Vice Squad (1953)
A day in the life police procedural from United Artists has one driving force that makes the whole endeavor worthwhile.
Mr. Edward G. Robinson.
This film may have come at a time when Eddie G. wasn’t the top draw he once was but it’s awfully hard to resist this slice of life tale that casts Eddie as a Police Captain overseeing various issues at the local precinct including a tip off that a gang of hoodlums are staging a daylight bank robbery in his territory. All this after a police officer was shot down just the night before in the opening scenes of this Arnold Laven directed black and white feature.
Supreme heavy, Lee Van Cleef and ring leader Edward Binns are in the middle of stealing a car when a police officer happens across the theft. Binns shoots first and along with Van Cleef make their getaway. It turns out that the crime is witnessed by character favorite Porter Hall. When Hall refuses to cooperate with police due to his leaving the apartment of his mistress, Eddie keeps him under lock and key for much of the film on trumped up charges. Serving as comic relief, the banter between Hall, Eddie G and Hall’s shady lawyer, Barry Kelley, present us with many of the film’s highlights and charm for the near 90 minute running time.
When news reaches Eddie that the wounded officer has died from his injuries, he turns into that pitbull we all know him to be. Looking for any information he’ll rouse the local call girl operation overseen by a miscast Paulette Goddard who just comes off as too cute and for me is clearly acting her part as if she’s in the wrong genre. While she is caught acting her part, Robinson is just being Robinson. Underrated and taken for granted as was too often the case. While the film does inject some humor into the proceedings, Goddard’s part should be played straight by a Dorothy Malone type. Though Goddard is billed above the title, it’s clearly a paycheck opportunity.
While Eddie fences with Hall for information on the identity of the killers, we’re to see that the tip he has received on the bank robbery involves the same pair who have killed his patrolman. Binns, Van Cleef, Adam Williams and another duo are in town with a bank job clearly in mind. What they don’t realize is that Eddie’s men await them inside the bank disguised as both customers and employees.
In the tradition of Detective Story, this feature which would be a good fit in the double bill market, plays it both tough and light doing a decent balancing act as it moves along. While Eddie fences with Hall, Kelley and eventually playing it tough with one of the gang members as only Eddie can, we also get a soft touch from Robinson when he deals with another character player of note, unbilled Percy Helton. Helton is a lost soul whom Eddie steers towards the proper path to get some professional help.
While the sum of this films parts are easily dated by today’s audiences, for fans of classic films, they’ll find much to enjoy here. Most notably is the rock solid Eddie who’s timing, delivery and execution of the Robinson brand or persona is pitch perfect after twenty plus years of cultivating his image. With the amount of well known cast members surrounding Robinson at every turn, it’s hard not to appreciate the performers as they play to their strengths. Everyone from Helton’s lost soul to Van Cleef turning up in a typical role from the years before he found fame overseas.
Director Laven would work on a number of films including one the year following this release which is worth a look. Another police drama titled Down Three Dark Streets. Catching Noir in a bottle, there is a great shot near the end of the film in a darkened staircase when a hand emerges from the shadows and pulls a woman into the darkness. Is she safe or about to meet her demise? Emerging mere seconds later from the blackened doorway is the face of Robinson. An impressive scene and one that I rewound a couple of times to fully appreciate it’s staging.
Chief bad guy Edward Binns is another one of those faces we seem to take for granted. He was in so many films and TV shows over the years it’s nearly impossible not to recollect his “mug” from somewhere. His most famous role is probably that of Juror Number 6 in Twelve Angry Men.
Vice Squad is available on DVD as part of the MGM Made On Demand format and a nice addition to the movie room here at home. A place where most all of Eddie’s films can be located.