Crime Wave

André De Toth
USA 1954
74 min

By shuffling some standard ingredients with quiet competence, Crime Wave, the new Warners film on the Holiday's screen, manages to look a good deal better than it is. Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden and Phyllis Kirk are featured in this circumstantial, unsurprising account of an exconvict's victimization, told, fortunately, within a graphic, flavorsome birdseye view of criminal Los Angeles. Ironically these authentic backgrounds, expertly captured by director Andre De Toth and his cameraman, provide stark reaffirmation that crime doesn't pay at the expense of the case in question. Mr. De Toth's tour is a brisk, pictorial one, honeycombing the shadowy metropolitan fringes and byways where vigilant police sift a gallery of chameleonic habitués. But this canvas narrows considerably, at times unconvincingly, in appraising the plight of Gene Nelson.
And plight it is. Happily married and earning a decent living, he finds a former San Quentin associate dying on his doorstep. Mr. Nelson promptly telephones his parole officer in the mistake of his life, although the rest of the picture hammers away at the advisability, as the pair become unwilling shields for a trio of prison escapees, and are salvaged in the nick of time. Crane Wilbur's scenario offers some natural-sounding dialogue and a detailed, absorbing study of the inner mechanism of the Los Angeles police network. As the sergeant who supposedly personifies it, however, Sterling Hayden's paradoxical behavior strikes and sustains a disturbing note of righteous sadism. His snarling allergy to «any ex-con» and his bland bullying of the open-faced couple make Hayden a peculiar paragon of justice indeed.
Dancing shoes aside, Gene Nelson gives his best performance to date in his dramatic debut. Phyllis Kirk is also effective, as are Ted de Corsia, Charles Buchinsky, Jay Novello and James Bell. But Nelson and Miss Kirk, text notwithstanding, should have ignored that telephone and bolted for the hills.

When I went to Jack Warner's office to talk about Crime Wave, he screamed, «What the hell are you thinking of? I offered you Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, the biggest names. You don't want them?» I said, «No, thank you.» «All right, then», he was through with me now: «Go ahead, Tex, and make the Goddamned picture with nobodies. Cut your own throat. But in that case, you'll have to shoot it in 15 days. Go on, get out.» I was happy. I won. And I made the picture in 14 days.

  • Gene Nelson
  • Phyllis Kirk
  • Ted de Corsia
  • Charles Buchinsky (Bronson)
  • Jay Novello
  • Nedrick Young
  • Sterling Hayden
  • Crane Wilbur
  • Bernard Gordon
  • Richard Wormser
  • John Hawkins
  • Ward Hawkins
  • Bert Glennon
  • David Buttolph
Warner Bros.
16 mm
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