Friday, December 16, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Pier 23 (1951)


On this week’s edition of Forgotten Noir Fridays, we return to the titular environs of San Francisco private investigator Dennis “Denny” O’Brien (Hugh Beaumont), who puts groceries on the table with a boat rental business when he’s not out shamusing.  (I’ve seen two of these movies so far—the first being the previously discussed Danger Zone [1951]—and I’ve yet to see anyone inquire about renting a boat.)  O’Brien’s first client is kindly Father Donovan (Raymond Greenleaf), a priest who hires Denny (I think O’Brien does this one pro bono, since men of the cloth rarely have any spare change rattling around in their cassocks) to intercept one Joe Harmon (Chris Drake), who’s planning to crash out of “The Rock” later that evening.  (How Harmon endures that lengthy swim goes unexplained, as you might have already guessed.)  If Father Donovan can sit Joe down for a chinwag, he can convince that little lost lamb to return to the incarcerated flock and stay on the straight-and-narrow.

O’Brien meets Harmon at a predestined spot, and the escaped con says he’ll palaver with the good Fadduh once he’s made a stop at an address…where the two men meet up with Joe’s sister Ann (Ann Savage).  Ann introduces Denny’s noggin to the business end of a heavy bit of bric-a-brac, and when our hero comes to…Joe is dead from multiple stab wounds.  The plot thickens when O’Brien learns from Father Donovan that the man he met is not Joe Harmon—but a fellow inmate named Mike Greely!

After O’Brien wraps up the Harmon affair (in less than a half-hour—damn, he’s good) he’s then hired by wrestling referee Mushy Cavelli (Johnny Indrisano) to play courier and pick up an envelope containing mucho dinero after a scheduled bout between grapplers Willie Klingle (Bill Varga) and Ape Danowski (Mike Mazurki).  (Kind of a crappy thing to do to a kid, naming him “Ape.”)  Klingle dies of a heart attack during the match, and Denny is pressed into service to investigate as to why Willie would ever be cleared to climb into the ring when everyone knew the guy had a bum ticker.

"He don't bounce no more." TDOY fave Mike Mazurki gets gumshoe Hugh Beaumont in a headlock as ubiquitous Lippert starlet Margia Dean looks on.
In the review I wrote for Danger Zone, I mentioned that it, Pier 23, and Roaring City (1951) all consisted of non-telecast episodes from a syndicated TV series based on the Jack Webb radio shows Pat Novak…For Hire and Johnny Madero, Pier 23.  (Pier 23 is the third “Denny O’Brien” entry—someone at VCI apparently issued these “co-hits” on their Forgotten Noir DVD releases out of sequence.  Roaring City will be covered in this space in future.)  Hugh Beaumont couldn’t carry Webb’s jockstrap on any given day of the week, but if you’re willing to overlook this handicap you might get a little enjoyment out of Pier 23. 

(Andrew “Grover” Leal pointed out to me on Facebook the other night that I had once written Beaumont played “TV’s saddest excuse for a father on Leave it to Beaver” in an installment of TDOY’s Crime Does Not Pay series [1940’s You, the People].  I didn’t remember being that harsh—and in my defense, Mr. Grover recalled me saying Beaumont was the worst TV dad, which was not quite the way I worded it—but the evidence clearly shows that I voiced a negative opinion of the legendary boob tube pop, and so I have no other recourse but to own it.  For the record, I don’t think Ward Cleaver was the worst—at least not while Mayberry RFD’s Sam Jones is in this contest—but Ward’s reputation as a wise patriarchal sage has been embarrassingly inflated over the years.  On a slightly related note, the Crime Does Not Pay efforts will resurface on the blog sometime next year…because I was finally able to obtain that Warner Archive MOD DVD set.  More on this as it develops.)

The chief asset of these movies is the presence of character great Ed Brophy as Professor Frederick Simpson Schicker (the movie version of Pat Novak’s “Jocko Madigan”), who gets the lion’s share of the best dialogue.  (When O’Brien asks his pal “You gonna stay drunk all your life?” Schick responds “It's all a matter of will power...I'm probably the only man in the world who intends to carry a hangover into eternity...")  Having Mazurki on hand is another check in the “plus” column (Mike kind of combines his characterizations of Moose Malloy from Murder, My Sweet and The Strangler from Night and the City for the Ape), and the movie’s noir bona fides get an assist by casting Ann Savage as a cold-blooded dame in the first of the two stories.  (We all have our favorite femme fatales in noir, but Savage is the probably the only one who could rip out the hero’s heart and munch on it like an apple.)  The supporting cast is filled out with most of the familiar Lippert faces: Richard Travis (as Lt. Bruger), Margia Dean, David Bruce, Raymond Greenleaf, Harry Hayden, etc.  Joi (billed as Joy) Lansing has a brief bit as a cocktail waitress, and the first actor to play “Runt” in the Chester Morris Boston Blackie film franchise, Charles Wagenheim, can be glimpsed as a “policy man.”

When they say "Spartan"...they ain't just whistlin' Dixie.

Lou Morheim and Herbert Margolis, who scripted many a Johnny Madero broadcast, receive story credit on Pier 23 (since most of the Madero episodes are lost to the ravages of time and neglect, I can’t confirm whether or not they recycled these plots from the radio show…though I suspect they probably did) with screenplay honors going to Julian Harmon and Victor West (the dialogue is prime Novak: “The pier was as deserted as a warm bottle of beer…”).  B-picture journeyman William A. Berke sat in the director’s chair on this one, and if you’re curious to have a look you can rent Pier 23 on Forgotten Noir Volume 9 at a ClassicFlix near you.  (Next week: the last of Volume 9’s “co-hits,” 1947’s The Case of the Baby Sitter.)

1 comment:

Mike Doran said...

It's in contention whether this and the other Denny O'Brien movies were originally intended for syndie TV (then largely unknown territory) or for theatrical release (bottom half of double bills).

Making something that could be used both ways would be Lippert hedging his bets, waiting to see if TV would really take root or if nabe house economics would take short stuff like this.

By the way ...

SPARTAN PRODUCTIONS PRESENT

... that's British usage; in the USA it would be SPARTAN PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS.
I've got this DVD set; One of the things I noticed was that many of these movies start off with a slide from the British Board of Film Censors, meaning we're looking at the Brit prints of these.