What did I watch? Plunder Road, a 1957 a crime story about some guys who rob a train. You can see it here on the youtubes.
Woah, is it like Mad Max Fury Road But Instead Max Robs The Train Thing From Beyond Thunderdome Instead of Rescuing Children? No, I didn’t see that one.
Plunder Road is a competently made movie crime thriller, but you wouldn’t guess it from its spastic opening credits: cast & crew listed over a montage of road lines. I thought I was in for 70 minutes of weird director choices or a nonsensical, hastily put together cheap heist adventure. Instead we meet four men in a moving truck and a guy driving a hook & ladder behind them, as they race through a downpoor to hijack a train carrying gold.
Unlike the Fast & Furious team, these guys aren’t musclebound twenty somethings looking for cheap thrills between bench pressing at the gym. They’re 50’s men of action (and probably in their 50’s) and also unlike the Fast & Furious team they wait for the train to stop, by their design, before robbing it.
They are: the Planner, the Driver, The Quiet Tough Guy, and the Little Ex-Con Non-Stop Talker. Oh and the Guy Who Chews Gum (the one driving the ladder truck). After some internal monologuing from each of them about how nervous they are about the crime, they stop the train and use the ladder as a makeshift crane to move gold into the moving truck, and leave the scene.
From there, they split the gold up into three different trucks: another moving van, a furniture truck, and a gas tank, covering their divided score with some appropriate miscellany for each each truck.
Maybe they’ve stated each other’s names in their brief nervous narratives; it seems like something that must have been put in the film as it was being completed, as there’s no other real dialogue between the characters for the first 19 minutes. The Little Ex-Con pairs up with the Quiet Tough Guy, and after receiving instructions from The Planner, they hit the road.
From there we get a brief quiet scene where The Planner naps, the Guy Who Chews Gum chews gum nervously, and The Driver shows his manic nervousness by turning on the radio. We learn a few things about them, such as that Little Ex-Con has been in and out of jail so much that he missed time with his wife, who died, and was going to run off with his son to a faroff land that’s real by name but clearly such a fantasy that Quiet Tough Guy can only smirk as he listens.
Oh, and the announcer on the radio sporadically covering the crime is named John Oliver, which I thought was funny. Not that John Oliver, of course.
Guy Who Chews Gum gets pulled over by the police at a roadblock and the police find nothing in their search. But because he lingers to listen to the police radio (either it comes on when he starts the truck, or he is noticed paying attention to the police’s in their car), he arouses their suspicion and is shot trying to escape. (I think it’s the former; the Planner & Driver are pulled over and the first thing the cops do is fiddle with their radio.)
This is less a crime thriller than a crime horror story, the Final Destination of “How Catch Them.” The team is split up, so there’s only interaction between the cool & collected Planner and the jittery Driver, and the talky Ex-Con and the Quiet Tough Guy. There’s no tension between them, no back-stabbing. It’s just a matter of how they’ll give themselves away, even after passing through the police’s web. The Talky/Quiet pair even get a cosmic free pass when they stop at a gas-station. Quiet Tough Guy drops a gun in front of the old attendant filling their tank. He kills the witness, and they leave with no repercussion. Yet when they pull over at a truck weighing station, they’re busted because the gold hidden in their cargo weighs more than what their truck should be carrying.
From there, The Planner & Driver make it to Los Angeles, and meet up with The Planner’s girlfriend (Jeanne Cooper, known on The Young & The Restless where she had a facelift) who goes to a small foundry to start the smelting machines for her beau.
The three of them melt the gold and fit it into parts of a car. They head on the congested LA freeway (jeez, that was a thing then too?) and think they’ve made it. There’s a car accident slowing everyone down, and a rubbernecker behind them hits them. Because these are 50’s road boats, their giant non-plastic bumpers have locked together. The police at the accident scene offer to shake the cars loose of each other, and instead shake the gold out of the car. The Driver is shot by the police, and The Planner runs, attempting to jump on a truck from a bridge, but bounces off and is hit by another car in traffic.
I guess this was supposed to be an ironic death because part of the train heist involved The Planner jumping on the train to get things started, and there he was successful? There are some other parallels, but I’m only making them in my brain because there’s not much to these characters or the plot and at 70 minutes there could have been more to film about everyone. I only know that the Planner had a clean record, dreamed up this scheme, got his girlfriend involved, and then hired the rest of the crew. I still don’t know what the deal is with the Guy Who Chews Gum. He’s just an inept crook. The Ex-Con is the only one who made a career of crime, and by career I mean “in & out of the joint for twenty something years.” The Tough Guy must be a lost man still trying to find himself (he lets out personal information to Ex-Con, that he has a son he’s not met). He then kills the one man he has a genuine, pleasant conversation with, a man who tells him that it’d be best to go through life doing one thing and sticking to it (got it, City Slickers?).
So is it noir? Um, in the sense that it’s a tragic story of a crime that takes a slight detour (ha!). Is that the moral? To stick to your business…and especially don’t try to escape whatever it is you do by committing an elaborate train heist because it’ll just ruin everyone’s lives? Other than his girlfriend having reservations about completing their plans, there’s nothing mentioned as to why The Planner planned this crime. All we know from the other guys is that he went to college, and THAT’S why he makes the plans…
But no one was duped into crime, no one was done in by their choices made because their heart yearned for more. No one was sold out by a double crossing dame (what, no scene of the interrogation of Ex-Con and Tough Guy?). Each capture was a one up from the previous mishap, as the next team makes it through the trial by fire the previous member(s) fumble themselves into jail (or death). Add some wacky sound effects, a sad trombone when Ex Con & Tough Guy find out their cargo weighs too much, and you have a slapstick comedy instead of a nervous road crime.
Maybe the moral is somewhere in the old gas station attendant’s bit, kinda like in City Slickers? Maybe. C’mon, 50’s filmmakers, you could have filmed a few more scenes to clue us in.
Was it good? Well, there’s not a lot going on but, since it’s short, it’s tight. They didn’t waste film, that’s for sure. So if you want an interesting crime movie with a few good lines, check it out.
Anyone in this movie with lives that could have made better movies than this? Gene Raymond, the Planner, was in an arranged marriage by a Hollywood studio chief, and found himself on the receiving end of a violent altercation due to a resulting love triangle. Point is, holy cow, arranged marriage by your BOSS. Oh, Elisha Wood, the Ex-Con, is the wormy guy in Kubrick’s The Killing, but you horror hounds will recognize him as the disembodied head that introduces The House On Haunted Hill.