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Highway 301

If Steve Cochran learned anything playing opposite James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in the 1949 gangster classic, White Heat, it’s how to kill indiscriminately and in a cold blooded fashion on movie screens. And here in this Warner Brothers picture directed and written by Andrew L. Stone he does just that. As a matter of fact it could have made for a great “unofficial” sequel to White Heat and the continuing adventures of Big Ed. But then Cochran’s Big Ed didn’t fare to well against Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in that one did he?

Beginning with a needless warning from a trio of state governors reminding us that crime doesn’t pay and giving Jack Warner a big self serving thumbs up for this latest production which I’m sure boosted his already enormous ego, the criminal acts of Cochran and his gang of thugs gets underway in the opening segment when they pull a bank job in broad daylight making a clean getaway. Including himself there are five members in the so called Tri-State Gang. Joining Cochran on his murderous crime spree are Richard Egan, Robert Webber, Wally Cassell and Edward Norris.

Then there are the dames they have in tow including Cassell’s gal Virginia Grey who is loyal to the cause, a French Canadian gal, Gaby Andre, who has made the mistake of falling for Webber and Aline Towne who is the battered girlfriend of our leading man, Cochran.

It’s while enjoying the fruits of their labor at a nightclub that Miss Towne is talking too much and getting Cochran’s temper up. She wants out and this leads to a scene that I found jolting for a 1950 production. He violently guns her down in a hotel. Didn’t see that coming but the killing made it clear that Cochran is a loose cannon and the quotient of violence in this WB effort is picking right up where White Heat left off.

The next heist they have set up proves to be a bust and leaves two more dead in Cochran’s wake. The killing spree has led to an intense police investigation led by Edmon Ryan. With all due respect to Mr. Ryan the film could really have used a bigger name in the role of the cop on the gang’s trail. Not wanting to take away from Cochran’s starring role how about a Frank Lovejoy, Millard Mitchell or perhaps Wendell Corey. Easy to say when looking back in time.

Roadblocks, narrow escapes and a shootout with the police is going to trim the gang down to four members and there’s a great “Noir” bit when Cochran begins trailing Miss Andre who has made a break from the gang in the dark of night on some deserted city streets on the Warner backlot. This whole chase will lead to another scene that had my eyes widening with disbelief of what Cochran pulled off on camera.

I’d rather not go much farther with the story of Highway 301 in order to not play spoiler but I think it’s fare to say we all know going in that Cochran won’t be making it through the final reel and his comeuppance is another scene of notable violence for 1950 viewers. I will say that glossy photos like this one below have little to do with the romantic entanglements in the film but look good I guess.

Leading man Steve Cochran began his career in a 1945 Boston Blackie special and quickly graduated to gangster roles at first tormenting Danny Kaye in his comedies Wonder Man and The Kid From Brooklyn before cementing his screen image opposite Cagney. He’d stay busy in front of cameras up until his mysterious death in 1965 at just 48 years of age.

Second billed Virginia Grey who had been in films since the late 1920’s was surprisingly not Cochran’s gal here but rather gang member Wally Cassell’s. Miss Grey who had appeared in everything from the Andy Hardy and Thin Man series continued to act into the 1970’s in the box office hit Airport and on television. As for Cassell, he was also a graduate of White Heat alongside Cochran.

Gaby Andre is not an actress I’m familiar with. A quick bit of research tells me she was originally born in France so casting her as a gal from Quebec, Canada comes off looking plausible. Nearly all of her film appearances appear to be in overseas productions so perhaps this was an attempt by Jack Warner at unearthing a new discovery? I did notice one of her last films was a peplum special, Goliath and the Dragon, proving I had seen her in something else before this gritty gangster picture. Robert Webber makes his film debut and he too would go on to a long career making stops in 12 Angry Men, one of the top brass in The Dirty Dozen and as a hitman in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia among many others.

Richard Egan was also just beginning his movie career and would also costar in another of Cochran’s 1950 releases, The Damned Don’t Dry. Egan was a busy young actor turning up in 33 film roles between 1950 and 1955. 1956 would see him headlining Love Me Tender co-starring that singing sensation on the rise to iconic status, Elvis Presley.

I happened across this 82 minute gangster picture on TCM and also took note it’s available on DVD thru the Warner Archive line. Thanks to Cochran’s brutish performance I quite enjoyed this but again couldn’t help thinking it might be a better film overall with a bigger reputation if it had cut the governor’s statements at the start of the film and built up the police inspector’s role earlier in the film with a bigger name.

Don’t let that stop you from giving this one a look and please let me know if the violence grabs you as it did me for a production circa 1950.

17 Comments »

  1. Everybody has good things to say about this movie and still I’ve never seen it. It’s been recommended to me many times and somehow I keep putting off viewing it – I tell myself I’m saving it for a rainy day. I know Cochran didn’t only play villainous types but he did have a flair for such roles and it’s always a pleasure to see a man doing what he’s best at.

