Film: 10783

Feature Drama | 1950 | Sound | B/W

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Synopsis:

An improbable concoction of film noir and born-again Christian proselytizing, 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; and Billy Graham, appearing towards the end of this reel, is undeniably charismatic.

Gangsters Nick Castro and Al look about in the dark. Wiretapper Jim Vaus stands in front of a window, then turns to inspect something close to the ground. Shots of him looking there and calling out to Nick. He reaches down by the wall and extracts a thin metal tube, a time bomb. The other four men surround Jim. Nick and Al look on, asking Jim if he can defuse it. Three of the men run off, leaving only Jim and Nick; the latter sits on a step to the right, while Jim crouches down and attempts to defuse the bomb. A clock showing six minutes past eleven fades to the image of Jim's wife Alice's head moving restlessly on a hospital pillow. Nick watches on the right, as Jim, with perspiration on his brow, carefully draws a part from the middle of the tube. A closer view shows a clock indicating a quarter to twelve. Shots of Jim's and Nick's anxious faces. Jim's hands cut through two wires. Shots of Nick and Jim looking relieved. They stand either side of the device held up by Jim, Nick saying 'I guess you saved my life, kid'.

Alice, looking exhausted, manages a smile, as a baby's cry is heard. Jim's hand holds a telephone, as we gather that Alice has given birth five minutes ago to a daughter; the camera moves back to show Nick standing beside him, fixing drinks at the bar in corrupt District Attorney Charles Ramsden's house, where Jim sits on a stool, with Al standing behind; Nick advises Jim to buy Alice a present, after betting every cent he has on Grand Lady in the fourth race at Belmont the next day, a race Nick has fixed; Jim accepts a drink, looking more relaxed.

A neon sign for Benny's Restaurant. The camera moves in on four figures at a table in the corner, eventually concentrating on Tony and Nick, as we hear that Tony has lost on a fixed race, the horse having stumbled coming out of a gate. Jim at the table, who has lost 'three grand' that wasn't his on the race. Nick sips a cup of coffee, trusting that Jim will pay him the money back. Jim tells Nick that he cannot pay the hospital a cent, to which Nick adds: 'You stick with me and I'll have you in velvet'. Tony tells Nick that he is tired of his 'wired' races. The fourth man, Herbie, says that a race can surely be wired at the last moment before the result is given, calling across to Jim that he should invent a method. With Nick sitting to the left, Jim raises his hand to his mouth and thinks. He takes out paper and pen and makes notes. Shots of him pondering and of his sketch of a circuit. Nick tells Jim to stop worrying and passes him enough money to pay the hospital. Jim raises the notes to his eyes, running his fingers over them.

Tony, Nick and Herbie get up and leave the table, while Jim remains writing at the table. They walk away to a cashier's desk by the entrance, while another table of diners is visible in the bottom left corner; two more diners arrive; as the gangsters leave, Nick turns back and calls Jim. Jim looks up. Nick says that they have 'business', and walks towards us, before gunfire is suddenly heard. A body lies on the steps outside the restaurant, while two other men look on; Jim comes out slowly and looks down the road; the camera moves in on him, as he looks down at the body.

Alice faces us, as she reads a letter, which she places upright on the mantelpiece behind her, which also displays a clock and some silhouetted portraits. The letter itself, in which she tells Jim that she knows that he has lied about paying the hospital bill, and that the baby has made no difference to their relationship. As the doorbell is heard, Alice looks round; we follow her through the adjoining room to the front door. At the door, a uniformed taxi driver takes her bag and offers her a newspaper; she opens it and looks shocked. The headline reads: 'Mobster Slain In Ambush', and the accompanying picture shows Jim standing beside the body. Alice calls back the driver, apologising that she won't be needing him, and gives him a generous tip. She walks across the room and through a doorway. She comes towards us into the bedroom and approaches the cot. A close-up of the baby girl. Alice looks down, then at the newspaper headline, before looking up. She walks away from us towards a bedside telephone. As she faces us, she tells her mother that she is not coming.

Jim comes through the front door, quietly closes it and walks across, stopping as he hears Alice say that she can't leave him, when he is in so much trouble. Alice faces us again, insisting to her mother that she will stay with Jim, as he waits in the doorway behind her. After her phone conversation, Alice sighs, looks round, and on seeing Jim, turns away from him; he comes up from behind and puts his arms around her waist, apologising. They talk, Jim explaining that he has a big idea that will save them.

