The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Las Vegas Story

Cities like New York, L.A., and Chicago may have inspired more stories and probably more movies, but running a close fourth is Las Vegas, the City of Lights.  Movies like the original Ocean's 11, the remake, Vegas Vacation, The Hangover, and many others are set in Sin City.  Gambling, women, entertainment and debauchery left and right just translates well I guess.  Made right in the boom as the city became the city we know today, 1952's The Las Vegas Story presents a desert town full of love triangles, robberies, fraud, embezzlement, and of course, murder.

What caught my eye with this film noirish story was the cast, but I ended up liking it as a whole and not just because of the talent involved.  Certain outdoor scenes were obviously filmed in Las Vegas for any shots of the Strip or the hotels, but other than those, it's pretty clear most scenes were shot indoors at the Hollywood studios.  It's not a big deal really, but don't expect lots of live shots of the city.  The story starts off as one thing and ends up going down a very different route.  Lots of different elements must have been thrown into the blender, and when it came out, there was The Las Vegas Story.

Taking a cross country trip, husband and wife Lloyd Rollins (Vincent Price) and Linda Rollins (Jane Russell) make a stop in Las Vegas.  Lloyd is acting suspiciously, but that is overshadowed by Linda, who worked for years in the city as a lounge singer and left under less than ideal conditions.  She left behind her fiance who is now a detective on the LVPD, Dave Andrews (Victor Mature).  They awkwardly meet up with some baggage from their past, but that's just the beginning. Lloyd has a money issue (or lack of) and is quickly in the hole.  He pawns off one of Linda's necklaces, but the casino/club owner (Robert J. Wilke) he sold it to ends up dead and the necklace goes missing.  An insurance investigator (Brad Dexter) is on the case as well, where it seems anyone could be the murderer.

The plot detour works, making this love triangle more of a driving force to the story than the focus point.  Of course because of that, the story is all over the place, and not always in a good way.  It's still well-made and entertaining as these twists and detours lead to a great ending.  SPOILERS  The actual killer is Dexter's insurance investigator.  Dexter almost always played a heavy so it's no real surprise when it is revealed he is the killer.  Mature's Det. Andrews figures it out though and goes after Linda -- the kidnapped love of his life -- who Dexter took prisoner.  Watch the showdown HERE.   The finale features some great stuntwork involving a helicopter chasing a car in and around an abandoned airfield.  Even after the chase, there's a great cat and mouse game between Dexter and Mature in the wide open, dusty and windy expanses of this airfield.  END OF SPOILERS

Looking at the casting, RKO Studios didn't always have the biggest names in their movies, but that makes these type of movies appeal to me more.  Jane Russell is drop dead gorgeous, but too often that's all her roles required of her -- and to be fair, her character is neglected in the last 20 minutes.  When given the chance, she showed a knack for playing tough femme fatale who can pull off some humor and be sexy at the same time.  As for the looks department, 'Vegas Story' does display her proudly, including one silhouette shower scene that seems tame now.  A beauty on screen, she's often stereotyped as a body with no acting ability, but she is a strong actress with the right part.

Mature and Price provide some fireworks as the love interests.  As an actor, Mature is underrated in my book the same way Russell is.  He's got quite the presence when the camera focuses on him, and maybe he doesn't have the greatest range.  But if you do what you're good at and find those appropriate roles, who cares?  As a police detective scorned by his fiance, Mature gets to do the romantic scenes and the action too so it's the best of both worlds.  Price was a versatile actor and shows it here as a character who's motivations are left in the shadows until the end.  Horror, comedy, or thriller, Price could do them all.  Dexter is Dexter, and Jay C. Flippen has a funny part as a veteran cop who thinks he knows everything.

My only other complaint about this movie is Hoagy Carmichael being cast in a supporting role.  A bandleader, singer and composer, Carmichael plays Happy, a piano player who used to work with Russell's Linda.  Russell was a singer as well as an actress, and she had a decent voice but this also means she sings in her movies.  In some situations -- like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -- a quick song is fine because it fits with the tone of the movie.  But a murder mystery noir full of deceit and infidelity?  Not so much.  Still, we get songs with Russell and Carmichael singing, like HERE, instead of focusing on the more interesting, more entertaining storyline.  Still, with all that said, the movie is worth a watch.  It's a mess of a movie, but an entertaining one at that.

The Las Vegas Story <---trailer (1952): ** 1/2 /****

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