Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1954 "B" movie thriller "Highway Dragnet". Despite it's modest production values, the film is a textbook example of how efficiently films in this genre were made and how much action and plot devices can be worked into a movie with an abbreviated running time (70 minutes, in this case.) Young Roger Corman wrote the story upon which the screenplay was based and also served as one of the producers. That's about the only aspect of the film that one could point out in terms of separating "Highway Dragnet" from countless other crime dramas shot in a similar style. That isn't meant as a criticism. We're rediscovering how cleverly made so many of these micro-budget flicks were and this one is one of the better examples. The film opens with a brief segment in Las Vegas. Richard Conte is Jim Henry, who has just returned from the conflict in Korea and is now looking to enjoy civilian life. He's on his way back to his family home in the Salton Sea area in California when his pit stop at a Vegas casino results in a tense encounter with an abrasive blonde at the bar. The two publicly quarrel and Jim leaves the premises. The next day he is on a desert highway hitchhiking when cops pull up and arrest him. Turns out the sassy dame was found strangled in her bed and Jim is the prime suspect. He has an alibi that he was out with a friend all night but due to some convoluted plot reasons, the tale can't be easily substantiated. Jim resists the arresting officers, steals one of their guns and makes a getaway in the squad car. A full dragnet is in place when he ditches the police car when he comes across two stranded women who are trying to fix their broken-down car. Jim jumps to the rescue and gets the vehicle working, but also insists on traveling with them, as it gives him cover from the police. His new companions are Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett), a fashion photographer and her model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix). The women are en route to photo shoot at a local desert resort hotel. When they arrive there, they learn that Jim is wanted for murder. He takes off with them into the desert where the car breaks down and they are at the mercy of the relentless sun. Mrs. Cummings is determined to kill Jim if she has the opportunity but Susan, who is clearly enamored of the ex-serviceman, argues that she thinks he is innocent. The cat and mouse game continues as Jim desperately tries to make it back to his family home, where the man who can exonerate him is supposed to be waiting.
"Highway Dragnetl" is a fun romp, especially if you like the old style of crime movies in which the hero is nonplussed by events and seems to have Bondian abilities to escape every trap. Richard Conte makes a good, stalwart hero and his female co-stars are equally impressive. The climax of the film, shot on location amid flooded homes in the Salton Sea area, is quite atmospheric and impressive, even if the resolution of the crime is bit thin and far-fetched when it comes to revealing the real murderer. Director Nathan Juran wisely eschews studio-bound shots in favor of capitalizing on the desert locations and they add considerably to the quality of the production. "HighwayDragmetl" isn't a film noir classic but it's well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended, especially since you'll only need 70 minutes to experience it.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers a pristine transfer and a trailer gallery of other "B" crime movies available from the company.