The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Good Die Young

Four actors that I like a lot but were never huge stars. A British crime drama with touches of American film noir. Oh, and I've never heard of this all. Released in 1954, The Good Die Young popped up recently on Turner Classic Movie's schedule, and I couldn't pass up the chance.

On a quiet night on the streets of London, four men sit in a car, one of them, 'Rave' Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey) passing pistols out to the other three. The quartet is readying themselves to pull off a robbery that will net them each some serious money. What drove them to this point? How did they get here? How did they become so desperate that these four non-criminal types would turn to armed robbery? Rave, Joe Halsey (Richard Basehart), Eddie Blaine (John Ireland) and Mike Morgan (Stanley Baker) are just that though, incredibly desperate with nowhere else to turn. Can they somehow pull the job off?

Tweaked from a novel by Richard MacAulay, 'Die' certainly sounded pretty good to me. Director Lewis Gilbert's film was transplanted from America to London, a nice touch, and certainly pays tribute to its American film noir influences. Filmed in a shadowy, moody black and white, the look of the film reflects the pretty dark, doomed tone of the story. I liked composer Georges Auric's score, appropriately dark and foreboding, building up to the finale we all could see coming. As well, the acting is solid across the board, but I still managed to come away disappointed here. I'm disappointed I was disappointed too, mostly because I really wanted to like this one.

What mostly caught my eye was the casting of the four leads. Laurence Harvey, Richard Basehart, John Ireland and Stanley Baker?!? And in a quasi-film noir?!? The excitment unfortunately ends there. Following the quick, hard-hitting, mysterious opening, the rest of 'Die' is all flashback leading up to what we've already seen. The story bounces among the four different storylines/main characters, the quartet eventually meeting in a London bar and bonding over their generally pathetic situations. They meet everyday, drinking early and often even though none of them really have any money. Obviously, this part was necessary to show the depths they've all sunk to, but they get tedious...very quickly. The movie only runs 94 minutes, but it feels significantly longer. I guess I was expecting more of the crime drama angle so my expectations may have been slightly off, but I still struggled in those later portions before the actual crime.

The acting is still pretty decent even if it just gets to be one thing on top of another late. Harvey becomes the villain, his Rave a suave, smooth, debonaire gentleman who married Eve (Margaret Leighton), a very rich, well to do woman who's got a few years on him. Basehart's Joe is trying to get his British wife, Mary (Joan Collins), to come back to the states with him, ripping her from his evil mother-in-law's grip, (played by Freda Jackson). An infantryman in Germany, Ireland's Eddie is married to Denise (Gloria Grahame), a small-time actress aspiring to be more and with her co-stars too. Lastly, there's Baker's Mike, a boxer trying to leave the ring with the little money he's saved with his loving wife, Angela (Rene Ray), but her family keeps causing them issues. Of the four, Harvey and Baker represent themselves the best, or at least in the most interesting fashion. Also look for Robert Morley in a one-scene part as Rave's father who hates everything that his son has become.

If there is a saving grace in 'Die,' it's the last 20 minutes or so, the flashbacks left behind as the actual robbery develops. Harvey's Rave manages to convince them all to go in on the job, the amateur crooks deciding whether the reward is worth risk. If noirs and crime dramas have taught us anything, it's that crime just will not pay in the long run, and that foreboding sense comes true here. It's the ending you would expect here. I wanted to like the movie a whole lot more, but it loses its momentum in the first hour. Worth seeking out for the cast, but disappointing on most other levels.

The Good Die Young (1954): **/****

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