Feature Drama | 1950 | Sound | B/W
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An improbable concoction of film noir and born-again Christian proselytising, the film tells the story of how Jim Vaus becomes ever more deeply embroiled in the Los Angeles underworld, as he allows a corrupt District Attorney and local gangsters to hire his expertise in electronics, in an effort to provide for his innocent wife and child; until a chance attendance at a Billy Graham meeting gives him the strength to repent and turn his back on his past. The gangsters, with their sharp suits and big 1950s American cars, are surprisingly convincing.
A postman walks towards us alongside large white suburban houses and lawns; before he reaches the next front door, a young woman, Alice, bounces down the steps and seizes his letters, looking through them. A sequence of shots of the postman and Alice chatting, as he teases her about the army captain from whom she is expecting a letter, before he finally gives her the letter, postmarked Kentucky.
A view through a mesh fence of monolithic military prison buildings. A uniformed man walks away from us up some steps. He opens a cell door and addresses Alice's lover, Jim. He tells Jim, who reclines on his bed in grey prison clothes, that they need his help with the metal detector. Alternating shots of Jim and the prison guard, as they argue. Jim finally gets up and leaves the cell, followed by the guard. At the right of the picture, Jim finishes mending the detector, while the guard and another man watch, and he hands a wrench to them to test the device; Jim waits, while the guard walks through the door and sets off the alarm, and is then dismissed. He waits around the corner, while other prisoners come round past him, before he stops the final prisoner, Joe, and gives him a letter to be posted outside the prison; we gather that he is in there for stealing government property.
Alice reads Jim's letter on her bed, a photograph of him in uniform on the bedside table; her mother enters and puts things in the drawers behind. Alternating shots of Alice and her mother as they talk, the mother clearly suspicious of Jim's elusiveness. Her young sister enters excitedly and switches on a radio on the bedside table. Shots of the radio set and of the family listening, as they hear the wonderful news that America has dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima and that the war will soon be over. Mother and daughter hug in mingled relief and joy, while the younger girl looks on.
Prisoners tear up and throw toilet paper in celebration, while Jim sits motionless on his bed; another prisoner remonstrates with him, but he maintains that he lost his war during his court martial. Jim is shown through the door of the Chaplain's office, where he sits down facing the grey-haired, besuited Chaplain across a desk. Various shots of Jim and the Chaplain speaking, as Jim is urged to confess his crimes to Alice and start a new life. We look along the foyer of a train station, beneath an arched roof, with an Information stand to the right and porters pushing luggage trolleys. Jim stands in a telephone booth, speaking inaudibly. Close shots of Jim and Alice speaking, Jim throwing away an opportunity to tell her the truth about his wartime experience. Jim receives some ribbon bands from a man across the counter of an army store.
Alice's young sister answers the door to Jim, wearing his uniform, and she is followed by Alice, who embraces her lover. The couple walk into the lounge, where Jim meets the mother, and the sister quizzes him about his medals; Alice and Jim embrace once more.
We look through the blinds of an office, 'Jim Vaus Electronic Engineering Consultant'. Alice, wearing white hat and gloves, approaches Jim at his desk, where he shows how few customers he has; he stands up and paces behind her. Alice stands with her arm through Jim's, trying to persuade him that they are able to get married; a chauffeur comes through a door on the right, bringing in a radio set belonging to his employer for repair. Jim takes it into his workshop, filled with electronic parts, and opens the radio set, while the man stands by. The chauffeur explains that Mr Charles Ramsden (a District Attorney) is his boss. He hands Jim his boss's card. Jim and Alice speak, as Jim reveals that he has given the impression that it is a bigger job than it really is, so that he can overcharge the man. They pass into the office, as Jim defends himself, while Alice is uneasy.
The chauffeur, wearing a white jacket, tidies up magazines at a coffee table, in front of a fireplace surrounded by horseracing prints; he hears a knock, and moves past some french windows, a desk and a smaller waiting area to the door, which he opens. The chauffeur look out, as Jim complains that he has been ringing the bell for five minutes, before he enters. Two stylishly dressed men sit around a table on a patio outside, while another stands and complains that one of the seated men, Herbie, is bringing him problems; the chauffeur appears and receives a $20 note from Johnny, the other seated man, wearing a cream suit and wide hat. The chauffeur agrees to ask Jim to fix the doorbell. The standing man, Mr Ramsden, sits down. Close shots of Ramsden and Herbie as they agree that Marie Blanche must be dealt with.
