movie reviews: Victor Mature double feature (Cry Of The City & The Long Haul)

I watched a couple crime & noir films back to back and they had a couple things in common: Victor Mature, and sadness.

Victor Mature was a big slab of meaty acting beef in the 1940s & 1950s. If you’re a modern day Monkees fan then maybe you remember that his head of hair was part of the ad campaign for their ill fated movie Head. I don’t know if I’ve covered any of his movies in previous entries – I watch mostly crime & noir films, while he appeared in a lot of swashbuckling adventures and romantic comedies during this time. I’ll start with Cry Of The City (1948), which stars one of our favorite film gangsters, Richard Conte.

Cry Of The City is listed as “noir” but I don’t think it qualifies because we follow Conte, who is already a captured criminal. Conte is unrepentant in his recent shooting of a police officer, claiming self defense. Granted, if you’re shooting at people why committing a crime, that doesn’t make it self-defense, but whatever. That’s why it’s a crime movie – Conte has no real morals beyond self-preservation. Mature wants Conte to fess up to another serious crime, but Conte won’t admit to anything. Conte’s lawyer shows up and ALSO wants Conte to confess, but Conte plots escape and revenge.

Conte, under watch in a prison hospital, does escape with the help of another convict, and heads to the lawyer’s office. They fight and it turns out that the lawyer has the jewels from this other robbery, holding them for the other actual robber. Rather than turn the lawyer over to Mature and say “see? I didn’t have anything to do with THAT crime,” characters both guilty & innocent end up dying, Conte is further injured and has to get help other shady people in his circle, who are all somewhat reluctant until money is involved. He goes to the other accomplice and promises the jewels for a way out of the country, but is figuratively backstabbed by her when she calls Mature. From there, Mature is wounded, but also escapes a hospital to continue tracking down Conte.

It’s a crime-doesn’t-pay caper, with Conte’s little brother learning a harsh lesson as Conte dies in front of him after like four or five close encounters with the law or other criminals, the latter often falling into the hands of the former after Conte is done using them. It’s got some great cinematography of New York city, there’s some neat face offs between Conte & a melodramatic Mature, but somewhere there’s a lesson that Conte doesn’t learn, instead as he endangers people’s lives & livelihoods in trying to escape, with having less available to survive after each interaction. It’s not noir, exactly. I’m also leaving out a lot about Conte’s family & girlfriend, big motivations for him to keep going, and Mature going after these same people to try to keep them from being dragged down by Conte as well, what I feel to be the heart of the film. It’s pretty good.

The next movie I will mention is The Long Haul, (1957) which is far more melodramatic with a lot of terrible choices for our protagonist. Victor Mature is a soldier whose wife wants him to take a job in England as a truck driver so she can be close to her family. Mature finds some thugs trying to take things from his truck, and stumbles into a racket where drivers let their cargo get stolen by a small mob so that, I dunno, insurance & the black market must factor in. But because Mature fought off these goons, he’s denied other trucking jobs. He confronts the mob boss and catches the eye of blond bombshell Diana Dors, whose lips must be where the Kardashians got the idea to botox theirs. With no work, Mature can’t support his family, so he participates in one of the insurance schemes, but a truck explodes and kills one of his fellow drivers. It’s enough to scare the mobsters a little bit, and Diana convinces Mature to do their next big job so that he can run away with her. It’s a British noir, so they have to add a few elements of personal heartbreak: Mature’s wife lets it slip that his son is not really his. The son also has a brain injury that may kill him. Diana finds out about this, but keeps the prognosis to herself, and Mature and the mob boss drive the truck over treacherous cliffs and deep rivers to get their slowly decreasing stolen cargo to a ship before a certain time. Diana can’t help herself and confesses to Mature that his not-son may have a brain injury, but since it’s not his son, now they can make a clean break. Mature, having committed that crime and some more, drives back with Diana to check on the boy. From there, in a long bit of silence as Mature watches his not-son being loaded into an ambulance before Diana agrees to let him go to attend to his family. Wow, some guys can’t make up their minds and their ladies have to do it for them, amiright ladies? Like seriously, just ever second Mature is staring at the scene in front of him, deciding what to do, it’s torture until Diana says it for him. It’s pretty interesting and definitely a heavier story, but I can’t see too many good options for Mature coming back to his wife when he’ll just be taken away and imprisoned while his son fights for his life. Like, yeah it’s noir, but it’s a bit of a downer, and not one where you’re like WOW. Hopefully the boy lives and can visit his dad in prison, I don’t know.

Of the two, I’d go with Cry Of The City, because New York looks pretty good in it. There’s a lot of dark countryside and trucks in The Long Haul, I’d say that’s pretty much it, but there’s also gorgeous Diana Dors. Diana had a long career, albeit a little turbulent at times: she was married to a rather exploitative fellow and not only did he encourage her for “casting couch” auditions, but apparently they’d have parties where they’d pair off actor friends with some attractive ladies and would secretly film the goings-on. I don’t know if this resulted in blackmail but when Diana and this husband divorced, he had cleaned her out and left her in debt. And other men in her life would also rip her off financially. However, a son from another marriage (to Family Feud host Richard Dawson) would claim that his mother had secret bank accounts, with codes to access them given to her third husband…who died by suicide shortly after her death. So far no money has been recovered. An actual mystery!

Victor Mature was married five times. No reason to mention this other than the classic Jeff Winger line (say it with me), “You keep getting married.”

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