Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Build Your Own Blogathon: T-Men (1947)



The Build Your Own Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe is successfully underway.  Today's post links to Paul's (Lasso the Movies) through Wallace Ford, the actor who philosophically reminded us what stinkers normal human beings can be in Harvey.

Wallace Ford, the subject of one of my earliest blog posts, was an actor whose long career included ten Broadway shows, with a highlight being the role of George in Of Mice and Men.  We are fortunate to be able to share in his four decade Hollywood career through such titles as Freaks, The Beast and the City, Lost Patrol, The Informer, Blues in the Night, The Mummy's Tomb, Shadow of a Doubt, Black Angel, The Set-Up, The Furies, The Man from Laramie, The Rainmaker, The Matchmaker, A Patch of Blue, and your favourite that I may have missed.  He gives an award worthy performance in T-Men

Dennis O'Keefe and Alfred Ryder star as Treasury Department agents who go undercover to bust up a counterfeit ring in Anthony Mann's 1947 crime-noir-docudrama T-Men.  Beginning in 1944 and throughout the decade Mann honed his considerable skill on a number of intense crime dramas that speak "noir" to generations with such titles as The Great Flamarion, Raw Deal and Border Incident.  In the 50s he would bring that dark sensibility to the adult western with Winchester '73 and The Man from Laramie, etc. before tackling epics including El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire.  The Mann I like best is whichever Mann I happen to be watching.

William Malten, Dennis O'Keefe

Virginia Kellogg's (White Heat, Caged) story and John Higgins' (Raw Deal, Big House, USA) screenplay follows in the docucrama tradition of The House on 92nd Street and Boomerang! featuring a voice over narration (Gayne Whitman) that takes us through the procedure of the investigation.  The field officers, the lab technicians, informants and supervisors all play vital roles in penetrating the underworld.  Like actors preparing a back story for a character, Agents O'Brien and Genaro create criminal personas to give them access to a Detroit based mob.  Information links the criminals in Detroit to brazen counterfeiters in Los Angeles.  An informant was brutally gunned down by an enforcer who enjoys his work too well played by cold-eyed Charles McGraw.  It will be a long and dangerous road that leads from Detroit to L.A.

Our sharp and resourceful agents discover a link between the two mobs in the form of a character known as The Schemer played by Wally Ford.  The physical description is about 5'9" and stout, smokes cigars and takes Chinese herbs.  While there are probably more than a few stout, 5'9" smokers in Los Angeles, the Chinese herbs is something to go on.  Agent O'Brien, now known as Harrigan, heads to California to track the lead, leaving Genaro, now Galvani, with the Vantucci mob in Detroit.


Did you ever spend ten nights in a Turkish bath looking for a man? Don't.

When a herbalist complains of the customer fitting the agent's description taking too many unhealthy steam baths, Harrigan has a further lead.  It's not the most comfortable of assignments, and it's going to get worse.  In order to get The Schemer to open doors to the gang, Harrigan poses as a would be rival in the counterfeiting game, receiving lots of bumps and bruises for his trouble, not to mention losing eight pounds in the Turkish baths. 

Dennis O'Keefe, Wally Ford

The Schemer is one of those roles where, in the hands of the right actor, the character can steal the movie.  Wally Ford was the right actor.  Once involved in the higher echelon of the gang, The Schemer has fallen from grace and fallen far.  He has the nerve to keep up the pretense of being a main player despite the disdain heaped upon him by the muscle men and messenger boys.  Knowing he is only tolerated by the boss because of the threat of revealing inside details through a hidden book, The Schemer's bravado only thinly covers his constant fear.  Initially, Schemer hopes Harrigan's promise of exceptional plates to compliment his gang's high quality paper will put him back in a position of trust.  However, he is not above looking for a way to hijack the entire business.  When an unfortunate meeting puts a crack in Genaro's cover, a doomed Schemer will use that information in an effort to save his own skin.  The Schemer's demise at the hands of McGraw is one of the most memorable in all film-noir.

Alfred Ryder
Dennis O'Keefe, Charles McGraw in reflection

A further murder may be one of the most heart-breaking in 40s crime pictures and serves to illustrate the commitment of the agents and the depravity of their quarry.  While the narration serves to keep the viewer grounded in the routine of the work, the human factor is filled with tension, suspense and brutality.  We are kept in a beautiful yet suffocating world of black and white images, of choking close-ups, upward angles and deceiving distances.  Director Mann and cinematographer John Alton create a world and a mood removed from our own that is frightening and inviting.  Their collaborations are impressive:  T-Men, Raw Deal, He Walked by Night, Reign of Terror, Border Incident and Devil's Doorway.

Jane Randolph

Three women perform essential roles in the unfolding drama of what is labeled "The Shanghai Paper Case".  Glamorous nightclub singer Mary Meade plays Evangeline, a go-between for the LA mob who knows enough to know when to be frightened.  Lovely and expressive June Lockhart has an important cameo that is a prelude to tragedy.  Strangely uncredited, Jane Randolph of The Curse of the Cat People, Railroaded! and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein exudes power as the face of the mob kingpin. 

T-Men is an outstanding example of the crime docudrama, a true "noir", and a movie that can place the viewer in another time while retaining the freshness of genuine interest and emotion.  


