Roadblock

ROADBLOCK

D: Harold Daniels (1951); with Charles McGraw, Joan Dixon, Louis Jean Heydt, Milburn Stone. Roadblock opens with a nifty switcheroo: A man witnesses a murder and is taken hostage by the killer. Forced to drive, the man confesses to having a large stash of money squirreled away. After driving to the hiding place, the "murder victim" shows up, along with the "killer." They arrest the man and haul him in for bank robbery. One of the insurance detectives, Joe Peters (McGraw), falls for Diane (Dixon), a young woman whose tastes are too rich for his lifestyle. Eventually the square-john Peters devises a way to come up with some quick cash; he uses his inside knowledge of a used-money shipment to help set up a mail robbery. Joe and Diane marry and retreat to his partner's fishing cabin in the mountains for their honeymoon, with Joe arranging to have his share of the money shipped to him. Almost from the start, though, Joe's partner begins to suspect something; when a mail clerk is fatally wounded in the holdup, the stakes are murder. This is a rather slight film noir from a poverty-row studio, but notable for the presence of Charles McGraw. With his blocky build, large, squarish head, and gravelly voice, McGraw was an archetypal noir tough guy, appearing in The Narrow Margin, T-Men, The Killers, and countless other character roles up until his death in 1980. As Joe Peters, McGraw plays a trapped man in the sway of a femme fatale, a classic noir scenario. In this relentlessly fatalistic role, Peters is as doomed as Mitchum's character Jeff in Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947), throwing away everything to plunge headlong toward the end of the line. The movie's climactic chase scene in the concrete Los Angeles River gives a good snapshot of grimy, smog-ridden early-Fifties L.A. Director Harold Daniels also helmed Bayou (aka Poor White Trash), a lurid tale featuring notorious screen weirdo Timothy Carey. Screenwriter Steve Fisher penned the fatalistic noirs Dead Reckoning, the Chandler-based Lady in the Lake, and the Cornell Woolrich-based I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize Milburn Stone (Gunsmoke's Doc) as one of the insurance gumshoes.

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