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Our review of Backlash (2000), published June 12th, 2000, is also available.
Love's violent recoil!
From the early days of cinema and into the 1950s, there was a level of filmmaking known derisively as Poverty Row. These were lower than B-productions, real cheap stuff, and mostly bad. But not always. The king of the Poverty Row pictures is the 1945 Edgar G. Ulmer drama, Detour, but it's not the only gem to come out of that morass. One such came the next year. Helmed by the nearly unknown journeyman Eugene Ford (The Lady Escapes), Backlash is an interesting mystery told in an odd way that any noir fan could get behind.
Detective Jerry McMullen (Larry J. Blake, Demon Seed) just stumbled onto a mystery to solve. A car has been found crashed in a ravine with a body inside, the body of the wealthy John Morland (John Eldredge, High Sierra) shot through the back of the skull. He's immediately suspicious of Morland's young wife, Catherine Morland (Jean Rogers, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars). But, as his investigation continues, he finds any number of people who might want to kill him and, based on all the evidence, starts to wonder if Morland is actually dead at all.
Whenever one watches one of these Poverty Row pictures from the era, one has to get over those budgetary concerns before enjoying the story, which could be no less creative, and sometimes much more so, than their A-level counterparts. I don't think anybody is going to accuse Backlash of particular originality, but for the time, it tells a disjointed story through flashbacks that wind up making for an intriguing mystery. Its conclusion probably won't surprise, but the lead up to it is an enjoyable and well-written story penned by Irving Elman (The Crimson Key).
At the start, it seems like a standard and terribly boring picture, but as the investigation, and thus, the flashbacks start, the cops themselves take second stage to a disparate group of swindlers and crooks, including Morland himself. We get to know them, in part, through the police interviews and, in part, through those flashbacks. But, more than that, we learn about the through other people's flashbacks. Is Catherine a cheating shrew bent on poisoning her husband, or was the fact that his associate owed him tens of thousands of dollars the motive? There are a ton of threads that are finally brought together by simple facts, but it makes sense and feels satisfying, especially since, at 66 minutes, it doesn't try to overplay its hand. It's a straightforward and compelling noir, and that will always make me happy.
The DVD for Backlash comes from Fox and their Cinema Archives collection. It's as-is, but that's sort of fine for movies like this, which always were as-is anyway. The full frame image is a little roughed up, but probably not much more than how it originally was exhibited at most second-rate theaters in its own time. The contrast isn't too bad and the black levels are pretty strong, though it's nothing to brag about. The sound is pretty much what it is. It's somewhat hissy, with pops and cracks throughout, but the dialogue is clearly audible, so good enough. No extras, but that's standard for Fox's on-demand service.
For all its budgetary limitations, Backlash is a fine little movie. It's no Detour, and by no means a classic of cellar-dwelling noir, but this is a very interesting mystery that's nicely told and smartly executed, especially for the talent involved. I can easily recommend this to any film noir fan.
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