Noirvember 2018, Episode 4: A Strange Adventure (1956)
I was commenting to a Twitter friend the other day that since I’ve already seen most of the “high profile” film noir titles, much of my Noirvember 2018 posts will consist of lesser-known movies, such as the one I’ll be discussing today. Rest assured, I do have some higher-profile rewatch titles on the way, but I really enjoy watching and writing about the movies that might’ve fallen under the radar. Here’s one such title:
A Strange Adventure (1956)
Directed by William Witney
Produced by William J. O’Sullivan
Screenplay by Houston Branch
Cinematography by Bud Thackery
Edited by Howard A. Smith
(1:10) Kino Lorber Blu-ray
A Strange Adventure really isn’t all that strange, but A Routine Adventure wouldn’t sound very exciting, would it? With lines like “Well, what’re you doing here, punk?” and “It’s too bad, junior, but we all have to grow up,” we certainly won’t think we’re in the midst of a Raymond Chandler script.
Young Harold Norton (Ben Cooper, right) spends most of his time running a motel with his mom (Emlen Davies) or working on his hot rod, but Harold gets more than a little distracted by the motel’s newest guest, Lynn Novack (Marla English, left). Lynn tells Harold that she’s a nightclub singer waiting for her agent to arrive with news of an important gig, but when two tough-looking guys named Al (Jan Merlin, below) and Phil (Nick Adams) arrive, Harold figures something’s up. He’s right. All and Phil are really planning an armored car heist with Lynn.
The sadistic Al realizes they’ll need a fast getaway car and a driver, so Harold is forced into their plan. Part of Al’s master plan includes hiding out in a remote cabin in the Sierras, a cabin already inhabited by a brother (Peter Miller) and sister (Joan Evans) who work for the local electric power company.
A Strange Adventure (also known as White Nightmare) manages to mix heist/getaway/hideout stories fairly well, but the writing leaves much to be desired and the believability of several scenes is practically non-existent. Character motivation is all over the place, but the biggest problem is with the gang leader. Not only is Al a one-dimensional villain, he’s also not smart enough to have survived as a criminal for this long without getting wiped out by someone smarter, which would be practically any fifth grade graduate. (You can't help but wonder what Richard Widmark or even Neville Brand could've done with this role.) The film does, however, contain a few good moments and it’s nice to see character actor Paul Smith in a small role as the driver of the armored car.
The film’s director, William Witney, directed and co-directed many serials (including The Crimson Ghost) for Republic before WWII and after serving as a Marine, returned to the studio to direct Roy Rogers westerns. During the 1950s, Witney expanded into mostly action pictures. Witney's work on the science fiction movie Master of the World (1961) is one of his best-remembered feature films. Witney also wrote several books, one about his work on serials, titled In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase (1995) and Trigger Remembered (1989), about Roy Rogers’s famous horse. The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray of A Strange Adventure contains a commentary with film historian Toby Roan and the director's son Jay Dee Witney. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m hoping to check it out soon, as much for information on William Witney as for the film itself. The disc is certainly worth picking up, especially if you can get it during a sale.
Next time: Ray Milland might get his head blown off... by two different guys!
Photos: DVD Beaver