Warner Bros. // 1954 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 21st, 2013
A desperate man on the hot spot.
A lot of movies get labeled as film noirs that are really just crime dramas, but I guess they sell better that way. The label doesn't change whether the movie is good or bad, but it's misleading and irritates me more than it probably should. The mislabeling continues with Loophole, a little seen and very decent B-movie with a lot going for it.
Mike Donovan (Barry Sullivan, Earthquake) is an average, mild-mannered man with a loving wife in Ruthie (Dorothy Malone, Colorado Territory) and a good job as a bank teller. His day starts like any other day as he kisses his wife goodbye and goes into work early. That afternoon, however, he's doing his daily counts and discovers that his till is nearly $50,000 short. Wracked with guilt and unsure what to do, Ruthie convinces him to report it, leading to his firing and an investigation by the insurers contracted to pay it back. Despite his protestations of innocence, his life falls apart as the investigator, Gus Slavin (Charles McGraw, The Birds), convinced that he stole the cash, hounds him, getting him fired from job after job. The police believe Donovan, but with no leads, it falls to him to prove that he isn't a thief.
Well-written and efficient, Loophole is the kind of movie that is utterly insubstantial, but totally enjoyable from start to finish. Mike Donovan comes across as a dopey everyman, a person you might see in a fifties sitcom, but that makes the character all the more relatable when he's accused of the robbery. We see the theft and know he didn't do it, but by not being able to explain what happened, it makes the accusation perfectly understandable. That doesn't make his treatment right or just, but when an insurance adjuster is determined not to pay a claim, not much is going to convince him otherwise.
Barry Sullivan is effective in the role, having to solve his own case. Mostly pathetic, when he finally figures out what happened, he jumps into action convincingly. Charles McGraw is great as the insurance man and is a total natural as a seething jerk. An ex-cop who favors the rough treatment, he's relentless in his pursuit of Donovan and seems to take a lot of joy in ruining his life. It's a lot of fun to watch.
Directed by Harold D. Schuster (Small Town Deb), it's short, sweet, and perfectly effective. There's not a lot of style at play, but it looks pretty good for its budget. The story moves quickly, with strong dialog and, shot at mostly real locations, a good look at old Los Angeles. It's not necessarily a special movie in any way, but it's an easy, enjoyable viewing experience that should satisfy fans of crime cinema.
Loophole arrives on DVD from Warner Archives, the on-demand line from Warner Bros. It's a solid technical presentation, but unfortunately bare-bones. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks relatively good for much of what I've seen from the service. There is a bit of damage to the print here and there, but not so much to be distracting. The black-and-white contrast is fairly good and it has a natural-looking grain structure. The mono sound mix is serviceable. Dialog is clear and there isn't much in the way of background hiss, but there's nothing special about it, either. There are no extras on the disc.
Loophole likely won't knock anybody's socks off, but noir fans will certainly get a kick out of the performances and story it delivers. This is journeyman work in every respect, but for low budget B-cinema, that's all you need sometimes. With an average, but totally acceptable, release from Warner Archives, Loophole is an easy recommendation, even if not a huge one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated