Finger Man

Finger Man

D: Harold D. Schuster (1955); with Frank Lovejoy, Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle, Timothy Agoglia Carey. In Finger Man, Lovejoy plays Casey Martin, a small-time hood who gets nailed for a truck hijacking. With a record behind him, Martin faces serious prison time unless he plays ball with the authorities and puts the finger on Dutch Becker (Tucker), a mob kingpin. When Casey discovers that his sister is a drug-riddled wreck after being in Becker's sway, he decides that he has little choice but to go along with the feds' dangerous scheme. A girlfriend helps get him into Becker's inner circle. Inevitably he's found out, and the plan backfires when Becker discovers that Casey is "wearing a wire," 1955-style, with a transmitter the size of a paperback book in his jacket pocket. Though Finger Man came along well past the prime of film noir, it seems like a movie from several years before, with tough-guy dialogue and the requisite rain-soaked streets and gritty urban settings. The film's main drawback is Lovejoy; he made a career of playing stolid characters such as soldiers, cops, and middle-class Everymen (such as in Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker). Lovejoy seems to be too much of a square-john type to be believable as a criminal or hood; even the punches he throws lack authority. The film's voiceover narration seems stiff and forced (also a throwback to earlier noirs). The surprise of the movie, however, is Carey's role as Lou Terpe, Becker's right-hand goon and Martin's former cellmate. The greasy-looking Carey delivers his lines through clenched teeth, glowering and leering at the camera until Martin pummels him into a whining, sniveling mess in an alley (a remarkable scene), where he lies yelping like a kicked dog. Carey was some kind of twisted, idiot-savant genius in front of the camera, as seen in Kubrick's The Killing. Carey was the only man that director Elia Kazan physically attacked on the set; out of frustration, Marlon Brando stabbed him with a pen while trying to direct him in One-Eyed Jacks. When John Cassavetes went to visit Carey at home, Carey made him wear a heavy, padded "instigator" suit, then turned his attack dog loose on him. Unperturbed, Cassavetes declared that Carey had "the brilliance of Eisenstein" (!). His mumbling, psychotic presence stole nearly every scene he was in during his career.

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