26 comments:

  1. I like that image you chose of the silhouette and the newspaper. That's the sort of image color wouldn't be able to pull off as well as B&W. That's the kind of thing that makes this a noir.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "That's the kind of thing that makes this a noir."

      True. For me, the noir experience is my emotional response, not a check list of must-haves. It sounds like an expansive description of the style, but it's really limiting.

      Delete
  2. CW, I saw this terrific little picture for the first time about five years ago. My wife gave it to me as a Christmas present because we so enjoyed the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns. The rather bland title aside, I thought it was gripping from start to finish. The semi-documentary style reminds me of THE NAKED CITY, released the same year, as well as better-known noirs. I also like Mann's other noir RAW DEAL. Your pics from the film are outstanding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best gift ever!

      It is a bland title for such a riveting movie. I passed it by for years. What a silly girl.

      Delete
  3. I haven't seen the movie but based on this sharp and entertaining write-up, I just added "T-Men" to my must-see list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Patricia.

      TCM has "T-Men" scheduled for September 25th. How awfully decent of them!

      Delete
  4. You have introduced me to more new movies than any other single blog. And – Hooray! – here is another one...and it's a noir, to boot!

    I liked your observation re: your fave Anthony Mann film is the one you're watching right now. I agree. The screen shots you've uploaded are so dramatic and inventive. This is going to be a new favorite movie, I can just tell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You made my day!

      I was watching "Side Street" on Sunday afternoon and my husband strolled by during the credits and said "Oh. Anthony Mann. Your boyfriend." Maybe I spoke about the director too much.

      Delete
  5. It's been a while since I saw this but I love AM's films, both his early noirs and his westerns. I recently watched RAW DEAL, which is terrific little film too, and need to go back and find a copy of T-MEN A great contribution to the blogathon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Appreciate that, John. "Raw Deal" has a great pedigree. Clair Trevor was the perfect noir narrator. Glad she got her chance.

      Delete
  6. I've not seen this one, but your intriguing post makes it a must see. I agree with the comments by you and Rich above that Noir is so evocative with those special shots, and like you, I think it results in basically an emotional response. Wallace Ford is one of my favorites, and I hope to delve more into his work someday. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm sure "T-Men" will make it unto your favourites list.

      PS: I finally got a chance to check out "Split Second" thanks to Alexis Smith Day. I recalled your article of a few years ago and loved watching that story play out.

      Delete
  7. So glad Alexis got her own day this year. I managed to record one of hers I'd never seen before, and I'm looking to enjoying that down the road when I have a minute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also checked out "Any Number Can Play" (another Another Old Movie Blog fave article). I was unexpectedly and totally engrossed by this drama.

      Whenever you find that minute, tell me where they are hiding.

      Delete
  8. You always come up with interesting films (many of which I only saw after reading about it right here!). Wallace Ford was an interesting fellow. I read once that he actually worked on a real show boat back in the early days - I'd love to hear those stories!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! You make me feel like a classic movie evangelist.

      Wally Ford is one guy I would love to sit around a kitchen table with, talking away into the wee hours. Imagine - a show boat!

      Delete
  9. Paddy, you always have entertaining and unique posts! I'm glad to see you're giving character actor Wallace Ford time in the spotlight for your Build Your Own Blogathon, as we of Team Bartilucci have always liked Ford in ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT; SPELLBOUND; SHADOW OF A DOUBT; FREAKS; and so much more! Wish I'd heard Ford's stories, too! :-D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dorian, I guess we should count ourselves lucky that we have these grand movies to introduce us to such interesting people.

      Delete
  10. Great review and stylish images Caftan Woman. This is one of the Noirs that has been on my list that I have yet to see. It's now at the top. Thanks for choosing it and making me want to see it all the earlier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what I'm here for!

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Delete
  11. Terrific write-up of a terrific movie. What I find interesting about noir is the second careers it gave to many performers considered light weight. Dick Powell, John Payne and Dennis O'Keefe all did some of their best work in the second act of their screen careers. O"Keefe, who was so good in the comedy "Brewster's Millions" is equally good here at the undercover agent. I find these second acts fascinating. If you haven't seen it check out "Cover Up" another terrific noir starring O'Keefe.

    My favorite Mann is the one I'm currently watching - that's a great sentence.

    Oh yeah, by the way, Wallace Ford is pretty great too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kevin, you are a life saver. I saw the last part of "Cover Up" years ago, but never knew the title. Often my sister Paula (a huge O'Keefe fan) and I will look at each other and talk about Christmas and insurance and the old house, and still never come up with the title. I thought we were doomed never to see the darned thing from the beginning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

      It's true what you say about those three actors in particular. They were just right for the times and the rough sort of crime pictures. But they seemed just right in their comedies as well. Fascinating indeed.

      Delete
  12. How great is film noir?! Loved this post: informative, funny, lovely. My favorite line: "Did you ever spend ten nights in a Turkish bath looking for a man? Don't." Can't wait to re-watch this after reading your review! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Talk about a line that lives long past that one scene! It's a zinger.

      It's fun to lose ourselves in "noir", isn't it?

      Delete
  13. Good post. I absolutely love this site. Stick with it!

    Look into my blog post
    cardboard boxes,moving boxes

    ReplyDelete