Thursday, December 18, 2008

Parole, Inc. (Eagle-Lion, Equity, Orbit, 1948)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Parole, Inc. turned out to be a modest but interesting little movie, coming from the dregs of PRC right after it had been taken over by J. Arthur Rank, renamed “Eagle-Lion” (to reflect the transatlantic U.S.-British nature of the company) and aimed for more prestigious films. The production credits are almost as multifarious as those on a modern movie (where it seems that anyone who put money into a movie gets a production-company credit and a marvelously ambiguous computer-generated logo to flash on the screen): the opening credit identifies it as an Equity production (“This movie is going to be foreclosed on,” I joked), the copyright notice is to Pathé Industries and the closing credit is to Orbit Productions. The cast is a pretty good one for a second-tier studio: Michael O’Shea (one of the many James Cagney wanna-bes that got shafted by the refusal of the original Cagney to give up these bad-ass roles as he aged) as the hero, Evelyn Ankers and Turhan Bey reunited from Universal as the principal villains, and Lyle Talbot (considerably bulkier than he was either at Warners in the 1930’s or in his Ed Wood appearances in the 1950’s) as a police commissioner.

There’s one of those long, interminable crawling forewords that makes this look more like a 1935 movie than one from 1948 (though the huge, bulbous, tank-like cars the people were driving give away its real vintage) to the effect that some states have such lax parole systems that conviction of a crime is little more than “a minor inconvenience,” while in states where the laws are “more inflexible” crooks attempt to get their colleagues paroled via bribery. The film then fades in on a carefully unnamed state whose parole board has been paid off big-time to let off certain major crooks specified by a syndicate, and police agent Richard Hendricks (Michael O’Shea) is assigned to go undercover and pose as a recent parolee from another state (assuming the identity of a crook who fled the country) whose confederate in a bank robbery is about to be paroled in that state if Carson — to use the alias Hendricks assumes (though the person he’s impersonating is actually named Murdock) to infiltrate the gang that is selling dirty paroles.

He traces a recent parolee, Harry Palmer (Charles Bradstreet), to the Pastime, “a combination gin mill and cheap café” (as Hendricks explains in his voice-over narration into a Dictaphone — apparently screenwriters Sherman L. Lowe and Royal K. Cole had seen Double Indemnity — which he delivers from a hospital room where he’s trussed up in bandages à la The Invisible Man) owned by Jo-Jo Dumont (Evelyn Ankers), who’s agreed to hire him as a “driver” because his wife Glenda (Virginia Lee) already works for her as a waitress. We suspect she really wants him around for criminal purposes, and of course we’re right. Carson attempts to get himself into the good graces of the gang so he can trace the gang to Dumont’s superior, who turns out to be corrupt attorney Barney Rodescu (Turhan Bey — an Egyptian-American actor playing a Romanian … right), and it all ends up in a confrontation at a farm to which Carson’s “friend” Monty Cooper (Charles Jordan) was supposed to be paroled.

Since Monty would immediately “out” Carson as a government agent if they ever met — they were supposed to have committed a crime together but in fact they’ve never seen each other (one would have thought the police might have offered Carson a reduced sentence for posing as a corrupt parolee and going along with the plot, but no-o-o-o-o) — the cops arrange for police from other states who want Carson for crimes he committed elsewhere to re-arrest him as soon as he’s released, but the extradition paperwork isn’t completed in time and so Cooper arrives at the farm, outs Carson, and the gang tortures him before the police finally arrive to say the day. Both and list this as a film noir, which it isn’t — director Alfred Zeisler and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton shoot it straightforwardly without a hint of chiaroscuro or noir atmosphere, and the story is full of good good guys and bad bad guys without a hint of ambiguity (Turhan Bey’s character is courtly enough one could imagine him as a pleasant dinner guest, but that’s about all you can say for him).

It’s also one of those silly movies in which the crooks are careful and cautious about some things and reckless and stupid in others — as when one gang member shoots Harry Palmer to keep him from spilling the beans, and later attacks and tries to kill Glenda as well (only to be busted by a well-time visit from the cops); one wonders how he’s going to explain all these bodies lying around, especially since he makes no attempt to dispose of Harry’s corpse, nor does he (as I should have thought he would, under the circumstances) try to fake a setup that will make Harry’s death look like an accident. Nonetheless, Parole, Inc. has enough fresh “spins” on the old clichés that it’s reasonably entertaining, and it’s quite well acted for a “B” — Virginia Lee rather overdoes the scene in which one of the thugs is menacing her, but otherwise hers is a quite compelling characterization even though the film would have had more nuance if she’d been shown falling for the cop à la The Big Heat.