    • No doubt this one is worth your time and as for Cochran, I just recently watched one of his final films, Mozambigue and though it was a Harry Allan Towers production it was quite enjoyable and that was in large part to Steve.

  2. First things first namely that Colin,I’ve been suggesting he watch this one for ages but no such chance. Esteemed cineaste Blake Lucas recommends a film and Colin jumps on it like a duck on a June bug! Now you are on board perhaps Colin will take notice. A couple of points firstly I thought Edmon Ryan sensational far better IMHO than Corey or Lovejoy would have been.The scene where Ryan turns the heat on Virginia Grey is tough to watch and beautifully acted by the pair,in fact the scene almost equals the scene in BIG HOUSE USA where Reed Hadley grills Felicia Farr. Always found Lovejoy to be a one note actor in FINGER MAN we are far more attracted to Forrest Tucker’s charismatic but ruthless villain than Lovejoy’s hard boiled anti hero.More Gaby Andre surprised,you of all people Mike have not caught THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (Cosmic Monsters) which as Mr Maltin states is Britain’s only entry on the giant bug checklist. “Planet X” also stars Tucker and often hits the mark occasionally with it’s Ed Wood style goofiness.

    • Be patient, John, I’ve not forgotten your recommendation – I’m just not in a position to act on it right now. But I will, chum, I will.

      • I’m quite sure you’ll get there and am confident you’ll be in agreement that it’s a solid effort and that they should have trimmed those darned governors that opened the film.

    • Guns a blazing! Yeah Colin needs to see this one and I guess there’s no love for Lovejoy. Not that I’m a big fan and yes that scene you speak of is a beauty but I still think the role might have been better served with a more well known face looking back that wasn’t a bigger star at the time than Cochran hence my choice of those three names. I was even thinking of John McIntire or Barry Fitzgerald (bigger star) who did a good job in cop roles around this time. I have a copy of Cosmic Monsters around here somewhere so will have to dust off for a rewatch. I know I saw it ages ago. Cheers’

      • Ha! Colin well knows my warped sense of humour by now sadly over the years the way I’ve hyped this film it can only prove to be a let down…let’s hope not.What I loved about Edmon Ryan’s performance as a federal agent was the nuance in his performance,he pretty much knows Virginia Grey is well dodgy but he needs solid proof-you can almost see the cogs tick over in his mind a wonderful performance I thought most capably supported by Grey. Ryan was on the opposite side of the law in UNDERCOVER GIRL made round the same time here he plays a seedy underworld low life..the guy had form. According to imdb his pal the great James Whitmore stated that Edmon was far more interested in painting than acting. I might add that Whitmore would have been aces in the Ryan role.

        • I trust your judgement on this, John – if you feel it’s good, then I’ve no doubt it has something going for it. Of course if it does turn out to be a disappointment, naturally you’ll never hear the last of it! 😀

  3. The Hays Code was null and void by this point, but just goes to show how desperate the Hollywood hierarchy were to prove WWII hadn’t changed anything. Steve Cochran was a good actor who I sometimes thought didn’t get to flex the bad guy chops the way Cagney, Bogart, and Robinson did.

  4. A great bank robbing movie with psychotic Steve Cochran being violently devious in the lead. It’s quite the shocker in places isn’t it.
    That picture of the gang in the car is tough and awesome.
    Think I gave it a strong 8/10

  5. The Wolfman recommended this one to me, and I thought it was a quite good…some neat scenes, and like you mentioned, some surprisingly violent ones, too. I did really like that part where Cochrane follows Gaby Andre…and I liked her character’s story, too. And yeah, that stuff at the beginning was kinda lame, but hey, we should consider ourselves lucky those three guys weren’t IN the movie!

  6. I love those commentaries from often scary law enforcement officials that are often added as a prelude to the film that follows,it all gives a wonderful sense of the time and the place.There’s more of that at the beginning of SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 another Noir available from Warner Archive,although the quality of the transfer,sadly does not match HIGHWAY 301. SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 covers the same territory as T-MEN and although not as good it’s one of those programmer thrillers where a second string cast punches well above it’s weight.I enjoy SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 so much that I’d happily upgrade to Blu Ray should that happen and Warner Bros considered a restoration of the film which is unlikely.

  7. Don’t know how Mike is with people going “off topic” although Colin is pretty OK with it.
    As we are in Noirsville at the moment I thought I would mention one of my all time favourite Noirs THE GOOD DIE YOUNG is soon to be released on Blu Ray by the British Film Institute. This will be a brand new restoration with a heap of extras bearing in mind Kino Lorber often release BFI titles and the old DVD version is wretched,even TV screenings are better. What I was intrigued about the extras are that the film will include a never seen before export cut of the film. This export strength cut apparently has “anti establishment” content viewed too strong for the British public at the time.

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