The chauffeur shows Jim the doorbell, which he examines. He leads Jim to a covered hole beside the house; Jim reappears in a leather jacket and descends. He crawls along a low-ceilinged cellar. Alternating shots of the three men around the patio table. Jim points a torch up at some wires, and we follow them to some rubble concealing a device of some sort. We look across the front garden to Ramsden's house, dominated by a large, spreading tree, as a smart, convertible 1950s car pulls into the drive, and the two passengers are met by the chauffeur. Jim removes the rubble carefully and touches the device; he rubs his chin, perplexed. The chauffeur appears on the patio and whispers to Ramsden, while Jim waits. Shots alternating between Ramsden, with Johnny visible behind his right shoulder in a wicker chair, and Jim, explaining to him that he has been bugged. Views of the whole group, of Johnny and Jim separately, as Jim agrees to work out who has planted the device, and of Ramsden giving Jim a $100 note for the job, expecting no change.A man sitting outside, Nick, gets up and walks towards Johnny. He strikes Johnny, blaming him for the house being bugged. Nick, in cream suit and light-coloured hat, talks with Ramsden, before they sit down at the table to discuss the question of Marie. Ramsden lights a cigarette.
Jim, meanwhile, sits cross-legged in the cellar with headphones on; he bangs on the ceiling. The chauffeur walks about in the lounge above, whistling. Jim listens and knocks again. The chauffeur continues whistling and moves towards the fireplace. Jim knocks again, looking satisfied. The chauffeur whistles and lifts up the lid on a side seat by the fireplace. Jim knocks. While the chauffeur stands on the left in the lounge, Jim works at finding where the bug is located inside the seat. An inner cover is wedged off with a tool, revealing the device, which Jim's fingers feel for. He reaches down inside. His hand moves along the wood to where a section seems to have been cut away.
His hands tinker with the device. Jim is sitting in the middle of his workshop, with Herbie on the left, while Alice stands to the right; she has been stood down for the dinner that he had promised and is puzzled.
The camera moves from the radio set playing jazz towards the sofa in Ramsden's lounge, then to Ramsden and Nick eating at a dining table in front of a dresser displaying crockery. They talk, intending that the music should drown the listening device; Herbie arrives. We look along the table, a bar visible beyond, as the chauffeur/cook brings in dessert, and Ramsden, Herbie and Nick leave. The three men stand with their backs to us outside in the dark, as Jim raises a long detector over the garden wall towards the neighbouring house. They all look up at the lit window next door; Ramsden tries the headphones. A close-up of the detector reaching up to the window. Jim watches Ramsden listening, before the latter invites him in for a drink.
Jim sits eating at the table, while Nick and Herbie sit on bar stools behind. Shots of Ramsden and Jim, as Ramsden suggests that he do some 'wiretapping' for him. Ramsden stands beside Jim in front of the bar, taking out a $500 note for him. Jim examines it in front of the group. A close-up of Jim persuading himself that if the job's 'for the police' he is willing to do it. As Ramsden tells Herbie to accompany Jim, the latter just looks at the note, mesmerised; the camera moves in on Nick smoking a cigar and Ramsden a cigarette, as Ramsden remarks: 'I think Marie is practically out of business'.
Alice looks unhappily at the 'Out On Call' sign on Jim's office window; she pulls her coat around her and paces. A car approaches in the dark. Alice's expression changes to relief. Jim walks towards her, with Herbie, their backs towards us; opening the door, he tries to reassure Alice that he is just busy. Alice and Jim in conversation. Jim gets impatient with Herbie, who stands in the doorway and tries to get Alice to leave; Jim, alone, watches her leave, then turns back into the office. Herbie picks up Jim's phone, while Jim warns him; Herbie dials. The camera moves from the radio set playing big band jazz to Ramsden entering the lounge and receiving the phone from the chauffeur. Shots of Herbie and Ramsden, as Herbie explains that they are going to Marie's house that night. Ramsden walks to the other side of the fireplace, turns the radio down, and sits on the seat beneath which the device has been concealed, speaking to Nick. A close-up of the device. Nick and Ramsden speak, leaning towards the device, Ramsden saying that he has been tipped off that someone is tapping Marie and that the police would be delighted to receive any information that would enable them to indict her.
The entrance to a grand house, late at night. The camera moves from a kind of switchboard, to which Jim attaches two wires, to Jim listening through headphones. He listens in front of the switchboard, as Herbie stands by; two men appear in the shadows to the right, revealing themselves as police. One of the policemen, in hat and checked tie, takes the headphones from Jim and listens; as a call comes through, he asks Jim to record it, and the latter switches on a tape machine. Shots of the policeman listening to the coded phone conversation, ostensibly about purchasing a book, and of the tape machine itself. The policeman and Jim look to the left, as a tapping is heard; Jim scribbles down something. A pointer indicates the number of the caller on a dial. Jim passes his notes to the policeman, who issues an order to pursue the culprits to his colleague, also in a hat. He congratulates Jim.
