Thursday, February 9, 2012

Get Outta Town (Davis-Wilson Productions, Beckman Film Corp., 1960)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Get Outta Town (the page “normalizes” the title to Get Out of Town, but Get Outta Town was what appeared on the posters as well as the actual credit), a 1960 gangster movie set and shot on the streets of L.A. and produced by Charles Davis (who also directed) and Doug Wilson from a script by Bob Wehling. I hadn’t had much hope for a 62-minute gangster “B” from 1960 (the late date, well after the theatrical heyday of the “B” movie, suggested it was really aimed at drive-ins) but Get Outta Town proved to be surprisingly good, owing a lot to the gangster films of the 1930’s but also fresh enough to seem relatively original and certainly done with style and panache. The plot features Kelly Oleson (co-producer Doug Wilson) — once again, “normalizes” the name to “Olson” but “Oleson” is how the character is identified on the final credit roll. He’s just returned to L.A. after three years to attend the funeral of his younger brother, who supposedly fell to an accidental death while drunk but whom Kelly is convinced was murdered. Two L.A. police officers, Sergeant Willis (Frank Harding, whose military bearing and overall ugliness makes him just right for this hateful role) and Officer Kemper (Steve Bradley), meet him when he arrives and tell him in no uncertain terms that they don’t consider him welcome and if he knows what’s good for him he’ll turn around and get outta town (hence the title).

His mother (Beppie De Vries) angrily turns down the money he offers for his brother’s funeral and makes it clear (in a scene pretty obviously copied from the confrontation between Humphrey Bogart and Marjorie Main in Dead End) that she doesn’t want him in town either. He’s got both an ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend, but they’re not thrilled to see him either: the ex-girlfriend responds to his attempt to get affectionate with her as if he’s trying to rape her and his ex-wife is now the wife of gangster Rico Lanari (Tony Wilson). He goes to see Rico at a weird establishment that at first looks like a bookie joint (well, there are a lot of people with telephones taking bets on horses and a radio is broadcasting the races) but also seems to be offering prostitution and all manner of illegal services, so much so that I joked, “What is this, ‘Crimes ’R Us’?” Rico has two henchmen, one of whom, Squirrel (Tommy Holden, who bore an odd resemblance to San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria in his profile shots but looked more like Jerry Lewis full-face), is an old friend of Kelly’s but the other, Tony (Lee Kross, definitely the hottest-looking male in the film), takes an instant dislike to him. Eventually Kelly realizes that Rico was behind the murder of his brother (ya remember Kelly’s brother?) and he flees L.A. with his old girlfriend in tow.

There’s really not much more plot to it than that, but it’s done with a surprising sense of style and a skill (the cinematographer was Lawrence Raimond) at getting noir atmospherics out of real cityscapes. It’s also noteworthy in that instead of the usual ominous, heavy orchestral score Get Outta Town is scored with jazz big-band music by Bill Holman (the only person associated with this movie I’d heard of before!), who at the time was trying to hold a big band together and, that being an economically preposterous thing to do in 1960 (unless you were Duke Ellington and could subsidize it with your royalties as a first-class songwriter), he was no doubt grateful for the paycheck. At first Holman’s music is too light and bouncy to work as a noir underscore — the opening, in which Kelly gets beaten up and nearly killed by Rico’s thugs (the scene reappears halfway through the movie, indicating everything else before it has been a flashback), almost seems to be attempting to turn murder into a music video —  as the film progresses his music gets better and he figures out how to work within his style and still provide appropriately sinister, mood-creating sounds. Get Outta Town is one of those little “B” gems that sometimes came from the most surprising places, and I found it quite watchable even though the download came from a wide-screen print that was not letterboxed or panned-and-scanned, with the result that every car in the movie looked too short and every human looked way too tall and gaunt.