Again, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart examines the case of Robert L. Lippert, who made ten movies a year—and still had a lot of time on his hands.
"He doesn't have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and if anybody deserved one, he did. He took a lot of chances—and he had guts."—Robert L. Lippert Jr., on his father
When Robert L. Lippert was around, the phrase "Movie of the Week" took on another meaning. Principal photography on Shoot to Kill, one of the two movies that make up Forgotten Noir Vol. 3, was completed in five days.
The third in a series, this DVD double feature presents two movies released by low-budget producer Robert L. Lippert. Blackballed by the actors' union for selling movies to TV (even though it eventually gave movies a lucrative new market), Lippert made a deal with Fox to produce ten low-budget quickies a year. IMDb says Time called him "The Quickie King" and he may also have introduced popcorn machines to the cinema. He definitely developed the multiplex and gave Roger Corman an early-career job. If you look at his IMDb filmography you'll notice a few classics, mainly in science fiction (The Last Man on Earth, The Fly, and The Quatermass Xperiment) although his resume includes noir films and westerns. My own introduction to the world of Lippert mysteries was Night Train to Paris, reviewed here, which has a plot that mirrors that of Shadow Man, since it has a hero on the run after a body turned up in his apartment.
Forgotten Noir Vol. 3 includes two Lippert quickies, 1953's Shadow Man and 1947's Shoot to Kill. Each movie has a tragic aspect to it behind the scenes, since both films feature an actress who died young—Luana Walters at 50, Simone Silva before she turned 30.
Facts of the Case
Two movies provide 146 minutes of quick, cheap noir:
A man with an odd limp recognizes the woman lying in the street. Her name's Starry (she's a fortune teller) and he's Limpy (Victor Maddern, Carry on Constable), of course. She thanks him with some free prognostication—he'll be left a fortune but won't have luck with romance—and offers him a free consultation if he ever needs it. Too bad he didn't take it then, because Limpy and his boss, saloon owner Luigi, will soon have trouble on their hands. She goes by the name Angele Abbe (Simone Silva, Escape by Night) and Luigi's fisticuffs to keep her from being "manhandled" bring police to the saloon. She was once Luigi's love, but she loved a few others—at the same time. When she turns up splatted in Luigi's flat, he's got even more trouble with the constabulary. Being on the run from the law will make it harder for him to help the woman he currently loves, Barbara Gale (Kay Kendall, Les Girls), make a break from her thuggish husband.
This original British print restores the original name, Street of Shadows, to this adaptation of Lawrence Maynell's The Creaking Chair.
Shoot to Kill
A police chase sends a car careening off a cliff. When the police get down there to see just what happened, they find that the new DA and his wife were in the car with escaped convict Dixie Logan. How did they end up in the same car? Therein lies a tale, one that lone survivor Marian (Susan Walters, also known as Luana Walters, Assassin of Youth) will tell reporter Mitch (Russell Wade, A Game of Death) in flashbacks as she lies in a hospital bed. It seems, for starters, that DA Lawrence Dale (Edmund MacDonald, Detour) isn't as clean as he looks.
A legend on the screen points out that Shadow Man now has seven minutes of restored footage that was cut by Lippert when he released it in the United States. Since this is the first time on video or DVD, I can't be sure, but I suspect that the missing seven minutes was what it took to make a movie which seemed flabby at 83 minutes into a taut thriller. While Cesar Romero isn't bad as saloon owner Luigi, the leisurely pace at which his character is set up is kind of dull.
Shadow Man has a few things going for it, though: the scene in which Limpy hears the jukebox playing and slowly realizes that he's not alone in the saloon at night uses the ominous atmosphere set up with details like a creepy-looking fortune telling device that becomes a McGuffin and a mechanical sailor that seems to be laughing at Luigi. The ending makes even better use of the atmospherics—and even takes advantage of the film's crappy lighting to mislead the audience. Can't do that with a big-budget picture. The other big plus here is Victor Maddern as Limpy, the hard-luck guy who shyly asks a woman out "just for the company" and shows unflinching loyalty to his boss.
Shoot to Kill turns out to be a real gem, thanks to the hook—presenting a puzzling picture and sorting it out through flashbacks—and a strong performance by Luana Walters (billed here as Susan Walters) as Marion. The gradual revelations feel almost like a crude first draft of Memento. While the movie seems ready to stall out at the outset, it kicks into high gear when we get our first look at her machinations, which eventually lead to the car crash. Her portrayal of the domineering woman isn't that far removed from Sherri Palmer in 24 as Marion plots to make sure her new husband becomes the next DA.
The movie isn't perfect, but it's damned good for a five-day shooting schedule. There's lots of cheesy fisticuffs and gunplay here, and even Walters overdoes the melodrama in places (not that she could help it with the dialogue she was given). The twists get a little preposterous at the end, but it's still a fun ride.
The picture quality on these two pictures isn't that great, but it looks like there wasn't much to work with. Both pictures have poorly lit scenes that make it hard to tell exactly what's going on. The picture on Shadow Man is sharp for the most part, while Shoot to Kill is grainier and one scene near the end develops an odd case of the shakes. The sound's tinny but serviceable.
There are a lot of extras, mostly text. Best among them is "Inside Lippert Part 2," which contains the text of an interview with Lippert's son. (There's a note in there that seems to be instructions to whomever was inserting photos, by the way.) There's a brief trivia text, photo galleries, and biographies. The DVD also includes printed matter such as the shooting schedule and script for Shoot to Kill, but this material turned out to be hard to read on a TV screen. The text and photo galleries, moreover, move at VCI's pace rather than yours.
Less specifically related to the two movies is a mess of trailers of 1950s noir and exploitation. Even with the salacious style of the announcers, Lippert's Motor Patrol seems tame, but you also get titillating teasers for Terror Street, They Were So Young, and Unholy Four (all retitled foreign films apparently distributed anonymously by Lippert).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While noir aficionados might enjoy these long-lost cheapies, there are reasons why people go for classics like Double Indemnity first. They're better than you'd expect but Robert L. Lippert's quickies still have their rough spots. Moreover, despite the dark streets and ominous atmosphere, some aficionados might consider the actual story in Shadow Man too light to qualify as noir.
One intriguing yarn (Shoot to Kill) and an average film with slow spots (Shadow Man) isn't a bad batting average for a double feature of obscure noir. If you're looking for something slick, this isn't it, but Robert L. Lippert made a serviceable hour or so of entertainment for his dime (actually, his budgets were slightly more than that).
Not guilty, although, in classic noir fashion, there's a lot of guilt to go around.
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