A headline in the Los Angeles Star: 'Vice Queen Trapped By Wiretapper Vaus'. A wedding invitation to the marriage of Alice and Jim. The camera shows them just married, a grey-haired, bespectacled vicar to the right; we move in on them embracing. Their 1950s convertible car, showing 'Just Married', pulls away from us into a drive, and Jim moves round the front of the car to open the door for Alice and lift out their case. He opens the front door to their new house, switches on the lights and lifts Alice inside. They stand inside, Alice thrilled. She walks through the empty lounge, looks into a side room, then turns back and they talk in front of an empty bookcase. A closer shot of them by a doorway, as Alice makes Jim promise that he will only take on 'honest, normal, routine jobs'; they start to embrace, but a phone is heard. Jim picks up the phone on the empty shelves in the lounge and speaks to Ramsden.
Ramsden speaks from his sofa, an elegant lamp behind, while Nick stands to the left. Alternating shots of Jim and Ramsden speaking, the latter's offer of $200, for a wiretapping operation on a local politician harassing one of his clients, clearly tempting Jim. We follow Jim towards the door to the room, where Alice stands, to whom Jim says that the call was about 'a load of furniture', before pulling her into an embrace.
A black 1950s convertible Cadillac is followed across, as Jim pulls into the drive and honks his horn; Alice appears from the house. She comes up to Jim seated in the car, who tells her that it is a present to her, before admitting that it is really a gift from Nick Castro, in return for a favour; he follows Alice. He reasons with her on the porch. He follows her through the front door into the room. They continue talking in the lounge, the now filled bookshelves visible behind; the camera moves in on them at an adjoining doorway, where Jim agrees to go to a church 'social' with her that evening.
We look across a large room busy with middle-aged people; a couple arrive at the open door ahead and are welcomed by the female host; we follow them to a row of seats, where they sit with their backs to us, looking towards a female vocalist in front of a seated pianist. A close-up of the vocalist singing a kind of Christian jazz ballad, possibly entitled 'I Cannot Hide From God'. Jim and Alice are seated on a sofa, Jim looking uncomfortable and Alice looking at him adoringly. Shots alternate between the vocalist and Jim looking restless, perhaps even a little paranoid. We look towards Jim and Alice, as the vocalist on the right of the picture seems to be singing towards them; Jim looks across at Alice uneasily. The vocalist finishes the song in front of the piano, before the camera moves back over the heads of the applauding audience. Jim and Alice stand up as they are greeted by the host.
We look across the crowded room towards the entrance, where Jim's former military prison Chaplain can be seen. As the host looks across at 'our guest speaker', Jim spots him and looks horrified, demanding that they leave immediately. The Chaplain is welcomed at the entrance to the room. Jim almost drags Alice away. The host and the Chaplain look across, puzzled, the Chaplain enquiring whether that was Jim Vaus.
A night-time view over a brightly lit Los Angeles, their car coming to a stop in the foreground. Jim and Alice face us in the car, as Jim reveals that he has something momentous to tell her. Shots of Alice and Jim, as he confesses to having been a prisoner in the war for stealing government gadgets, and admits that it is only the appearance of the Chaplain tonight that has made him admit this to her. Alice says that she can forgive him, 'but I can't make excuses for our child'. As she weeps and he expresses astonishment, she lays her head on his shoulder; Jim promises once more to give up his connections with Nick Castro.
Jim faces us in a car, to the left of Nick driving, as the latter uses the offer of good money to persuade Jim against his will to continue working for him. The grey 1950s car pulls up in front of us and they get out. A policeman speaks into a receiver beside his car, in front of a tailor's owned by Nick, where men in suits and hats surround a body. We follow Nick and Jim into the crowd of bystanders. Another policeman, in cap and leather jacket, suggests to Nick that he had fallen out with the dead man, Joe Baggott, whose body, face down beside some blood and his hat, we see briefly. Jim looks on, horrified, while two men either side of him say 'These guys play for keeps' and 'Looks like the only way out is feet first'.
A typewriter fills out an obstetrical record card for Alice. The camera moves down a progress report. A nurse on the telephone enquires about Jim's whereabouts, another working at a desk behind her. The nurse approaches Alice, reclining on a bed, and reassures her.
Jim stands beside Nick and another man, Al, in front of a new radar screen that he has installed to indicate when someone has entered Ramsden's property. A light for 'Front' flashes on a panel. Al goes to the front door, checks the spyhole and lets in Ramsden, who takes off his hat. He enters the inner room and looks at the new screen beside Nick. Shots of them all discussing the device, before Nick swings back a painting that conceals it, and they walk off. The nurse and a surgeon wheel a bed across the picture towards the Delivery Room. Nick passes out drinks to Ramsden, Jim and Herbie at the bar in Ramsden's lounge. Ramsden toasts 'Jim's brainchild'. Jim realises that he has forgotten Alice and automatically picks up a phone.
A buzzer from the new device is heard, as we see first Nick, then another gangster, Tony, in hat and bow tie, standing beside the radar screen and smoking a cigar, then Ramsden, all looking alert. Nick, Herbie and Al all approach the radar screen, then leave. As they pass by the bar, Jim joins them, and they leave through some curtains. The five men head in different directions in the dark outside. Jim looks lost, then feels a gun at his back, but it is only Tony, who heads off in another direction.
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