“A Bullet for Joey” (1955) with Edward G. Robinson,
George Raft and Audrey Totter is one of those “Red scare” movies from the
mid-fifties that combines elements of a crime plot with espionage and the evils
of communism. It was the Cold War era and people were digging bomb shelters and
practicing “duck and cover” air raid drills, while at the same time, congressional
committees hauled in suspected Communist Party members, including actors,
writers and directors, to testify and name names. Hollywood did its part, in
turn, by black listing suspected commies and turning out anti-communism films
like John Wayne’s “Big Jim McClain” “The Woman on Pier 13 (“I Married a
Communist”), and “I Was a Communist for the FBI.” “A Bullet for Joey”, despite
having two of Hollywood’s toughest tough guy actors in the cast, is one of the
weaker examples of this sub-genre.
It concerns a conspiracy by Communist agents who want to
kidnap a nuclear scientist named Macklin who is living in Montreal and has
developed some kind of secret atomic weapon. The Reds want to take him and his
device to Moscow. It’s not a bad story idea on the face of it. But who do you
suppose they enlist to carry out such a risky venture? Some skilled KGB agent? Some
steely-eyed Russian veteran of the Cold War? No. They get the crack-brain idea
to go to Portugal and contact Joey Victor, a deported American gangster played by
a tired-looking George Raft. They give him money, fake ID papers and send him
to Canada to snatch the scientist. Sure, I guess if you want to pull off a
super-secret international kidnapping, why not hire a nondescript guy like
Public Enemy No. 1? Makes sense to me. Even harder to swallow is the idea that
Joey would take the job not really knowing who the people are that are hiring
him, or why they would want to capture a nuclear scientist in the first place.
All he cares about is the money and a chance to slip over the Canadian border
and get back in the U.S. This is called putting blinders on your main character
so he can stumble through an overly contrived plot.
At this point you might be wondering what Edward G.
Robinson is doing all this time. Well, Edward G plays a Canadian Mountie Inspector
by the name of Le Duc who starts investigating a string of seemingly
unconnected murders that have suddenly sprung up in Montreal. Looking every bit as tired and worn out as
Raft, Edward G. goes through the usual police procedural motions as if in his
sleep. There are clues such as an organ grinder found in the river with his
face removed, a homely girl shot three times on a lover’s lane, a guy shot
through a window by a rifle with a telescopic sight. As he sifts through the
evidence, Le Duc discovers they all have one thing in common—they’re all
connected in some way to a nuclear scientist named Macklin.
Meanwhile, Joey gets help from the Soviet agents
reassembling his old mob including his former flame Audrey Totter. She’s
brought in to seduce the atomic scientist, and set him up for the kidnapping.
Joey advises her not to get involved with him, but she does anyway and tries to
get a note off to Edward G. spilling the beans. Totter, an actress whose
presence graced many a decent film noir, isn’t used very well in this flick.
Mostly she stands around looking like a big cat about to claw everybody’s eyes
out. She does have one of the best lines in the movie, however, when Joey
barges into her room as she’s writing the letter as she tries to hide it and
“Are your knuckles sore?”
“No why?”, Joey answers.
“Go back out and bang them on the door.”
That gives you some idea of the kind of script the
writers came up for this one. Maybe you can’t blame Edward G for looking tired
and bored when he’s forced to utter lines like: “Women are what makes life a
pleasure for men.”
I won’t bore you with further details of the plot, mainly
because I can’t remember anymore, even though I watched this film twice. I
don’t know if it was Lewis Gilbert’s lackluster direction, the cockamamie
script by blacklisted writer Daniel Mainwaring and A. I. Bezzerides (from the
novel by James Benson Nablo), or the tired and listless performances of the two
leads that was responsible for the eye-glazing experience watching “A Bullet
for Joey” turned out to be. All I can remember is squirming in my seat, feeling
itchy, getting up to get a drink, getting up again to use the rest room, and
finally just throwing up my hands in frustration during a scene where the cops
and gangsters are shooting it out on a boat, and all Edward G can do is try to
get through to headquarters on a radio that doesn’t work. There are guns a-blazing,
bad guys running all over the place, and in the middle of it, Edgar G is
sitting in a truck with the microphone in his hand, repeating: “Headquarters,
come in. This is inspector LeDuc calling. Headquarters, come in.” In this scene
Le Duc comes off almost as comically inept as Inspector Clouseau in one of
Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies.
There was, of course, the final moment, after Edgar G is
captured when he asks Joey why he took a job without knowing what it was all
about? Finally a light bulb goes off
over the gangster’s head when he realizes turning the scientist over to the
commies is a crime against humanity. Joey rises to the occasion and tries to
redeem himself. The title pretty much tells you how that turns out.
This was the second time Robinson and Raft worked
together. The first was in “Manpower” (1941) with Marlene Dietrich. The two
guys got in a fight over Dietrich at the time. Maybe that’s what this film
needed. Some behind the scenes shenanigans to put some life into what is otherwise
a pretty dull and lifeless movie. Too bad two old legends couldn’t have found a
better vehicle for their last appearance together.
This Kino Lorber
Blu-Ray is presented in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the picture and
sound are okay, even though no effort was made at digital restoration. There
are signs of wear and tear. The disc has no extras other than a couple of
trailers. I’ve given high marks to most of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classic series.
I appreciate their desire to keep older, and more obscure films in circulation.
But this is one is marginal at best.