It was interesting to discover recently in the decades between my first and second viewing of Tight Spot, 1955 how much of the movie remained vivid in my memory; a true sign that something is working. In my opinion, that something was director Phil Karlson whose way with a well-paced western or crime picture truly came to a peak in the 1950s with pictures such as Gunman's Walk and The Brothers Rico.
William Bowers (Cry Danger) screenplay was based on a play by Leonard Kantor titled Dead Pigeon which had a brief run of 21 performances on Broadway over the Christmas holiday of 1953-1954. The three person drama set in a single hotel room featured Joan Lorring (The Corn is Green) as a potential trial witness with Lloyd Bridges (The Sound of Fury) and James Gregory (The Manchurian Candidate) as her police detective guards.
The Samuel French synopsis reads: "Two detectives bring a young lady from the penitentiary to a secluded seaside hotel and hold her in protective custody before her appearance at a murder trial. Actually, the girl knows nothing about the murder of a gangster but has turned state's witness in order to get a day's vacation from prison. But the underworld does not know this: nor do the detectives who are in league with the underworld and who are ordered to kill the girl. But the younger of the men has a heart and a bit of a conscience left. He upsets things when he falls in love with the girl. The menace that night comes from the other detective who is undeterred in his mission of murder."
Sherry Conley played by Ginger Rogers is in a tight spot. She has less than a year left on her five year prison sentence, having assisted a less than honest boyfriend in a payroll robbery. How was she to know what he had in mind? Sherry has information that can assist the Feds in getting a conviction on a mobster. It is an undesirable alien rap that can only result in deportation, but it is better than nothing. Until now witnesses have disappeared or been killed. The prosecutor has one weekend to convince Sherry to "do her duty." Sherry doesn't think it is worth it although she will take advantage of the sudden plush accommodations. Of course, the mob only wants to tie up loose ends and that means Sherry Conley must die.
Ginger Rogers was perhaps ten years or so older than the character as presented through the dialogue. The tweaking of a line here or there would have assisted in her characterization. In fact, though no means a hag (We should all look so good in that polka dot dress.), her been-around-the-block status assists with the character of Sherry.
Ginger brings her considerable professionalism and instincts to the role as the actress was always adept at the quips which make up a lot of film noir dialogue. The character of Sherry Conley finds sisterhood with much of Ginger's filmography, the neglected and abused Ellie May Adams in Primerose Path
, the vainglorious Roxie Hart
, and the vulnerable convict Mary Marshall in I'll Be Seeing You
Detective Vince Striker played by Brian Keith is in a tight spot. He's worked hard on this case but he realizes what is at stake for the reluctant witness. It is the sort of detail he would rather avoid. His reasons are many and varied, but suffice to say he is in as tight a spot as he has ever been in his life.
Brian Keith was breaking out of the uncredited portion of his career with a number of fine and tough-minded characters during this period, mostly at Columbia. See The Violent Men, 5 Against the House, and Nightfall. Ruggedly handsome and adept at his craft, Vince Striker is a character that gives the actor a myriad of emotions to convey and some nice action sequences.
Prosecutor Lloyd Hallett played by Edward G. Robinson is in a tight spot. The mob has all the power and the means of getting information that should be secret. The mob is powerful and committed. Killing isn't an option they use occasionally; they are brazen with the tactic. The deportation isn't what Hallett has spent years building up a case for, but the time is now and he needs this witness.
Edward G. Robinson channels a bit of Barton Keyes from Double Indemnity as he deals with his resistant witness and the leak in his department. Particularly satisfying is a scene with the mobster's lawyer where Hallett holds nothing back in his feelings about the criminal.
Mobster Benjamin Costain played by Lloyd Greene is in a tight spot. Every time he gets rid of one "loose end" the Feds come up with another. This time it is some dame he doesn't even remember who can finger him for this stupid deportation. Sherry is merely another nuisance to be taken out. Costain has no doubt in his power and is an angry man, but can he keep all of his team in line?
Lorne Greene, the legendary Canadian broadcaster appears in his second Hollywood feature as the mobster Costain. His barely contained anger makes the character a frightening antagonist. Despite the might of the law collected against him, Costain's arrogance will not imagine defeat.
The play is opened up from the hotel room to give the audience views of the penitentiary, city streets, and the intrusion of television. The prison shows us Sherry's present circumstances, how she has adapted, and why she would like a break. The city streets bring us shop windows, people, and sudden violence. The television intrudes with an insipid telethon with a mediocre entertainer to contrast the life and death stakes facing our characters.
I find Tight Spot an engrossing and fascinating crime drama with an outstanding cast and taut direction. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. If, like me, you saw it eons ago, surprise yourself with a revisit to the Noirvember Hotel.
Actress Katherine Anderson is a ray of sunshine in the dark environs as prison guard Willoughby. According to online sources, Ms. Anderson turns 99 on December 11th.
Sounds a bit like WAIT UNTIL DARK a decade or so later in that it’s a woman in peril from bad guys she thinks are good guys, within a confined location. Without the blindness angle, of course.ReplyDelete
Take one damsel in distress, add some crooks, shake well and serve.Delete
Paddy Lee, I so agree with you about TIGHT SPOT(filmed 1954, released 1955)in that it is, "an engrossing and fascinating crime drama with an outstanding cast and taut direction." Like you I first viewed the movie decades ago on the WREC Channel 3 Memphis LATE MOVIE in 1975. In 1990 I bought a GOOD TIMES HOME VIDEO(1989) vhs tape of the movie.ReplyDelete
I really liked this cracker jack of a crime drama then, and I still do today. This movie is character driven and I think the talented and beautiful Ginger Rogers is the main reason to view this movie, because she is really good in this type of role and she does it very well here. The sister squabble between Sherry(Rogers) and Clara(Eve McVeagh) is quite a scene.
