Friday, December 2, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Hi-Jacked (1950)

Some days…it just doesn’t pay to be a Good Samaritan.  Truck driver Joe Harper (Jim Davis) learns this fairly quickly; he stops his run to help a motorist (David Bruce) whose auto is stuck in a ditch…and winds up being drygulched by the driver’s confederates.  You see, it was all a set-up; the driver and his goons are members of a hijacking racket preying on trucks filled with bodacious booty.  How do I know this?  Well, an unseen narrator explains after the opening credits of Hi-Jacked (1950) that these scofflaws are responsible for why the food we eat, the liquor we drink, the clothes we buy, etc. is so friggin’ expensive—crime does not pay so much as it costs.  (What’s worse, Narrator Guy kind of intimates it’s our fault.)

To add insult to injury, Joe is getting static about the hijacking from the insurance investigator (George Eldredge) looking into the matter…only because Harper’s an ex-con (he did a stretch in the pen on an embezzlement rap).  But Joe is innocent; the individual responsible is traffic manager Stephen Clark (Ralph Sanford), who tips off a fence named Hagen (Paul Cavanagh) about shipments…and Hagen passes the information on to his underlings.  When Joe is victimized by the hijacking gang a second time, things really look bleak; he makes the decision to bust the operation wide open at the risk of violating his parole.

Jim Davis is a great example of one of those actors who got better with time.  Most people remember him from the TV series Dallas, as John Ross “Jock” Ewing, Sr., the family patriarch, and he also appeared on the western anthology Stories of the Century (1954-55) and the adventure series Rescue 8 (1958-60).  Davis could be stiff and wooden at times—which is why he made a lot of B-pictures, particularly those of the Western variety—but he gradually became a solid character veteran, as witnessed by his turn as the doomed Senator George Hammond in one of my absolute favorite movies, The Parallax View (1974).

Davis has a Ben Johnson-like quality to him (Johnson is another thespian who I always enjoy watching despite his acting limitations), and his appearance here in Hi-Jacked makes this run-of-the-mill programmer worth a look-see.  It’s a product from the Robert L. Lippert stable, which means you’re going to see a plethora of familiar faces like Marcia Mae Jones (billed here as “Marsha Jones”; she plays Davis’ wife) and Margia Dean (a waitress).  Of course, it wouldn’t be a Lippert film without the studio’s “good luck charm,” the incomparable Sid Melton.  (I can understand why you’re groaning, folks.)

Melton plays one of the hijack gang members, a dweeb named “Gerard” (an Arnold Stang influence, no doubt) who prefers to be addressed by his nickname, “Killer.”  He’s anything but—and there’s an amusing running gag where he keeps pestering the hijack leader (Bruce) to let him have a gun.  I think Sid was hysterical on Green Acres (his shtick on The Danny Thomas Show got stale quickly in those “lost” episodes they showed on Cozi TV a while back) and when a Lippert film is in danger of talking itself to death, his antics can be a respite.  But when the movie is actually entertaining, Melton is little more than a handicap.  What’s more, Hi-Jacked also features TDOY fave Iris Adrian as Davis’ sassy waitress friend, and there’s really not room enough for two people providing comic relief in this one.  (I really liked Adrian’s character a lot.  I’d watch her in a TV series any day of the week.)

I’m a big fan of Marcia Mae (you’ll learn the reason why if you read my write-up on Arson, Inc.) but she doesn’t get much to do here; she and Jim have been estranged since he was sent up, but once she learns of the effort he’s making to stay on the straight-and-narrow she reconciles with him, which I found sweet.  (The two of them swap some spit at the end of Hi-Jacked in a most satisfying wrap-up, too.)  Scripted by Orville H. Hampton and Fred Myton (from a story by Myton and Raymond L. Schrock), Hi-Jacked has the distinctive stamp of Sam Newfield (director) and Sigmund Neufeld (producer)—the brothers put a little more effort into this one, with some first-rate action in the form of exciting fist fights and an equally swell climax.

Most of the Kit Parker Films versions of these Lippert vehicles come from sparkly prints but Hi-Jacked seems to have been through the projector sprockets a few too many times.  That pin prick of a nitpick aside, I really enjoyed Hi-Jacked: it doesn’t inspire to anything beyond a simple time passer, and it succeeds admirably.

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