In what would prove to be Alan Ladd’s final leading role, this plays as a cross between Blackboard Jungle and the 80’s revenge flick, The Class of 1984 featuring a student gang from hell. Considering Ladd is looking rather frail and weak in voice, I do think the film may have been better served if the two leading actors had switched roles.
What we do have from Ladd’s own production company is Alan starring as a Government worker staying late at the office as the film opens. Travelling home late at night he finds himself running out of gas and in the wrong place at just the right time. A group of high school students led by Michael Callan happen by aiming to get themselves into trouble. Words are exchanged and Ladd finds himself the victim of a vicious beating sustaining a head injury and a broken leg. Before moving on, the gang is sure to check Alan’s wallet for his ID and address.
Sharing above the title billing with Ladd is Rod Steiger as the detective called into the case and looking to find the hooligans responsible who admittedly look much older than any high school students I can think of. These guys look to be a good 10 years older than Wally (Tony Dow) Cleaver. Steiger is full of questions but few to many answers where Ladd and his wife Dolores Dorn are concerned. So much so that Ladd begins to look sideways at any teenager within site. All he can recall is the name Chuck and the make of the car the boys sped of in. Steiger is about to realize he’ll have to have as many men watching Ladd’s revenge minded victim as he will men in the field looking to crack the case.
When Ladd and his wife are further terrorized by the gang of thugs, it only strengthens Ladd’s desire to get his pound of flesh from the juvenile delinquents. Callan and the boys he Lords over know that Ladd is both helping Steiger and digging for clues on his own. Verbal threats by phone and another attempted late night beating upon Ladd are quick to follow. Ladd becomes so wound up in the chase that he loses sight of both his professional life and private one with his wife Miss Dorn. He’s to be put on suspension and verbally spar with his wife concerning the vengeance that he refuses to let Steiger handle by police procedure.
Taken from a novel by noted screenwriter Leigh Brackett of Rio Bravo fame, the Callan character will be made out to be a first class psychotic in order to justify Ladd’s thirst for vengeance as the final minutes approach in this rather short 79 feature from director Philip Leacock. Ladd just seems to be on auto pilot here and the character he’s playing may be the victim but his one dimensional drive for revenge leaves him a cold leading character and though we know he’s the victim, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for his plight after the film gets past the first third. He’s just not likable.
As for Steiger, he really has little to do but carry a notebook and ask questions. He carries a bit of weight when grilling a few suspects and would be witnesses but nothing much more beyond that. The film is missing a patented Rod Steiger explosion. This brings me to my initial comment about switching roles. Steiger was still five years away from his Oscar winning role for In The Heat of the Night but was far more suited physically to the demanding role of the beaten man looking for revenge and knowing Steiger could chew up the scenery, I think Ladd’s role and scripted lines could have fit quite nicely with the unpredictable actor.
Where Ladd is concerned, I’d like to state I’m a fan but knowing that he was near the end of his life and far from looking physically up to the job, I do think he could have played the Steiger role of detective admirably. He’d have donned his trench coat and with a tweak in the written word to accommodate his stature as the top billed actor, Ladd would have wound up his career revisiting the role of a detective one more time before taking on his first costarring role in what would be his final film, 1964’s The Carpetbaggers.
TV fans will be sure to spot a couple of faces that would make a name for themselves on the small screen. Ted Knight of Mary Tyler Moore is in here as is Jeanne Cooper who appeared on The Young and the Restless for what seems like eons.
Like many Ladd films, kind of rare but now available as part of the made on demand line from Columbia.