'Vacant' and 'For Rent' signs hang from the front of his electrical engineering office. Working under a low light, Jim thinks and draws. He uses a ruler to add to a large circuit diagram. Alice and the girl look on at the end of the table, as Jim takes a sip of coffee before passing it teasingly to his daughter. Now in a leather jacket, Jim works on his project, surrounded by electronics parts; he stands up and walks towards us, pencil in mouth, then turns round to examine his contraption, through which a tape runs. Alice is seen through shadows, restlessly moving in bed; she switches on the bedside lamp and sees that Jim is not there. Jim examines the tape passing out of his device. Alice speaks to him, hinting that she has some news from the doctor. Shots of the two of them , as Jim tries to hear what she is saying above the sound of his teletape machine. Jim finally understands that Alice is expecting another child and they embrace.

Tony, in bow tie, cigar between his fingers, examines Jim's diagram; the camera moves out to show Jim sitting to the left of him; Jim explains that he can 'tie into the race wire service and delay the results, long enough for you to bet the winner for us'; Jim takes back the document. Shots of Jim and Tony, as Jim explains that he did not want to go to Nick with the offer. They shake hands on a deal.

We look across a road towards the Hotel Stratford and some shops; the camera moves up to a telegraph pole. A hotel porter struggles into a room with two heavy bags, followed by Tony in a hat, with cigar in mouth, and Jim; Tony tosses the porter a coin, and shuts and locks the door, while we follow Jim to a sash window, which he opens. Jim faces us, as he looks out of the window at a telegraph wire that runs past it on the left of the screen. Tony and Jim discuss the job beside the window.

The teletape machine runs, the camera moving out to show Jim examining the tape on the right. Jim's face concentrates. A close-up of the tape providing a commentary on the race. We look towards a horse race, over a crowd of spectators. The tape, indicating that War Poppy is ahead. Jim passes the tape through his hands. His hands clip the tape at a particular point, then look through the spiralling tape. He feeds the tape out, leaning over it to see what it says. The tape still puts War Poppy in front. The horses come towards us round a bend in the course. A close-up of the tape. Jim looks on, concentrating. The tape. A distant view of the horse race over a crowd under a grandstand. The tape: 'At the finish its Val Skid in front'. Jim gets up from his machine. He is seen from outside the window, looking out, wiping his brow with his arm. Tony, standing in a doorway opposite, walks across. Jim smiles from the window and turns.

Tony walks away from us, past a barber's pole at ground level, and a shoe-shine boy at work, and enters a building. A man wearing headphones chalks up the runners in the race in a betting office. The camera moves left to show a man in a hat writing at a counter, as Tony enters and puts $200 on No. 4 to win in the fourth race, to the bookie's disbelief; Tony, cigar in mouth, just smiles, takes his slip and walks towards the board. Tony sits in the hotel room counting out his money, while Jim packs up the equipment on the bed behind him; they both stand up, Jim putting on his jacket, and they pocket their shares of the takings.

Jim faces us in front of the hotel room window, feeding the tape through his hands. Close-up of the tape. The horses move past the finishing post. The tape indicates that On Time has won the race. We see Jim inside the room go up to the window and signal. Tony, in front of the entrance to a diner, turns and enters. A bookie's hand circles On Time on the board. Tony looks towards us, cigar in mouth, the notes spread out in his hands, while Jim looks on; Tony shuffles the money and walks away. Jim packs up the teletape on the bed; he stands up, as he receives his share from Tony, who persuades him to do one more race before they have a break; the camera follows Jim back to his packing.

In another bookmaker's, hands count out notes to Tony; the camera pulls back to show the bookie quizzing Tony as to why he picked a 20-1 horse, and watches Tony leave with suspicion. Jim comes out of a side alley towards a 1950s car, where he puts his cases on the back seat. Jim, with his back to us, leans into the car, as Tony comes running towards him suddenly, shouting; a figure in the distance fires two shots. Tony falls. Jim looks on in shock. As the gunman approaches, Jim runs. He runs towards us, with the gunman in pursuit. We look down upon a black car that pulls up on the left, from which a man in black runs out. Jim is knocked down by both men and is dragged towards the car. Jim is put on the back seat, while the gunman gets into the driving seat. He finds himself sitting next to Nick Castro. The car moves away from us into the distance.

The camera moves behind a man punching Jim, slumped in a chair, as Nick appears on the left; the man leaves, as Jim protests that he did not know it was 'Nick's book'. Jim's cut face. We look from behind Jim towards Nick and Ramsden; the latter says that it was his $20,000 in Tony's pocket when the cops found him. Ramsden calls Jim a 'cheap, two-bit bell-fixer'. Shots of Jim looking woozy as he hears their charges of ingratitude, and of Nick and Ramsden; they demand that he brings his machine with them to St Louis, where they will put every bookmaker in town out of business. We see, over Jim's shoulder, Nick and Ramsden walk away.

