‘Scene of the Crime,' ‘Code Two' and ‘Death in Small Doses'
Warner Bros. Archive Collection adds three new titles to its film noir series, the best of which is “Scene of the Crime” (1949), with Van Johnson cast in the role of a hard-boiled cop out to avenge the murder of his partner. Now, Johnson's red-haired, wholesome, boy-next-door image landed him in lots of Technicolor musical comedies opposite June Allyson or Esther Williams, or in war pictures as the heroic, All-American Joe. But a tough detective? Sounds like criminal miscasting.
Not so. Van acquits himself impressively as Mike Conovan, a hard-nosed cop who's torn between his badge and his beautiful bride (Arlene Dahl), who wants him to change careers before he becomes a bullet-riddled corpse. Directed by Roy Rowland (“Our Vines Have Tender Grapes”) from a script by Charles Schnee (“Red River”), the solid supporting cast features Gloria DeHaven, John McInitire and Alfred Hitchcock regular Norman Lloyd, who's particularly good as a sleazy stool pigeon named “Sleeper.”
Unfortunately, whoever selected these other two titles needs to be taught the difference between noir films and low-budget B's that are unintentionally funny.
Director Fred M. Wilcox would later redeem himself with “Forbidden Planet,” but in 1953 he made “Code Two,” a second-biller that's anything but dark, with a second-string cast that included Ralph Meeker (who did much better as Mike Hammer in 1955's “Kiss Me Deadly”), Robert Horton (later of TV's “Wagon Train”) and James Craig (“The Devil and Daniel Webster”), whose career was on the decline at the time.
It's a run-of-the mill police academy/motorcycle cop drama with “modern day” cattle rustlers as the villains.
But where's the beef? Chuck “The Rifleman” Connors has a bit role here, but gets to chew plenty of scenery — and plenty of amphetamines, too — in “Death in Small Doses” (1957), starring Peter Graves as an FDA inspector who goes undercover to find out who's behind a nationwide epidemic of speed-addled truck drivers.
Connors' performance as “Mink” Reynolds, a hip-talking, finger-snapping, benny-popping trucker is worth watching if one is seeking a classroom example of truly bad, over-the-top acting.
Otherwise, this Allied Artists cheapie from director Joseph Newman (“This Island Earth”) is a typical '50s-style anti-drug message movie with nary a touch of noir artfulness.
— Gene Triplett