I think TIGHT SPOT is worth watching. Also, for those who might be interested here is Ginger, Lucy, and Lucie on HERE'S LUCY from 1971.
Walter, I love hearing your take on movies and your history with certain titles. I hope those new to the movie will take your words to heart concerning Tight Spot. That scene between Ginger and Eve McVeagh is mesmerising. It is so public yet feels so private as if they are the only two people in the room.Delete
Thanks for the memory of those crazy Charleston dancing gals!
I thought of that ep of HERE'S LUCY when I saw the name GINGER ROGERS on here yesterday. It was a fun episode! I thought STAGE DOOR with GINGER and LUCY was kind of boring but I liked HAVING WONDERFUL TIME with both of them. It was good and funny. CLASSIC TV FANReplyDelete
Over 30 years between Stage Door and Here's Lucy. Those gals never lost it!Delete
This sounds like an interesting film, though I agree that Rogers seems a tad too old for her role -- it might have been interesting if the script could have been adjusted for an someone older and more hard-boiled and maybe more desperate to get out for those reasons. Brian Keith is such a good actor, always brings some undercurrent of weary humanity to his roles.ReplyDelete
I was surprised and pleased to find the film as engrossing as that long ago first viewing. When you have an actress like Ginger giving 100 percent, why not back her up with a tweak here and a tweak there?Delete
As soon as I read the synopsis, I thought that Ginger Rogers was a lot older than the character. I'm not surprised that she still pulled off the part. I love films with a confined setting, so this is one that I will seek out. Also, I can't believe how young Brian Keith looks in that poster!ReplyDelete
I particularly like that candid set photo. A lot of talent in that group.Delete
Brian Keith - such a baby - but such talent and experience. He was bound to catch the audience's eye.
Great review. Always liked this film. Brian Keith fitted well into Noir. A pity he came in at the tail end. Glad you mentioned Katherine Anderson. She was impressive.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Vienna. It is a special treat to find other fans of Tight Spot. So well done, and such a memorable picture.Delete
When you see him in something like this Brian Keith definitely seems born for noir. On the other hand, growing up with Family Affair, he seemed made for sitcoms. A sign of his talent.
I have never seen MAGNIFICENT DOLL with GINGER ROGERS and DAVID NIVEN. If you have seen it what is your opinion? P.S. I did see Ginger and David in BACHELOR MOTHER. It was a cute and fun movie. CLASSIC TV FANReplyDelete
I haven't seen Magnificent Doll either, and I'm a girl who likes historical dramas. Must remedy that blank on my list.Delete
This sounds like a can’t miss!! I’ve heard about it and wanted to watch it for a couple years. Lorne Greene’s performance sounds like an interesting contrast to good old Ben Cartwright!!ReplyDelete
Indeed, if this was your introduction to actor Lorne Greene it is memorable enough to make you need more than one episode of Bonanza to convince you it was the same guy!Delete
Tight Spot is one of my favorite noirs. I wrote about the film for one of CMBA's blogathons. It deserves more notice! I thought the character of Willoughby gave the film its moral theme, its moral center, and I cannot believe the actress who played her, Katherine Anderson, is now 99! Thanks for that tasty tidbit of trivia, as one of my friends used to say.ReplyDelete
I just caught up with your article on Tight Spot. I appreciated all you had to say and have a lot of reading at Make Mine Film Noir to catch up on.Delete
Willoughby through Katherine Anderson's portrayal makes a strong and lovely impression. Indeed, she is the moral centre.
Found this on YouTube and thought I’d look at it. Ginger probably was too old for the part (I would’ve cast Judy Holliday) but that didn’t bother me. I liked it. The scene with her sister was great.ReplyDelete
I haven't been able to find anything on the casting of the movie. It would have been so simple to amend the script in places to match Ginger's performance a little more closely. That line between the director's decisions and the actor's interpretation is something that fascinates me upon recent viewings. There's always something that keeps me watching these movies.Delete
GINGER ROGERS was a glamorous woman. Speaking of glamour I want to mention the passing of ARLENE DAHL. She passed away yesterday (Nov. 29). As you know her son is LORENZO LAMAS(FALCON CREST). Arlene's ex-husbands include LEX BARKER and FERNANDO LAMAS. I remember you mentioning SCARLET STREET which also starred JOHN PAYNE and RHONDA FLEMING. CLASSIC TV FANReplyDelete
Slightly Scarlet starred Arlene and Rhonda Fleming as sisters. Talk about glamour! That duo is too much glamour!Delete
Arlene and Rhonda both sang in the movies as well. Talent as well as looks.
ARLENE DAHL was 96. I remember the LOVE BOAT ep that she did with VIC TAYBACK. She played a passenger having a romance with the ship's engineer. I remember that you never saw the sitcom ALICE. Do you know some of the guest-star roles that Vic Tayback did? He was a talented actor. CLASSIC TV FANReplyDelete
I have seen Vic in Star Trek and crime shows like Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, McCloud, and Hawaii Five-O. And, of course, Gunsmoke. He did the voice of "Carface" in the original All Dogs Go to Heaven and my son was obsessed with that in his younger years.Delete
A movie that ended up being not quite what I expected but it's still a nifty little movie and Ginger Rogers is excellent.ReplyDelete
A memorable slice of 1950s noir. Impressive movie making.Delete