With a number of familiar names and faces by way of Batjac productions comes this nifty “B” thriller in black and white for the double bill crowd. If many of the names in front and behind the camera are indeed recognizable, then you, like me are very much aware of the John Ford/John Wayne stock company.
Released through the RKO banner, this is an early directorial effort from the prolific Andrew V. McLaglen whose name would really become synonymous with westerns and action fare. The screenplay is credited to another name that western fans should be quite aware of, Burt Kennedy. He too would move behind the camera in the coming years. Western associates they may be but this time out it’s a tale of criminals in the underworld starring a young William Campbell that these two filmmakers are bringing to the screen.
Gangland kingpin, Berry Kroeger is in need of a locksmith and thinks he’s found his patsy in the young Campbell. Using the fast life of money, parties and girls, he attempts to sway Campbell into his circle of cohorts who do his bidding. Included in the inner circle is the oversized body guard played by the always welcome Mike Mazurki. There will come a time when his brutish talents will be called upon to push Campbell to do what his employer requires.
It’s while in the company of Kroeger that Campbell will meet his leading lady played by Karen Sharpe. She’s a well kept girl next door, only this one wears furs and drives a big long automobile. Her fencing with Campbell starts out rather stormy but the pair will find themselves falling in love and desperately trying to get under from their underworld employers influence. Adding flavor to the category of “bombshell” is Anita Ekberg as another woman on the payroll who proves to be a key figure in the heist plot that lays before Campbell.
Fellow stock company members, Paul Fix and Pedro Gonzales Gonzales are also mixed into the cast. Fix as a dubious member of Kroeger’s gang with designs of his own while Pedro is the comedy relief back at the locksmith shop that employs Campbell. In the end it’s Campbell who tries to stay honest but when Kroeger gets word that the kid is romancing Sharpe, he sets Mazurki loose forcing Campbell to work his locksmith magic by acquiring the inner contents of a safe deposit box.
This early film in the careers of McLaglen and Kennedy makes for a diverting “B” film with enough thrills, bullets and Mazurki right hooks to keep one entertained. While the finale looks a bit rushed and poorly edited, the sum of it’s parts add up for those who like the character players who populate the shady world on screen. Then of course there is the stunning figure of Miss Ekberg that is put on proper display for the male going audience who shelled out their hard earned cash for a seat at the local theater.
Paul Fix was a long time friend and co-star of Duke’s and carries the distinction of appearing in more Wayne films than any other actor. A total of no less than 24 films. Gonzales would go on to have a fun role opposite Duke in Rio Bravo as the hotel manager.
McLaglen (son of Victor) would eventually move up the ladder to directing Duke himself, if that is at all possible, in the highly memorable McLintock and few other later day westerns that Wayne starred in such as Cahill and The Undefeated. Writer Kennedy would even move on to direct Duke in The War Wagon and The Train Robbers.
Leading man Campbell would move on, finding a home in television after his run of fifties films ran their course. After appearing in films like Backlash and The Naked and the Dead he could be seen regularly on shows like Star Trek, Police Woman and Emergency. He also appeared in a nifty little thriller for cult director Jack Hill titled Blood Bath that is worth seeking out on a new blu ray release from Arrow Video.
Man In the Vault is available on DVD as part of a John Wayne action pack of titles released by his Batjac company.