Judge Neal Masri wishes he had a cool name like Tommy Dancer.
Forced into crime to save the girl he loved!
Tommy Dancer (William Campbell, The High and the Mighty) is an everyday working stiff. His day job is as a locksmith and his nights consist of hanging out at the bowling alley. Tommy is approached at the lanes by ruthless gangster Willis Trent (Berry Kroeger, Demon Seed) and propositioned to participate in a bank heist. Tommy's locksmith skills are desperately needed to break into a safety deposit box. The box, containing a load of cash, is the Macguffin that drives the film forward.
Tommy at first refuses to participate in the crime. However, when his lady friend Betty (Karen Sharpe, The Disorderly Orderly) is pulled into the plot, he has no choice but to cooperate. Tommy Dancer, however, is no ordinary patsy. He turns out to be more than his mobster handlers have bargained for when he attempts to make things right and turn the tables on the gangsters.
All the elements of fifties crime dramas are here. Everyone, including our everyman hero, speaks with that hardboiled, Raymond Chandler-style dialogue so common in crime movies of this era. The combination of fifties hipster lingo and crime movie clichés seems so quaint now. We also have plenty of double-crosses, not to mention a two-timing moll. There is also an outrageously non-PC ethnic sidekick so common in movies of the era (this poor guy's Speedy Gonzalez accent and affect would never fly in a movie today).
Man in the Vault does not aim high. It is the cinematic equivalent of the myriad pulp fiction novels of the era. As such, don't expect to be challenged or emotionally engaged. I found the movie an interesting diversion but not much more. The characters are paper-thin, their motivations murky at best. At 72 minutes, we don't really have time to get to know the them. However, that short running time probably made sense if Man in the Vault was to run as half of a double feature.
In the fifties, crime noir potboilers like this ran in B movie houses and drive-ins around the country. However, theatrical venues for movies like this would soon be gone forever. By way of example, as I write this review, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is opening on 4,133 screens nationwide. There is a homogeneity to the cineplexes now that simply leaves no room for small time movies like Man in the Vault (outside of major metropolitan areas anyway). Works like this are still being churned out, but they have become the purview of television and direct-to-video distribution.
The black-and-white image is handsome and clear of source concerns. The film's overwrought musical score comes through well and dialogue is solidly presented. The Dolby mono presentation is certainly not going to push the limits of your audio system. There are no extras provided on the disc.
The packaging of this movie prominently states that it is a product of John Wayne's Batjac Productions, Inc. In fact, the producer is Robert Morrison (The Duke's brother). That bit of nepotism is about the only connection to Wayne evident here (other than the lengthy preview for a John Wayne DVD set which appears before the menu). Man in the Vault is a nondescript B-movie crime drama that probably would not have seen the light of day on DVD had it not ridden the coattails of the John Wayne catalogue. It is neither the best nor worst of its type. I imagine the appeal of Man in the Vault will be limited to aficionados of the genre.
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