Noirvember 2020, Episode 5: FBI Girl (1951)
FBI Girl (1951)
Directed and produced by William Berke
Screenplay by Dwight V. Babcock, Richard H. Landau
Based on a story by Rupert Hughes
Cinematography by Jack Greenhaigh
Edited by Philip Cahn
Music by Darrell Calker
Distributed by Lippert Pictures
(1:14) Forgotten Noir Collector’s Set 2, VCI Entertainment DVD
“Emotionally unstable, eh? The worst kind of killer.”
Someone should come up with a drinking game for any film noir movie that opens with (1) voiceover narration, (2) scenes from Washington D.C., (3) patriotic music, (4) and stock footage of the inside of a government building. (Take an extra shot if either the Department of Justice or the FBI are involved.) FBI Girl uses all of these, so if you play the game and aren’t too snookered after the first 10 minutes, you’ll find yourself in a better-than-average noir tale.
On the eve of a Senate crime investigation, Governor Owen Grisby (Raymond Greenleaf, left) tells reporters he’s got nothing to hide. But we know differently, don’t we? Grisby murdered a man years ago and has been covering it up ever since. But now he wants to run for the Senate, which means that the fingerprints on file under his actual name, the otherwise unknown John Williams, will match those he’ll be required to give when running for a Senate seat.
But that’s okay, since Grisby’s right-hand-man Blake (Raymond Burr) will be glad to snatch the Williams fingerprint file from the FBI offices. He’ll just need a little help. When a young clerk for the FBI named Natalie (Margia Dean) steals the file for him, Blake fears she may talk and has her killed.
While investigating Natalie’s murder, FBI agents Glen Stedman (Cesar Romero, left) and Jeff Donley (George Brent) ask Natalie’s roommate Shirley (Audrey Totter), another FBI file clerk, to go undercover. But Shirley’s boyfriend Carl (Tom Drake) is working for Blake…
Richard Fleischer referred to fellow director William A. Berke as “King of the B’s,” with Berke directing close to 90 movies from 1934 to 1958. In the commentary on this film from the VCI DVD, film historian Alan K. Rode mentions that Berke made movies “fast, good, and cheap,” and at least as far as FBI Girl goes, he’s right. The film is certainly made on-the-cheap, but a good cast counts for a lot, especially when the menacing Raymond Burr and the lovely Audrey Totter are involved. Although as Rode states in his commentary, Totter is way too glamorous for a file clerk!
B pictures can surprise you sometimes, and in a good way. The nighttime chase scenes - a combination of real nighttime driving and process shots - work quite well (although the helicopter scenes near the end aren’t very believable). One of the most surprising and effective moments occurs when Blake’s enforcer George Denning (Alexander Pope), disguised as a priest, breaks into the hospital room of a witness.
FBI Girl is a fun ride, and as long as you don’t have your expectations set too high, you’ll have a great time. I’m surprised that this is my first William Berke film, but it won’t be my last. (In fact, you may see another of his films crop up here before Noirvember is over.)
You can find FBI Girl on YouTube, but also consider the Forgotten Noir Collector's Set 2 (DVD) from VCI/Kit Parker Films.
Next up: A Steve Cochran film that’s pretty good. Could it have been great?