through the back cab window. Steve looking the other way out the windshield spots a beat cop crossing the street at the end of the block. He slowly stretches his arm out towards the knob on the dash that turns on the headlights. When his fingers reach the plastic he pulls and pushes it in and out two or three times before Shorty wises up to what he was doing. 

Pulling out the headlight knob

The lights stabbing through the darkness attract the cop who comes walking down the street with his gun drawn. 


Shorty is distracted enough for Steve to rap him in the jaw.

The beat cop coming down the street

Al Radak comes out of the warehouse sees the cop getting close, and standing on the trucks loading gate and leaning against the tarp, starts shooting at the cop who returns fire. 

Steve drives off past wounded cop

The cop gets hit. Steve starts the truck and pulls out suddenly toppling Al off the gate and into the street, A patrol car arrives to investigate the shots as Walt and Reynolds run out of the warehouse. 

Al Radak unconscious in West Street

Patrol Car drives up

Walt and Reynolds fire on the approaching cops

Walt sees Al laying in the street and they start shooting at the cops. Walt wants to grab Al but Reynolds tells him they better scoot or the cops will get them. The take off running away from the cops. 

Meanwhile, in Steve's Chevy truck, Shorty comes to in the cab and grabs up his gun which Steve left laying on the seat. He tells Steve where to drive. It's to Radak's hideout. 

At Walt's Shorty forces Steve at gunpoint into the office where Joe is holding down the fort. Soon Walt and Reynolds show. 

Walt Radak: You ran out on us.

Steve Randall: I never was in with you.

Walt belts Steve. Walt pissed that the cops have Al tells Steve that he's going to go down to confess to the crime and tell the cops that Al had nothing to do with it. 

We lost Al

Freddie Steele as Shorty

Steve tells Walt that he's crazy. Walt socks him in the jaw and grabs Steve's wallet. He makes a call to the cops giving them an anonymous tip, the license number of Steve's truck. he tells Steve's you're in it now.

Joe and Shorty start to beat up Steve and we get to one of the visual treats of this film. While Joe and Shorty knock Steve around a hand flies up and hits the wide shade of an industrial, pendant style, hanging light, that sets it wildly swinging about throwing ominous shadows every which way. A hardcore visual treat. 

Still from the swinging pendulum light fight (enjoy clip below).

The swinging light fight 

Steve is still adamant that he's not going to the police until Radak breaks a beer bottle on the edge of the table and points the sharp jagged end at Steve and threatens to disfigure his wife Anne's face. 

Steve gives in. Radak tells Reynolds to drive with him down the the police station. Radak and the others will be visiting Anne to make sure Steve complies. 

While stopped at a traffic light, Reynolds gets distracted by another beat cop crossing the street. Steve gives him the same treatment, elbow in the ribs and a left to the jaw. It knocks Reynolds out. 

Steve dumps Reynolds out of the truck somewhere and we next see Steve calling Anne to tell her get out of the house immediately, he'll explain later. He tells her to go to the Northwest Terminal (For any Chicago Railroad Noir nerds he probably means the Chicago Northwestern terminal) and take the North bound limited (possibly Chicago-Twin Cities 400) . He tells her don't worry he'll find her. 

The establishing train shot

We cut to the train. A coach car. Anne is onboard and its clacking down the tracks. She is understandably worried, glancing anxiously at any new passengers walking through the cars.

A worried Anne

Finally coming from behind, Steve scoots in beside her. She is horrified by the bruises from Radak's men. He lets Anne think that he was in an accident. She asks if he hurt anybody he says he don't know. She says he's got to go to the police. He tells her no he can't go to the police, and that he needs some sleep. He leans over against the seatback and her shoulder as is out. 

What happened to your face? Where you in an accident?

Meanwhile Radak is chewing out Reynolds for loosing Steve. 

Walt Radak: [to Reynolds] You must have studied to get that stupid!

The boys tell Radak don't worry Pete Lavich can find him. Lavich is an ex P.I. who got his license pulled. Radak likes that idea. 

Shorty tells Walt that Pete Lavich will find them

Daylight. A news barker with newspapers walks down the aisle. Anne buys one, Steve must be off in the men's john. 

She opens the fold to the headlines and there is Steve's US Army ID pic on the front page.  Mobsters sought in Killing (the cop that Al shot died). When Steve returns Anne tells him about the paper and asks him again why doesn't he go to the police. He tells her he can't not till he gets her to a safe place. Steve panics a bit when he thinks one of the passengers on the train makes him, so he and Anne get off at the very next stop. 

