Loophole (1954) Harold D. Schuster
Directed by Harold D. Schuster
Produced by Lindsley Parsons
Screenplay by Warren Douglas
Story by Dwight V. Babcock, George Bricker
Music by Paul Dunlap
Cinematography by William A. Sickner
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures
Warner Archive DVD-R (1:20)
No one’s likely to find Loophole (1954) on any list of Top 20, 50, or even 100 film noir titles, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. (Do you really want to ignore Charles McGraw? I didn’t think so.) This little B picture is a hidden gem you owe it to yourself to discover.
Mike Donovan (Barry Sullivan) is a pleasant, dependable bank teller who has everything going for him until he’s falsely accused of stealing nearly $50,000 from his drawer. (The audience, of course, knows Mike didn’t do it. We know who did and how he/she did it, which I won’t disclose here.) Making matters worse, the theft happens on a Friday, and Mike - trying to figure out what happened - doesn’t report the shortage until Monday.
Goodbye bank teller job, hello unemployment. And Mike, while you’re being punished for something you didn’t do, here’s some more good news: you can’t work for another bank because you’re no longer bonded. But wait, there’s more! Here comes insurance investigator Gus Slavin (Charles McGraw) who won’t rest until you tell him where you hid the money. (Slavin's best line: "What he [Mike} needs is a taste of the rubber hose.")
But Slavin doesn’t stop there. He also talks to every potential boss who’s willing to hire Mike, telling them that Mike’s not exactly a good candidate for Employee of the Month, unless that honor goes to guys who steal from their employers. Soon Mike and his lovely wife Ruthie (Dorothy Malone) are forced to sell their house.
Loophole makes the most of the paranoia of the McCarthy era by giving us a protagonist who’s done nothing wrong. This could happen to anyone, and once it does, you can count on someone like Slavin to suck the life out of you. My good friend Casey (Noir Girl) and I discussed Barry Sullivan’s performance in The Gangster (1947) for Noirvember 2018, both of us agreeing that he’s often nervous, stiff, and anxious. Those characteristics work perfectly in Loophole: Mike is not only nervous, stiff, and anxious, he’s also desperate. All of these attributes are tailor-made for a film noir protagonist and Sullivan makes it all painfully believable.
The supporting cast is good, particularly Dorothy Malone, who takes a role that’s pretty standard, yet convinces us that Ruthie is just as devastated as Mike. She’s the one who has to be strong, holding the marriage together. Insurance investigator Slavin could easily become a one-dimensional villian (an even greater one than the actual thief), but McGraw gives the role his usual intensity and potential for delivering a world of hurt. (Loophole is also a rather rare opportunity for film noir fans to see McGraw on the receiving end of a few well-placed punches.) Sure, the film gets wobbly during the last 15 minutes, but my advice is to just go with it.
Harold D. Schuster directed mostly routine pictures and is probably best remembered for directing Wings of the Morning (1937), the first three-strip Technicolor film. He also directed the well-regarded, hard-to-find Western Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957), which also features Sullivan and includes the same producer, writer, composer, and distributor as Loophole. If you’d like to read more about the film, I recommend this article by film historian Alan K. Rode.
Loophole is available as a DVD-R from Warner Archive, so the next time they have a 4 for $44 sale, so yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Photos: Where Danger Lives, DVD Beaver, RareFilm, Mubi