Friday, August 26, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: I’ll Get You (1952)

In 2007, VCI Entertainment released the first of several DVDs in a series they chose to dub “Forgotten Noir”; the films featured were for the most part titles furnished by Kit Parker Films after KPF acquired much of the orphaned movie library of Lippert Pictures, an independent motion picture studio that operated between 1945 (when it was originally known as Screen Guild Productions) and 1955.  The movies were produced with an eye toward economy (read: “low-budget”), and while a good many of them rarely rose above programmer status a few releases stand-out; for example, Robert L. Lippert gave novice director Samuel Fuller his first opportunity to sit in the director’s chair with three films Sam also wrote: I Shot Jesse James (1949), The Baron of Arizona (1950), and The Steel Helmet (1951).

The first of VCI’s “Forgotten Noir” releases was a double feature of Portland Exposé (1957) and They Were So Young (1955)—both of which I wrote up in a “Where’s That Been?” column at ClassicFlix.  After the “Forgotten” volumes were released individually, they were then bundled in a series of “Collector’s Sets”—three of which I purchased many, many moons ago and had planned to watch for the blog.  But those collections were eventually sacrificed in what I frequently refer to as The Great DVD Purge before I had the opportunity to free them from their shrink wrap prison.  (Not an uncommon occurrence here in the House of Yesteryear…which is why a lot of the discs that laid down their lives in the Purge were sold as brand-new.)  I later re-purchased Exposé/Young from another vendor around the end of 2014, and when VCI had a “flash sale” on the other “Forgotten” volumes I snapped those up quickly (I think only one of them wasn’t on sale, and I acquired that so as not to break up the sets).

So that’s a longwinded explanation of how TDOY’s newest regular feature came into being.  Our initial entry is I’ll Get You (1952—a.k.a. Escape Route), a cloak-and-dagger mellerdrammer with George Raft as Steve Rossi, one-half of a comedy duo that was quite popular in the 1960s.  No, hang on a sec…I’ve confused him with someone else.  Rossi is an FBI agent investigating the kidnappings of several scientists by a mysterious gang, who ship the eggheads off behind the Iron Curtain.  Rossi travels to Old Blighty to track down a man named Michael Grand (Clifford Evans), who apparently has knowledge of the organization’s activities.

To make certain Grand knows he’s in the country, Rossi slips past immigration upon his arrival at Heathrow, making himself a person of interest where Scotland Yard is concerned.  Rossi eventually comes into contact with British intelligence, who assigns an MI5 agent named Joan Miller (Sally Gray) as his keeper.  While the duo doggedly pursues Grand, they also fall in love…because movies is magic, ma chere.

In my ClassicFlix review of Portland Exposé and They Were So Young, I prefaced the piece by observing that many classic film fans are predisposed to label crime movies as “film noir” regardless of whether they actually conform to that particular style or not.  “Personally, I think the tent is big enough to encompass a wide range of crime films without getting bogged down in a tedious debate,” I wrote.  But I’m not all that convinced that I’ll Get You meets the criteria; I’d be a little more charitable if this film actually lived up to its title card hype (“IT’S LOADED…with searing, screaming, suspense!”).  I get the impression that the reason why George Raft has his mouth agape in surprise is because he’s finally recognized the farce his movie career has become.

I really, really, really wanted to like I’ll Get You.  There’s just one problem: it is dull.  Sweet baby carrots, is it tedious.  The filmmakers should have been brought up on charges of felony ennui…which, to be honest, would have made a much better noir when you think about it.  (And, really—if you can’t make an espionage movie exciting, perhaps you should pursue another line of work.)  The first twenty minutes of this movie literally consists of George Raft’s character stopping by various places and residences looking for the elusive Grand, and the always polite British apologizing that, sorry, they can’t assist him with his inquiries.  (There is a risible moment in the movie’s prologue, however, where the kidnappings of the scientists are filmed in the same fashion as a Monty Python sketch.)  I’ll Get You doesn’t really start to pick up speed until the halfway mark, and by the time you get to a moderately exciting climax with Raft and Evans duking it out on an elevator platform, chances are you’ll have forgotten why Raft was looking for him in the first place.

Star George Raft is mostly the reason why I’ll Get You is so boring.  George had to be one of the luckiest actors in the history of motion pictures.  He wasn’t particularly good at what he did for a living (very wooden and unconvincing), but he did have a knack for playing heavies (his finest hour might be 1939’s Each Dawn I Die) …which he didn’t want to do anymore, and so he left Warner Brothers in the early 40s to freelance.  For every success like Johnny Angel (1945) and Nocturne (1946) there were critical and box office duds like Nob Hill (1945) and Christmas Eve (1947), so by the 50s George’s stock in the film industry had taken quite a dip.  I’ll Get You was the second feature in a three-picture deal he inked with Lippert, preceded by Loan Shark (1952) and followed by The Man from Cairo (1953).  (Both of these movies are on “Forgotten Noir” sets, which means I’ll have to slog through them eventually—the trailer for Loan Shark looks promising, though.)

British actress Sally Gray is the other “big name” in I’ll Get You, best known for appearances in Green for Danger (1946) and The Hidden Room (1949—a.k.a. Obsession).  It’s Sally’s cinematic swan song, and while I’m tempted to speculate that having to fake romantic scenes with Raft (the two honestly have zero chemistry) is what scared her off from future appearances in front of a motion picture camera, she actually made the decision to retire on her own (she married into nobility as the wife of Dominick Geoffrey Edward Browne, the fourth Lord Oranmore).  There’s an unintentionally funny moment in I’ll Get You where Gray pulls a gun on Raft, and Raft tries to disarm her with a bit of malarkey: “You better be careful…you might hurt somebody…I knew of a couple of fellas one time…”

He lunges for the gun, and she quickly executes the old arm-behind-the-back maneuver.  “Go on about your friends, Mr. Rossi,” she says to him.  “What happened?”

“Never mind…it doesn’t matter,” he says in an “I-know-when-I’m-licked-fashion.”  I was hoping against hope that this movie wouldn’t resort to the usual romantic clichés…and in a small way, it really doesn’t since the romance between the two is most unconvincing.

Scripted by John V. Baines (with a dialogue assist from Nicholas Phipps), I’ll Get You was co-directed by Seymour Friedman—a name I recognized from a pair of Boston Blackie movies that I wrote up for the Radio Spirits blog (Trapped by Boston Blackie and Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture).  We’ll be hearing from Mr. Friedman again at this space, since a number of his efforts listed at the [always reliable] IMDb are also present and accounted for in future “Forgotten Noir” volumes.


Vienna said...

I agree I'll Get You is dull but I enjoyed Loan Shark. Boy, how Raft came down in the Hollywood world after being such a big star at Warners.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I agree I'll Get You is dull but I enjoyed Loan Shark. Boy, how Raft came down in the Hollywood world after being such a big star at Warners.

I've had one or two people tell me that Loan Shark is more my meat -- the cast looks sensational: Dorothy Hart, Paul Stewart, John Hoyt...even OTR veteran Lawrence Dobkin is in this one. So I'm looking forward to sitting down with it.

I don't want people to get the impression that I'm not a George Raft fan -- i like a lot of his movies (Scarface, They Drive by Night, etc.). But Raft didn't like playing heavies; he turned down the lead in High Sierra because the lead role was a villain (he also didn't want to die at the end -- he had a superstition about that). Raft turned down roles that ultimately went to Humphrey Bogart, so on that basis alone he shouldn't be given too short a shrift.