Lloyd Bridges Goes Noir in Triplicate
Well before Lloyd Bridges became known as the star of television’s Sea Hunt or someone picking a real bad day to quit his vices in Airplane! or even becoming known to the next generation as the father of Jeff and Beau Bridges, he toiled on the “B” circuit of movie making for a good many years with occasional stops in fondly remembered titles including Sahara, The Rainmaker and the now classic, High Noon.
Before even getting to the 1950’s, he had 74 acting credits during the 1940’s alone according to the IMDB. He apprenticed in most anything including the many popular series of the day like Blondie, The Lone Wolf, Boston Blackie, The Crime Doctor, an Inner Sanctum mystery and even a bit part in a Three Stooges short. I guess hard work and perseverance would pay off as Lloyd started to score some leading roles even if we’re talking about B films.
Which brings us to three titles I binged on. One a near classic, and a pair of productions from England, one of which came from the iconic Hammer Studios.
Beginning with the best of the bunch is this early effort from director Richard Fleischer. It’s a tough, physically violent Noir concerning a counterfeit ring, an escaped convict and the Treasury Agent looking to take both down …. and then there’s Barbara Payton who herself has gained cult status in the years following her death.
If you guessed that Lloyd was the treasury agent, you’d be wrong. In this outing he’s halfway through a 14 year stretch when the treasury department comes calling with a deal. The plates that he was at one time accused of possessing are back in action circulating twenty dollar bills. All Lloyd has to do is to help find the new owner/ring leader and he’ll set himself up for an early parole. His response? “Stool pigeons don’t live long.”
Time for the first of many twists in this fast moving 78 minute special. Lloyd makes a break while being transferred to another prison. But it’s all for the newspaper headlines. In reality he’s working with Agent Robert Karnes who had aided in the escape. Or is he ….. In one hell of a screen fight, Lloyd makes a second getaway for real this time and heads to L.A. to hook up with an old flame who still carries the torch, Miss Barbara Payton. Now that he’s got his girl, he wants to cash in by meeting up with is old partner he took the rap for.
Enter John Hoyt. The long time character actor scores one of his best screen roles in this outing as a gambler who likes to throw money around. He’s been hanging out at the club where Payton works as a cigarette girl and is a heavy tipper where she’s concerned. Ready for another twist? Hoyt’s a Treasury Agent playing like a hood and looking to get to Lloyd by way of Payton. For his part, Lloyd, intends to make a quick score and cross the border into Mexico with his blonde bombshell and live the good life with a suitcase full of phony $20 bills.
I guess I could on with the twists and turns but they’re for you to discover. Thankfully this film has been preserved by the Film Noir Foundation resulting in a TCM debut last fall introduced by Eddie Muller. Director Richard Fleischer was just getting on a roll at this time. He’d turn out Trapped followed by Noir favorites, Armored Car Robbery and The Narrow Margin at RKO. Moving on to A list productions he’d helm box-office hits like 20,000 Leagues Under the The Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle and Tora! Tora! Tora! among them. On the downside, I have to wonder if Fleischer didn’t think much of this film. He never mentions it or the cast in his excellent autobiography, Just Tell me When to Cry.
For those of us who like shadowy back alleys, tough talking hoods, an eye catching dame and violent confrontations in black and white, this one’s well worth the time and effort to track down.
The Limping Man (1953)
Made on the “B” circuit in England under Banner Pictures LTD, Lloyd Bridges finds himself caught up in murder and intrigue when he exits a plane bringing him back to England after the war. As he’s walking across the tarmac, he stops a fellow passenger to ask for a light. A loud crack is heard and the man supplying the match drops to the ground dead. Killed by assassin’s bullet. I for one like the opening set up.
The cops aren’t so sure they do. Was Lloyd asking for the light to get the victim stationary for the marksman? Or is it all by chance?
Lloyd’s come back to London to rekindle the spark of romance with Moira Lister with whom he was involved with while stationed in England during the war. Moira is happy to see him but she’s distant and appears to be holding something back from Lloyd who has been gone for six long years. The Inspector assigned to the murder of our plane passenger isn’t holding anything back from Lloyd. He believes our leading man set up the killing. After all the dead man was involved with Moira during Lloyd’s absence.
Blackmail, a dead man who was a shifty hood at best who had a wife that might figure into the plot as well. The Limping Man? He’s the suspected assassin. Like any Noir leading man, Lloyd is going to go rogue and solve the murder himself thereby proving his innocence and maybe get the girl at the fade out.
Any twists coming at us in this one? A handful and one that to be honest didn’t sit well with me. If you’ve seen The Limping Man then I can only assume you know exactly what I’m referring to.
Filmed at Merton Park Studios in London by director, Cy Endfield under the alias Charles de Lautour, this black and white feature plays it fast over a 76 minute running time. The director had already worked with Lloyd on a gritty, solid Noir thriller that pulled few punches in 1950 under the title Try and Get Me aka The Sound and the Fury. Endfield would go on to much greater acclaim directing tough Stanley Baker films like Hell Drivers and Zulu. Way down the cast list of The Limping Man is Jean Marsh in an amusing film debut as a Landlady’s daughter. She’d go on to a long career in both movies and television.
The Deadly Game (1954) aka Third Party Risk
Over to Hammer Film Productions via Producer Robert Lippert, Lloyd Bridges finds himself as a songwriter taking in the sights of Spain and running into an old army buddy (Peter Dyneley) he served with in WW2. Lloyd will also find romance with Maureen Swanson who I thought looked like Hedy Lamaar and her Uncle, Finlay Currie.
A set up is in the air when Lloyd agrees to drive his buddies car back to England and with it an envelope locked in the hotel safe. Seems innocent enough until Lloyd arrives at his buddies flat to turn over the car and the envelope. He’ll find his pal shot dead and rather than call the cops like I would, he opens the envelope and decides to quietly exit the murder scene. And what was in that envelope? Micro film. Sounds like some espionage goings on to me.
Turning into an amateur gumshoe, Lloyd follows a lead to a Simone Silva. It’s here he’ll run into a snarly Ferdy Mayne who clearly wants what was in the envelope. For his part, Lloyd wants to know who Mayne is fronting for. Fisticuffs and violence are soon to follow in this Daniel Birt directed effort with the chief villain proving to be not so surprising.
Aside from Lloyd Bridges and the Hammer brand, there really isn’t a whole lot to recommend this one and though I hate to say it due to my love of Hammer Films, this is easily the weakest of the three featured titles. Hammer fans will spot a few recognizable names in the credits including Jimmy Sangster as the Production Manager and Phil Leaky on Make-Up.
For those unaware, Hammer, produced a number of Noir thrillers of varying quality prior to turning the world upside down with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. Like this one, they often imported American actors for the lead role. Richard Conte and Dane Clark being good examples.
Lloyd would become a staple of the television movie during the 70’s and 80’s and was and is a welcome presence in the movie room here at Mike’s Take. It wasn’t all that long ago that I binged on his successful TV show Sea Hunt watching all 155 episodes. Of his TV movies I frequently saw and enjoyed in rerun as a kid were the sci-fi flick The Love War and the very Noir like The Tattered Web. Long before I knew what Noir even referred to.
And let’s not forget his Mr. Mandelbaum on Seinfeld either.
Lloyd Bridges. 1913-1998