Run for cover! The Great Villain Blogathon is once again upon us hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Karen of Shadows and Satin. Cinema is filled so many extraordinary villains that the blogathon will run from from May 15th to 20th. Contributions: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6.
Armored Car Robbery, directed by Richard Fleischer in 1950, is as tidy and dandy a noir-procedural as you are likely to come across. At this stage of Fleischer's varied career he was becoming the master of the tightly-paced, low-budgeted crime picture with 1948s Bodyguard, 1949s The Clay Pigeon and Follow Me Quietly. The Narrow Margin would follow in 1952 and Fleischer would move on to more prestigious and bigger-budgeted films such as The Vikings, The Boston Strangler and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The film's use of Los Angeles locations including Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs farm team, is one of the strengths of the picture. You are put right into the action from City Hall, Police Headquarters and Communications, to highways and wharves. The other highlight of this 67 minute treat is the intriguing mastermind of the armored car heist, Dave Purvis, and his portrayer, the gifted William Talman.
Immortalized for his outstanding performance as tenacious, but luckless district attorney Hamilton Burger on TVs Perry Mason (1957-1966), Talman made his Broadway debut in 1940, his film debut in 1949 and his television launch in 1955. In between was Army service in the Pacific rising from private to major. His many movie and television roles highlight the actor's versatility. He was equally believable as a brave young policeman in 1951s The Racket and a real-life psycho in 1953s The Hitch-Hiker.
In the annals of film-noir, Dave Purvis is one of the coldest and coolest villains you will come across. Dave Purvis is a meticulous and calculating individual. Constantly on the move, Purvis is careful to leave no clue to his identity. He goes so far as to remove labels from clothing and have nothing in writing. He plans his capers down to the last detail. His reputation among the underworld types he uses is enough to ensure their obedience. His obsession with self-preservation, however, sorely taxes their loyalty.
William Talman, Douglas Fowley
Benny recruits the two other men required for the job by bringing Al Mapes played by Steve Brodie (Crossfire, Winchester '73) and "Ace" Foster played by Gene Evans (Park Row, Steel Helmet) on board. They are strictly no imagination types, but know how to follow orders and the heist is promised to yield half a million dollars. Having timed police response time, the plan involves creating a diversion in front of a stadium which is the last stop on an armored car route. Gas will knock out the guards and in the three minute wait time the car will be emptied of its treasure. Only one little thing has to go wrong and it does. A patrol car is closer than anticipated and before the three minutes is up there is a shootout resulting in the death of a police officer and the wounding of Benny.
Don McGuire, Charles McGraw
Lt. Cordell has a vested interest in this case as he was on the scene and has lost his partner of many years. "You get used to a guy." Cordell is played by Charles McGraw (The Narrow Margin, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue) and this actor's cops are as tough as his villains. When it comes to focus, Cordell and Purvis are perfectly matched adversaries. Cordell's new partner is Danny Ryan played by Don McGuire (writer - Bad Day at Black Rock, Tootsie). He's a solid worker, but maybe a little too eager to impress Cordell.
Gene Evans, Douglas Fowley, William Talman, Steve Brodie
Dressed as road workers, the gang comes up against a road block and it is the first test after the mostly botched heist. Mapes, the driver, is a nervous wreck and almost draws undue attention their way. Purvis' bullying snaps them into place, even the desperately wounded Benny. Reaching the hideout, Benny's pleas for a doctor go unheeded by Purvis to the point where Benny pulls a gun on him. Purvis' cool response is to end Benny's suffering by putting three bullets in him. "Ace" takes care of dumping the body and their car in the harbor while Mapes keeps an eye on Purvis. Even these mooks have caught onto the fact that the man is not to be trusted. Mapes suggestion that now the loot be cut three ways is dismissed by Purvis who says he is going to make sure that Benny's widow gets her share. Mapes has seen Yvonne strut her stuff and sees clearly through that altruistic statement.
Adele Jergens, William Talman
The police close in on the waterfront digs and Purvis is the only one to keep his head. "Ace" is shot down and a panicked Mapes makes a noisy exit in a motorboat. Purvis risks one quick meeting with Yvonne advising her to keep her distance and her nerve for the next couple of weeks. When he gives the signal they will leave town with the dough. Mapes has payback plans, but when he is picked up and put on the spot for the cop killing Mapes comes clean about Purvis and, once again, the police close in on the criminal.
You can well imagine that someone with Purvis' smarts is not going to be easy to catch. His habit of changing addresses often and quickly comes in handy. Even Detective Ryan's undercover rouse does little to break Purvis' composure. It is nothing to him to shoot to kill another cop. Deft police work lead to an airfield and a chartered plane. Even as things start to unravel, Purvis battles to the end.
All of the characteristics of a villainous mastermind are displayed in William Talman's riveting performance. Purvis is smart, with a smartness that leads to arrogance. He is cool under pressure and equally as calm about using violence when it suits him. As ruthless as they come, Dave Purvis is due a spot in the movie villain Hall of Fame.