They both go through a series "on the run" vignettes. He gets screwed over by a wrecking yard owner while trying to buy a used jalopy, so he goes back and steals it. Then he and Anne take off by highway headed towards Minnesota and her Aunt and Uncle's farm. The jalopy burns out it's distributor cap and they get picked up by a county sheriff. While he's Good Samaritan-ly driving them towards a garage he hears the call about the stolen jalopy. Its the one he was just at. So he makes a U-turn to go back to the wrecking yard. He not paying to close attention and ends up crashing into a tree. Steve drags the unconscious sheriff out and props him up against a tree. They take the sheriffs station wagon and continue towards Minnesota. They ditch the sheriffs car and climb into a carny truck with funhouse arts that's heading to St. Paul. They finally make it to the farm and things are going good until they go Noirsville when Pete Lavich traces them there. This is roughly the mid point of the film.


Paul E. Burns as Uncle Jan. and Ilka Gr√ľning as Aunt Klara

 Jason Robards Sr. as Ferrari

Dick Elliott as Sheriff Hat Lewis rt.

Cy Kendall as Ace Morgan

This is a top notch Noir visual treat. However some plot points make no sense. The top cop on the case Ferrari, we at first figure for a Chicago Police Detective. But he later shows in some Podunk town where Steve is now working as a driver for Mountain Trucking like it's a part of his jurisdiction. Steve has crossed multiple state lines throughout the tale. Another head scratcher, is in one tenement dump that they are living in the place has a china cabinet full of fancy dishes, most of the time they are on the run with a couple of suitcases, they'd never have time to accumulate that kind of stuff.  There is also a crazy piece of business near the end  


The bad guys, are holding Steve, about to kill him, a neighbor lady knocks on the door looking for his wife, and the bad guys, instead of instructing Steve to say, "my wife is sleeping, come back tomorrow," instruct him to LET HER IN??? and only afterward do they say, "hey, wait a minute; she's seen us." lol.

Remember that earlier Uncle Jan and Aunt Klara also seen Radak and Reynolds.

Anyway, watch for the countdown to the execution of Al that will recall the three way shootout at the end of the Good The Bad And The Ugly, involving a clock, and ever increasing closeups of Brodie, Burr, and Challee.

An excellent Visual Noir all the way but don't try to make too much sense out of it. Burr and Challee shine as the goons coming after Steve, Challee reminds me of noir staple Jack Lambert, he could almost play his brother. 7/10

From IMDb:

Brodie vs. Burr in Anthony Mann's brusque, bare-bones noir, 30 October 2002

Author: bmacv from Western New York

Hot on the heels of RKO's beeping radio tower astride the globe, `Desperate' flashes on the screen, ragged letters smeared along a rising diagonal. In 1947, that was all audiences needed to alert them that one of the short, swift and stylish products of a new division of the film industry (not yet termed film noir) was about to unspool.

Teamster Steve Brodie takes a call to do a night hauling job; since it's his four-month anniversary, he demurs at first, but the pay is too good to pass up. He should have, for the indispensably creepy Raymond Burr and his gang are using him and his truck in a warehouse heist. When Brodie catches on, his attempts to thwart the burglary result in the capture of Burr's kid brother, who has just shot a policeman. Roughed up by Burr, Brodie must convince the police that he's the killer, or his bride (Audrey Long) will suffer Burr's wrath; Burr brandishes a jagged bottle to cinch the threat. But Brodie makes a break for it.

What follows is a protracted cat-and-mouse game played out from Chicago to Minnesota farm country, with Burr in pursuit of the newlyweds. It's the classic story of just plain folks caught up in a sinister web of circumstances, and its director is Anthony Mann, working up to his legendary collaboration with John Alton (his able cinematographer here is George Diskant).

In the basement where Burr works Brodie over, a wildly swinging ceiling lamp floods the action with a harsh glare then plunges it into darkness, adding immeasurably to the dread. Near the end, when Burr plans to kill Brodie at the stroke of midnight,  the precise moment when his own brother will die in the electric chair, a montage of faces and eyes ratchets up the tension as the seconds tick by. Mann shows his native talent for the film medium in every frame, and he's abetted by Brodie, Burr and that old pro Jason Robards (Sr.) as a police detective. There are flashier and more resonant films in the noir cycle, but for rough, bare-bones entertainment, Desperate is hard to beat.

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