US / 69 minutes / bw / Pine–Thomas, Paramount, Metropolis Dir: William H. Pine Pr: William H. Pine, William C. Thomas Scr: Milton Raison Cine: Ellis W. Carter Cast: William Gargan, Virginia Welles, Richard Crane, Irving Bacon, Mary Newton, Frank Ferguson, Douglass Dumbrille, Almira Sessions, Dan White, Lane Chandler.
Jake Bradford (Bacon) used to be a demolition expert, specializing in bringing down derelict buildings. When his business failed he set up the quarrying/rock-clearing company Bradford Engineering, which looks to be heading the same way—not least when, because shortage of money has led to the use of dangerous old-fashioned techniques, blaster Skipper Court (White) is killed in a rockfall he triggered.
A few days later Jake, his daughter Mary (Welles) and his trusted employees Hard Rock Mason (Ferguson) and the big-headed Gunner Peterson (Gargan) attend the annual Christmas party thrown for all the California powdermen by Nelly Brown (Newton); Nelly says a few words in memory of Skipper, those words all the more sincere because years ago she lost her husband to a blast gone wrong. At the party, Gunner clumsily proposes to Mary: although he’s of her father’s generation and prattles about remembering her running around in pigtails, Mary, to her credit, doesn’t vomit on his shoes (“He’s just like my big brother,” she later says) but tells him she’ll think about his offer.
Just then Nelly’s son Johnny (Crane) arrives. He’s halfway through a GI Bill college course in engineering, but doesn’t reckon he can stand it any more: during his years in the Army he was a demolition guy, and he reckons he has gunpowder in his veins. Much to his mom’s distress, he applies for and gets a job with Jake as Skipper’s replacement.
Skipper’s death caused Bradford Engineering to be fired from their original contract. Through blatant emotional blackmail Jake has managed to acquire from his old friend Hank Gibbons (Dumbrille) the job of helping blast a new tunnel. As the Bradford Engineering convoy makes its way through the hills to the new site, an arrogant driver (Chandler) forces the dynamite truck driven by Hard Rock off the road; later Hard Rock discovers the disruption has damaged his brakes. As he careers along the treacherous road, Johnny engineers and executes a heroic rescue, although the truck is lost.
Later, with new company financing given by Nelly, Jake’s men set about the tunneling job. Although Gunner has a wealth of practical experience, Johnny’s college education has much to contribute (“He’s a better powderman than any of us,” affirms Jake when Nelly wheedles that she wants her boy to go back to college) if only, peeved because of Mary’s preference for the younger man, Gunner would allow it to do so. The climax of Gunner’s orneriness comes when, after a disagreement with Johnny over the depths to which a set of blasting holes should be drilled, Gunner beats him up.
Jake, worried, asks Hard Rock to check out the holes on the q.t. Hard Rock reports that in fact Johnny was right and Gunner wrong. To avoid ill feeling, Hard Rock agrees that, again on the q.t., he’ll fix the problem . . . but kills himself in the process. Gunner heads for the hills in disgrace; Johnny is everyone’s new golden boy; Johnny buries himself in a pile of rubble but survives; so off Mary goes in search of the one man who might get him out alive, Gunner . . .
This was designed as no more than a minor filler from Pine–Thomas, the Poverty Row B-movie division of Paramount. (Although it was presumably released through Paramount, extant prints bear a 1949 copyright line for Metropolis, a company known for TV rather than theatrical distribution. Metropolis did indeed handle the TV distribution of the movie from 1953; perhaps the line was added at that time but with the wrong date.) Minor the movie might be, but this particular 2013 viewer remembered much of it from a first viewing that must have been in the mid-1960s . . . so it surely has something. It certainly isn’t a film noir, yet it seems to tap into the noir ethos in ways that are hard to define.
Crane, Bacon and Gargan are all good in their roles; Dumbrille has one of those parts that are made to be walked through, and duly walks through it. More memorably than any of them, Newton gives an excellent performance as Johnny’s good-hearted mom, concerned about the welfare of her son yet loyal to a T to old friends like Jake and Hard Rock. Welles (no relation of Orson), though very pretty and, to judge by her performance in Dynamite, a more than adequate actress, seems never to have risen above B-movie status. The acme of her fame was probably the role of Lorna MacLeod in Francis in the Haunted House (1956), opposite Mickey Rooney; it was her last big-screen performance, followed by less than a handful of TV roles and then retirement.
On Amazon.com: Dynamite (1949)