We look through a doorway towards Alice feeding her daughter; she gets up and comes towards us, visibly pregnant, as Jim appears from the left; as they stand in front of the bookcase, she is shocked by his cuts. We look towards Jim, with Alice's head just visible at the left. The previous shot alternates with Alice facing us, and Jim at the left edge, as he makes up an excuse for his injuries. They move across the room, as Jim explains guiltily that they will not be able to go on their planned holiday, before finally admitting that he has to leave town. Jim packs their bags into the boot of the car in front of the house, Alice standing by; the camera moves in on them talking. Shots of their faces and of them together, as he persuades her to get into the car.

Cars move towards us along a main road at night, neon signs visible to the left and in the distance. Alice sits to the left of Jim at the wheel, as she points out something to him in the distance. We look across the road, along which cars are coming from the right, towards a poster for 'Billy Graham Greater Los Angeles Crusade'. Alice persuades Jim to let them go immediately.

We look over a large audience under a vast marquee, propped up by a number of poles. Billy Graham speaks vehemently about the need for repentance of sins, beneath a banner saying 'My Life For Christ' and in front of three rows of seated listeners. We see Alice and Jim arriving in the background, behind a section of the audience; an usher shows them to two seats at the end of a row, where Jim looks at his watch restlessly. Graham tells the story of Nicodemus. A closer shot of Graham speaking about sinners, gesturing vigorously and holding out a Bible. Jim whispers to Alice that they should go soon. A more side-on shot of Graham, speaking of those who have gained some of the world at the expense of their soul. Jim looks on, aware of the relevance of the sermon. Graham continues to hold forth. Jim leans over to Alice, saying 'I can't stand any more of this', after which Alice asks him what he's afraid of, which seems to make him think.

Graham explains that by taking Christ into your life you become 'a new moral person', a completely new creation. We look towards Alice and Jim, as Graham is heard explaining that repentance means the acknowledgement and renunciation of sins. Graham says that if a person were to repent tonight, they would leave this tent knowing that they were going to heaven. Jim ponders. A more distant view of Graham on the platform saying that he is going to ask people to come forward to be born again. Jim looks down. A head-and-shoulders shot of Graham, as he emphasises that there is a man somewhere in this audience who can change his life tonight by giving it to Christ. Jim looks down, then up. The same close shot of Graham, as he says that they are going to wait for this man. We face Alice and Jim, as she looks across at him and tells him to do it; finally, he stands up. He stands up, looking resolute. Alice looks up at him, relieved and moved.

Jim leans on the mantelpiece in their lounge, before he comes forward to where Alice is sitting. Alice, alone, says that they will make things 'right' together. A side-on shot of Alice coming up to him and taking his hands. Alternating head-and-shoulders shots of Alice and Jim, as Jim explains that it will mean many sacrifices. A side-on view of the two of them, as Jim says that it may even mean prison for him. Alice worries about Rumsden and his mob. Jim looks on. Alice expresses fear. She walks towards the mantelpiece, then turns, as Jim explains that he has to phone them and that he is 'through running away now'. Jim adds that after tonight, for the first time, he is 'willing to face the music, play it straight'. Jim, on the right, looks towards Alice, describing the 'wonderful clean feeling' that he is experiencing; a car horn is heard and Jim rushes left.

Jim peeps round the edge of the curtains, as Alice appears in the foreground; he stops her trying to phone the police and they embrace; he leaves by the front door and Alice turns round and puts her face in her hands fearfully. Jim stands at the front porch, as Rumsden, Nick and Herbie, all wearing hats, walk away from us towards him. We see, side-on, Nick and Rumsden standing to the left of Jim, while Herbie has his back to us on the right; the camera moves in to exclude Herbie. Jim looks towards us, saying that he isn't going to St Louis with them. Nick and Rumsden react. Jim explains what he has heard tonight. The previous view, as Nick mocks him: 'What is this? What are you giving us?' Meanwhile, in the bedroom inside, Alice comforts their daughter, Madeline, who stands up in her cot.

Nick and Rumsden look on, as the latter sees Jim as having been bribed by the preacher. Rumsden states that they have plane tickets for St Louis that night and that he is coming. Various shots of Rumsden, Jim and Nick as they argue; Jim explains that the old Jim Vaus 'died tonight at ten. Somebody else was born. A guy no longer interested in a fast buck, a shady deal. It's all tied up with a lot of words like repentance, forgiveness'. Nick seizes Jim by the lapels, while Rumsden tells him to leave Jim alone. Nick looks closely and suspiciously at Jim. Rumsden looks ahead between them. We look towards the whole group, Jim with his back to us; he turns and walks away towards us, as Nick points a gun towards his back; Jim pauses, half-expecting to be shot, but Rumsden persuades Nick to leave it.

Jim rests against the wall by the front door, drained, then delighted, as Alice appears and flings her arms around him; Jim recalls a verse from Proverbs that Billy Graham showed him: 'When a man's way is to please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him'.


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