Armored Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer, 1950), Follow Me Quietly (Richard Fleischer, 1950), and The Clay Pigeon (Richard Fleischer, 1949). Richard Fleischer thrilled in seeing characters caught in prickly situations but his obsession was strictly logistical, meaning scarcely humane. All three of these films are banal put-ons—like watching a group of schmucks playing dress-up with noir-speak dictionaries in hand. Follow Me Quietly is the worst given the marbles in its head: After a series of grisly murders by an unseen killer known as “The Judge,” a police officer comes up with the preposterous idea of crafting a composite mannequin, which seems to exist for no other reason than for Fleischer to trick the audience into thinking the killer is really the dummy in one nonsensical shot. (The empty-street scene is real nervy, as is the cat-and-mouse closer, but the whole Jungian trigger bit with the dripping water is pretty laughable; Argento went for the same thing in Trauma but actually went so far as to actually define the killer’s trauma—duh!) Armored Car Robbery is a by-the-numbers cops-and-robbers affair with absolutely nothing to distinguish it except for a police officer’s near-death whimper as he tries to alert his buddies of his pain through a tapped car’s microphone. As in Follow Me Quietly, the cops are corny-as-shit but an impassioned Don McGuire tries to carve more than one dimension out of his rookie character. The Clay Pigeon definitely has the most on its mind (or is it least?): An army man wakes up to learn that he’s going to be tried for treason for ratting out his friends in a Japanese prison camp but can’t remember anything because he has amnesia! Bill Williams and Barbara Hale’s tussle in the woman’s home is impressively down-and-dirty, and the film is crackerjack for about half its running time, but it’s not long before you start to realize that Fleischer is going to squander the opportunity at serious ethical inquiry. The scene during which Williams’s character hides out in an Asian woman’s apartment is pathetic because it has everything to do with how the guy is going to get a baby to cry, thus perpetuating his getaway, and nothing to do with race and political corruption. Makes you wish Samuel Fuller—not John Frankenheimer (’cause, you know, his Manchurian Candidate is no great shakes)—had been behind the camera.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.