Label: Olive Films
Region: 1 (NTSC)
Released: July 30, 2013
Genre: Film Noir / Crime
Synopsis: Freshly released from jail, a disgraced copy hunts down the killer of his wife and child in the wilds of Alaska.
Special Features: (none)
After working his way up to A-level pictures at Fox and peaking with The Street with No Name (1948) and The Snake Pit (1948), Mark Stevens slowly slid into B pictures again, eventually settling into TV with the occasional feature film – Fate is the Hunter (1964) being a rare A-level venture, also at Fox – and testing the waters of directing with Cry Vengeance, an unusual noir shot almost entirely on location in Alaska, albeit with a conventional TV cinematographer whose specialty was straight flat lighting and basic composition.
Vengeance lacks the deep atmosphere and nuanced montages of Street, but the docu-style look works for the story of a disgraced cop seeking vicious retribution after serving 3 years in prison. The goal is simple: kill the sonofabitch who blew up his wife and kid and scarred half his face. Whatever follows after that is irrelevant.
Vic Barron (Stevens) doesn’t care what happens to him – he just keeps his focus lean and simple, getting a used gun, hopping planes to Ketchikan, Alaska, and walking right up to his old nemesis Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy) and telling him he’s going to kill him after shadowing him and his cute daughter Marie (Cheryl Callaway) for a while. Vic even hangs out at the local watering hole, making sure he’s seen by Tino, and at one point shows his gun to little Marie and hands her a fresh bullet to give to her daddy.
Whatever conventional underpinnings propel this fairly straightforward revenge tale, it’s the little moments in the script by actor / prolific TV scribe Warren Douglas and B-veteran George Bricker (She-Wolf of London, The Brute Man) that give it a curious edge, plus Stevens’ grim tone, half-limping, touching his scars, and biting his lip to temper his nerves.
Everyone drinks too much and lives an unconventional life, and Stevens’ film was very much an indie production distributed by Allied Artists, so not all characters fit the standard archetypes. The dialogue is a bit rich and clichéd, but they’re often forgivable: little Marie speaks like an older child, but with her dad living under an alias and being uprooted from San Francisco, her maturity makes sense; and gang moll Lily (striking Joan Vohs) boozes like a NYC dumb blonde, but she’s a tragic mess who’s settled for the dim life of a hitman’s girl, destined to end up as one of his targets.
Almost everyone lives with a sense of hopelessness, as their lives and finales have been pre-determined, making any effort to jump tracks pointless. It’s a thoroughly grim worldview that’s counter-balanced by Callaway, a surprisingly natural child actress, and to some extent Martha Hyer, playing Peggy, the possible love interest who isn’t the town spinster, but the local bar owner; an independent entrepreneur who chooses her own men, even though her tastes tend to veer towards emotionally troubled tough guys.
Peggy’s sudden switch from Tino to Vic’s a bit swift, and she seems unwary that a stranger with zero luggage boozing up in her joint is okay to invite to a remote and abandoned Indian settlement where anything can happen. The film’s crux comes when the real architect of Vic’s misery sends the dead family’s triggerman Roxey (blonde-bleached Skip Homeier) to Alaska to clean-up the potential mess, and starts strategically knocking off figures to incriminate Vic. The wrap-up is too neat and coincidental, but Stevens’ struck gold in shooting so many exteriors in a locale where a small logging & fishing town is being transformed into an emerging commercial hub with a new dam and a pipeline cutting through a dense forest.
Paul Dunlap’s score adds extra depth to the characters, and fans of B movies and fifties & sixties TV will see the much younger faces of seasoned character actors: Homeier, best-known as bald hippy guru Dr. Sevrin in the Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden” (1969); Tino’s buddy Johnny played by Mort Mills (the creepy sunglassed highway cop in Psycho), prolific John Doucette, and unbilled Richard Deacon (The Dick Van Dyke Show).
Olive’s completely bare bones DVD sports a nice transfer from a decent print with slight reel change marks in the early scenes, and clean mono sound. Pity there’s no extras to contextualize this lesser known indie noir, but it’s a treat to see the genre transposed to more exotic locations and featuring a mix of familiar and more realistic characters packed into the film’s neat 82 minutes.
Stevens would direct episodes from several of TV series (Big Town, Wagon Train), but his feature films include Cry Vengeance (1954), Time Table (1955), Gun Fever (1958), Escape from Hell Island (1963), and co-director of Tierra de fuego (1965).
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review