Purple Gang, The (1959)

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A “youthful rat-pack of terrorists”!
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US / 85 minutes / bw / Allied Artists Dir: Frank McDonald Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Jack DeWitt Cine: Ellis Carter Cast: Barry Sullivan, Robert Blake, Elaine Edwards, Marc Cavell, Jody Lawrance, Suzy Marquette, Joseph Turkel, Victor Creatore, Paul Dubov, Dirk London, Kathleen Lockhart, Nestor Paiva, Lou Krugman, Robert Anderson, Mauritz Hugo, Danny Mummert, John Close, Ralph Sanford, George Baxter, Paul McGuire, David Tomack, Don Haggerty, Congressman James Roosevelt.

This gives the impression—complete with pompous introduction from a political stuffed shirt—of being a dramatized documentary about the real-life Purple Gang, which terrorized Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s, but in fact its moments of consonance with the historical reality are fairly few and far between, and usually consist of the scripters merely incorporating a stray aspect of the truth in hopes it’ll somehow stand in for all the rest. Just to add to the air of divorcement from reality, while the setting is stated to be the late 1920s and the early 1930s, there’s no effort, through costume or effects, to place the action anywhere else but in the 1940s.

Congressman Roosevelt introduces our tale.

The stuffed shirt in question is Congressman James Roosevelt, Chairman (it says here) of the Committee on Narcotics of the California Delegation in the Congress of the United States, who bizarrely addresses most of his remarks not to the camera but slightly to our right of it. After he’s done, we then get a scrolled legend aiming to persuade us further of the movie’s authenticity:

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Mr. Reckless (1948)

US / 67 minutes / bw / Medallion, Pine–Thomas Dir: Frank McDonald Scr: Maxwell Shane, Milton Raison Cine: Ellis W. Carter Cast: William Eythe, Barbara Britton, Walter Catlett, Minna Gombel (i.e., Minna Gombell), Lloyd Corrigan, Nestor Paiva, Frank Jenks, Ian MacDonald, James Millican.

Oilman Jeff Lundy (Eythe) returns to LA from two years drilling in Louisiana to discover that his good buddy, restaurateur Gus Patrokios (Paiva), is engaged to Jeff’s old flame Betty Denton (Britton), even though Betty’s only half Gus’s age. Aside from being miffed, Jeff assumes Betty’s motives must be entirely mercenary; she has, after all, a scapegrace father, Hugo (Corrigan), whose bad habits are expensive.

The principals go to a new oil development in the desert, where Jeff and Hugo work on the rigs with Jeff’s old pal Pete (Millican) while Gus sells meals to the oilmen. Hugo’s gambling gets him heavily in debt to oilfield bully Jim Halsey (MacDonald); a few hours before Betty’s and Gus’s wedding, Halsey locks Hugo into an empty oil tank to “think things over.” In a fight with Halsey, Gus breaks his hip. Jeff rescues Hugo just in time, as oil flows into the tank. The wedding’s delayed until Gus recovers from his injuries; in the meanwhile Jeff and Betty realize they’re still as much in love as ever, but agree Betty can’t jilt Gus. But then Jeff’s crippled by a vengeful Halsey . . .

Mr. Reckless 1948 - life on the rigs

Climbing the rig . . . to doom?

Gombel/Gombell plays the feisty landlady of the boarding house in which the principals lodge. Catlett, as her ne’er-do-well husband Joel, combines with Corrigan for a late example of one of those dreary “comic interludes” that marred so many Hollywood movies of the ’30s. Otherwise, the movie’s quite worth watching, and the scenes as the good guys rush to free Hugo from the oil tank are genuinely exciting. Mr. Reckless shares some ingredients with The POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), but here the principals—Halsey of course excepted—all have their hearts in the right place; and, although the circumstances lead inevitably to tragedy, some sort of happy ending emerges from it.

On Amazon.com: Mr. Reckless