Monday, November 12, 2007

Once over lightly

In The Capture (1950), Lew Ayres plays Lin Vanner, a Mexican oil field supervisor whose company has just experienced its third payroll shipment hijacked by banditos unknown. At the urging of his girlfriend (Jacqueline White), Lin bucks the posse searching for the thief and heads out in a different direction—whereupon he crosses paths with a drifter named Sam Tevlin (Edwin Rand). Because Tevlin has broken his right arm, he’s unable to raise both arms when ordered by Lin to surrender, and so Vanner grazes him with a bullet. Lin then takes the injured Tevlin back to the office for questioning…where Sam expires from his wound.

A man (Barry Kelley) in charge of transporting the payroll identifies Tevlin as the thief, and so Lin is considered a hero—even to the point of being offered a $2,000 reward by the company. But Vanner begins to have doubts about Tevlin’s guilt, so he turns the money down—prompting his fair-weather fiancée to leave him and Vanner to quit his position with the company, ending up in another dead-end Mexican burg where he floats from job to job. Finally, he accepts an offer from a widow (Teresa Wright) who needs a foreman for her rundown spread; unbeknownst to Lin, she’s Tevlin’s wife—and she soon discovers that her new foreman’s responsible for popping a cap in her hubby. After getting a little revenge by making him work like a pack mule, the two confront each other and, realizing they’re really in love, sashay down the matrimonial aisle. Lin is determined to clear Tevlin’s name (particularly when his son—played by Jimmy Hunt—is taunted by some other kids) and in his attempt to do so, he winds up in the same predicament: his right arm is injured, and he’s unable to raise it in the traditional gesture of surrender.

On the cover of Capture’s DVD box it reads: “A Forgotten Masterpiece by John Sturges.” Capture is a better-than-average B western (hey—it takes place on a ranch, so I call it a Western), but hardly in the same class as, say, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) or The Magnificent Seven (1960). What it does have is a sturdy script from Niven Busch (based on his novel; Busch also wrote Duel in the Sun) and exceptional performances from Ayres, Wright, Victor Jory (shedding his usual villainy to play the part of the priest listening to Ayres’ story, as Capture is told in flashback) and Duncan Renaldo, demonstrating that he had a far wider range than just being The Cisco Kid. (I’ve always been a big fan of Wright and Ayres, the latter for superlative performances in All Quiet on the Western Front, Holiday and Advise and Consent. And his death underneath an ice-covered lake is still the best thing about Damien: Omen II.) Sharp-eyed television fans might also recognize TV character icon Vito Scotti as the truck driver who helps Ayres escape from the federales. The Capture is another one of those 5-for-$25 DVDs I recently picked up at, and well worth the five-spot investment.

I cannot, unfortunately, say the same for C-Man (1949), a down-and-dirty shoestring noir starring Dean Jagger as a Customs agent assigned to a jewel smuggling case that resulted in the death of his fellow C-Man and best friend. The only other big name in this tawdry programmer is John Carradine (he’s in this flick for little more than five minutes…and still gets next-to-top billing) as a soused medico working for the smugglers (there is an amusing scene where Jagger attempts to locate Carradine by stopping at practically every liquor store in New York…if he were carrying a typewriter, he’d be Ray Milland!), led by Rene Paul. C-Man’s opening credits tout the introduction of actor Harry Landers as a greasy punk henchman named “Owney,” but apart from directing a few episodes of Ben Casey (where he also a recurring role as Dr. Ted Hoffman), he pretty much toiled in the furnace of B-pictures, including W. Lee Wilder (Billy’s brother) infamous classic, Phantom from Space (1954). The reason can only be…well, he stinks in C-Man. (Oh, apparently he was the Tasters’ Choice spokesman on TV in the late 1960s and 1970s…make of that what you will.)

Jagger isn’t particularly good in this picture (if you never saw him in anything else before it you’d probably start to wonder how he nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his next feature, Twelve O’Clock High), his intimate scenes with the female element in this outing are positively risible, and his voice-over narration is a joke…which isn’t really his fault, because the dialogue is stilted all around. His fight scenes with the various henchies and goons in this film are, however, good for a few laughs—they reminded me of a bunch of arthritic bears attempting a pas de deux. Except for an interesting sequence when Landers dispatches Carradine to the great beyond with a bed knob, there’s not much to recommend in C-Man. Even the music by Gail Kubik—which I’m guessing is supposed to be some form of avant-garde jazz—is pretty bad, sounding like someone banging their head on a set of piano keys. Unless you run across it sometime night on a UHF station and you can’t sleep, avoid C-Man like the plague.

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