One Good Crime Thriller, and One Dull Police Procedural.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 07/02/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Forgotten Noir, Volume 2" includes two crime films from Lippert Pictures, Inc., the distribution and production company of the estimable Robert L. Lippert, who pioneered drive-in movies, multiplexes, and produced 246 films in 20 years. Both films involve undercover agents who infiltrate criminal operations. "Loan Shark" (1952) stars George Raft as a stoic tough guy determined to bring down the local loan shark who was responsible for his brother-in-law's murder. "Arson, Inc." (1949) is an inferior "police procedural" about a firefighter who infiltrates an arson ring to expose an insurance scam. My 3-star rating is an average of the two films. "Loan Shark" alone is very worthwhile for fans of post-war crime thrillers.
"Loan Shark" is an entertaining "crime thriller", as they were called, with both noir-ish and social conscience overtones. Made in 1952 but closer to the 1940s in style, it warns working class Americans against predatory loan sharks. After a stint in prison, Joe Gargen (George Raft) is living with his sister Martha (Helen Westcott) and her husband Ed. Joe turns down a job offer at the tire factory where everyone seems to work, because the General Manager asks him to use his street savvy to find out who is behind the heavy debts and beatings that employees are incurring at the hands of a loan shark. But when Ed is killed for trying to organize witnesses against the loan sharks, Joe decides to take up the challenge. He's so good at infiltrating the crooks that his family, and the audience, question his motives. A 56-year-old George Raft romancing young Ann (Dorothy Hart) is conspicuously odd, but Raft does a great sharp, laconic working man. 4 stars. (1 hour 20 minutes)
"Arson, Inc." is a mundane procedural that emulates many superior post-War docudramas in assuring the public that the authorities are working hard to maintain order and nab the bad guys, and showing us exactly how it's done. Los Angeles Fire Chief (William Forrest) introduces the story of a heroic young fireman, Joe Martin (Robert Lowery) of the Arson Squad. Joe investigates cases of suspected arson which are connected by an insurance underwriter named Fender (Douglas Fowley). Confident that Fender uses arson in complex insurance scams, Joe gains the confidence of a hood named Pete Prudy (Edward Brophs) to infiltrate the operation. There is nothing really wrong with "Arson, Inc." except that it is dull, cliched, one-dimensional, and nothing else. But a film has very little going for it if it can't keep my attention for one hour. 2 stars. (1 hour)
The DVD (VCI 2006): The prints are good. Bonus features for "Loan Shark" are: a Photo Gallery of 18 posters and stills, 5 pieces of Movie Trivia (text), bios and filmographies for George Raft and director Seymour Friedman (text), trailers for "FBI Girl" (2 min) and "Deadly Game" (1 min). There is supposed to be an audio commentary by Richard M. Roberts, but I couldn't get it to work on my disc. Bonus features for "Arson, Inc" are: "Inside Lippert, Part I" interview with Robert L. Lippert, Jr. about his father's life 1909-1949 (text), a Photo Gallery of 6 images, bios and filmographies of Robert Lowery, Anne Gwynne, and director William Berke (text), trailers of "Man from Cairo" (2 min) and "Portland Expose" (2 min). A major frustration with these features is that the photos and text are all very slow slide shows that cannot be sped up, so reading them is nerve-wracking."