The Grissom Gang

The Grissom Gang is a good afternoon's crime film.

The Grissom Gang

D: Robert Aldrich (1971); with Ralph Waite, Wesley Addy, Kim Darby, Irene Dailey, Scott Wilson, Tony Musante, Robert Lansing, Connie Stevens. Based on James Hadley Chase's novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, The Grissom Gang opens with heiress Barbara Blandish (Darby) being kidnapped by a small-time gang of Depression-era Midwestern grotesques. Before long, the penny-ante goons are pushed out of the picture, and she's in the hands of a bigger, meaner gang. The spoiled, snotty heiress is quickly given a lesson in reality. The ruthless Ma Grissom (Dailey) beats the holy snot out of Barbara when she tries to escape. Slim (Wilson), a homicidal half-wit, gets a crush on her and assumes the role of protector. Soon an unhealthy sort of relationship begins to form between the two. Barbara's revulsion turns to a mix of pity and attachment, a sort of Stockholm Syndrome that's driven by her need to survive and by the scant good that she sees in Slim. Meanwhile, investigator Dave Fenner (a sober Lansing) presses ahead and tracks down the gang, which lands Barbara in a swanky art deco apartment/prison. Veteran crime-film director Aldrich made the best of Chase's novel, with the centerpiece performances being Wilson as Slim and Darby as Barbara Blandish. Wilson turns the murderous yokel Slim into something very near a sympathetic character in his pathetic and wrongheaded attraction to the heiress. The hair-trigger violent side of his character comes out in his will to protect her at all costs. Darby (a singularly unappealing actress) brings some real depth to the heiress, doing whatever she must to stay alive. The movie's supporting roles don't get overlooked, though. Tony Musante has an oily charm as thug Eddie Fagan, and Connie Stevens has a great time as his girlfriend, the Ditsy-Blonde-Gun-Moll. The movie's seedy tone captures the dead-end Depression nicely, in a bleak Midwestern summer that has all the characters sweating and stinking through their suits. It's worth noting that nobody comes out well in Aldrich's world-view, with the heiress' father wanting nothing to do with his daughter after her experience made her into "damaged goods." Prohibition, simpleton gangsters, an uppity heiress, a hard-boiled investigator, and lots of gunplay -- that's a good afternoon's crime film.

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