Movie Review: The Hoodlum (1951)

What I watched: The Hoodlum, a 1951 warning to the youth of America. It’s public domain and on youtube, so watch away.

What’s it about: Repeat criminal Vincent is granted parole, despite the entire judicial system warning the parole board what a bad idea that would be. His dear old mother promises to make a new man out of him. Vincent’s had a hard life, after all, raised across the street from the city dump, but she and her other son have found a new home and have plans for Vincent. He’s released, but not before he’s led to the prison’s electric chair, by the Warden, who is still convinced that Vincent will be back and the chair will be Vincent’s next stop. Checkov’s Electric Chair is a famous literature device.

Anyway, Vincent’s brother owns a gas station and puts Vincent to work. It’s literally MINUTES before Vincent gives up on an honest life and starts taking note of the bank across the street, and its delivery schedule. He calls up some pals of his to formulate the plan to rob the place. In the meantime, he seduces his brother’s girlfriend, impregnating her, before brushing her off because part of his plan includes also seducing one of the bank employees.

The brother’s girlfriend takes the rejection hard and kills herself. Vincent is like “whatever” because he’s got a bank robbery to pull off, get innocent people killed, and then get stabbed in the back by the partners in crime who survived a shootout with the police. Vincent runs to mommy and she is so heartbroken having learned about the girlfriend who had killed herself, she’s on her deathbed. She lets Vincent have it and then passes away. Vincent is apprehended by his brother, who leads Vincent to the city dump. Vincent’s brother can’t bring himself to shoot Vincent, but a detective captures Vincent and drags him all the way back to the prison and throws him in The Chair.

Wow? Really? What a callback! No, the detective shoots Vincent in the dump. So, no chair for Vincent. No  earlier specific punishment meted out. The end.

The Moral? There’s no real story here, or maybe there’s no character development, or even an attempt to excuse his actions. Not even a real attempt to be a gas station attendant. How hard was it in post-WW2 to put a gas nozzle in the tank? His only defense over the news of his brother’s girlfriend is “I didn’t know she was pregnant!” He’s not a criminal, he’s a wrecking ball. There’s no attempt to make Vincent identifiable with any audience unless you in the audience have no redeeming qualities or make any attempt to do right by anyone. That’s Vincent: commits crimes, goes to jail, gets out of jail, ruins everyone’s lives. Was this made to be shown to kids in juvenile hall? Thankfully it’s only an hour long. I know it’s noir, but I can only take so much irresponsible nihilism someone accidentally made into a movie.

Is there anything about the cast- Seriously? It stars Lawrence Tierney. It’s like some kind of predictive biopic. If you don’t know, Tierney was an actor from the 40’s who played heavies, but lead heavies, such as the title character in Dillinger. You might recognize him as the old mobster in Reservoir Dogs, or the security guard who busts Bart shoplifting from the Try N Save in The Simpsons. He’d get into scuffles, some of which led to prison time, much of which took a toll on his otherwise promising film career. There’s plenty written about him, a lot said by his costars, but none of it probably tells the whole story of a complicated individual. (There’s an official website, I don’t know who maintains it. Not mobile friendly.) Point is, Lawrence is a hulking brooding presence in these films, and it’s hard to separate what we know about his career and activities afterward from the characters on the screen, as if his personal life motivates those characters he plays. Oh: that’s his brother…playing his brother. Maybe we’ll watch Born To Kill in the near future.

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