In true film noir fashion, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger took a seat at the soda counter. He ordered a chocolate milk—tall and malted—and tailed the perp to where the illicit pinball machines were hidden.
The Whole Scorching Story…BRIBE by BRIBE…SIN by SIN…SHOCK by SHOCK!
It finally happened. VCI has constantly thwarted my disdain for seemingly cheap titles like Black Shampoo and Blonde Ice by providing great extras, loving liner notes, and faultless presentation that make the DVDs truly enjoyable. As a film noir fan, I had high hopes for VCI's Forgotten Noir collection. But even VCI's great care couldn't polish these…well, let's just say Forgotten Noir is best forgotten.
Portland Expose exposes the seedy underbelly of corruption and mob rule in the sleepy town of Portland, Oregon. Swell dad George Madison (Ed Binns,The Americanization of Emily) runs a clean joint, but the mob wants to put pinball machines and pimps into the place. Will George buckle, or take on the mob?
They Were So Young tells of a modeling gig turned bad. When a young German beauty named Eve (Johanna Matz) takes an international modeling job, she soon learns that certain duties are expected of her. Eve is not that kind of girl, and tries to escape. But without papers or credibility, she won't be able to flee the hard life without the help of American businessman Richard Lanning (Scott Brady, Gremlins). Is Lanning's boss (Raymond Burr) in on the racket, too?
VCI did their usual fine job on Forgotten Noir: Vol. 1, but the movies are laughable.
Frank Gorshin, who played a campy charmer known as The Riddler on Batman, is the most memorable thing about Portland Expose. On the surface, it should be the more interesting of the two films because Portland Expose is an actual exposé. As he mentions in the commentary, Lindsley Parsons, Jr. and company were exposing criminal activity in Portland, and the gangs weren't too happy about it. This backstory is fascinating, and it gives the movie anthropological interest. But that doesn't compensate for Portland Expose's stilted, chaste delivery of a seedy topic.
Only when Frank Gorshin is onscreen does the menace and sexually predatory nature of the film come to life. Gorshin cranks his Riddler persona up a notch, ripping off the sweater of a teenaged girl to reveal the white cones of her brassiere. This one image is Portland Expose's legacy: "If you move your family to Portland," it says, "gangsters will rip the clothes off of your daughter." For a '50s flick, this is a potent statement.
As for the rest of Portland Expose, it is a jumble of stilted dialogue, awkward cinematic convention, and cliché. Each scene telegraphed itself so thoroughly that there was little to do but wait for it to wrap. Portland Expose may tangentially sneak under the noir umbrella because of its crime setting and forced choices for its protagonist, but it lacks noir's usual bite, oppressive mood, and great camera work.
As a non-explicit melodrama about white slavery, They Were So Young is slightly more engaging. It never threatens to spill the lurid details, so its breezy tone is less annoying. Johanna Matz is wholesome and attractive, while Scott Brady is blustery and heroic. A German production with location shots in what looks to be South America, They Were So Young has decent production values and international flair. Gert Fröbe even makes an appearance. The real coup is an extended supporting role by Raymond Burr, who is his usual unfathomable self. His screen presence, articulate manner, and air of menace work well in the film.
Even so, They Were So Young is slow in parts, and the ending is an unsatisfying wrap up of a story about a German girl on the run from her illicit masters. If They Were So Young had thrown in some of Portland Expose's sweater ripping antics, maybe we'd be onto something. I guess the take home message is that the fifties were pretty square, and that squareness doesn't fit well into a film-noir fedora. Maybe if VCI had called this the Campy '50's Crime Flick Collection it would have left a better impression.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
• Commentary by producer Lindsley Parsons, Jr.
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