The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

He Ran All the Way

I usually try and come up with a unique intro for all my reviews, but I hit a wall every so often.  It's usually in those movies that aren't particularly good or particularly bad.  The classics and the awful ones are typically the easiest ones to write.  It is the movies in the middle that don't leave a huge impression where I struggle to come up with something.  That's all I could think of while watching 1951's He Ran All the Way, a film noir benefited by performances from its two stars. 

A small-time thief with no aspirations to be anything else, Nick Roby (John Garfield) finds himself on the run after a payroll heist goes horrifically wrong. He gets his hand on over $20,000, but his partner is killed in the getaway, and Roby is forced to shoot a policeman.  Believing the police have his description, Roby hides out in a community pool where he meets Peggy Dobbs (Shelley Winters), a young woman who works at a bakery and lives at home with her father (Wallace Ford), mother (Selena Royle), and younger brother (Robert Hyatt). He makes a quick impression on Peggy and gets an invite to her house.  Looking for a place to hide out until the heat dies down, Roby kidnaps the Dobbs, but it feels like a matter of time until the police manhunt closes in for good.  What will Roby do when he's backed into a corner?

Tortured crooks dealing with a variety of inner demons are nothing new in movies, especially film noirs where tortured individuals are almost a necessity to get in the door.  Garfield's Nick Roby reminded me of a lot of those anti-heroes you'll see in any number of film noirs.  He's in his 30s but has never amounted to much.  His mother (Gladys George) is constantly berating him to get up and do something with his life, but Roby just doesn't seem interested in doing anything else than a life of crime. But even trapped by his own self, Roby is a worrier, a paranoid crook who somehow knows his final destination is not going to be a pleasant one.  He's on his own with no one to turn to, always having had to fend for himself.

Which brings me to the good and bad parts of his kidnapping the Dobbs in their apartment.  It starts off innocently enough as Roby is just looking for a place to lay low for a day or so.  His paranoia and inner demons get the best of him as he convinces himself that everyone is against him and the cops are getting closer.  Using my vast medical knowledge, all I can come up with is that he's some sort of schizophrenic.  He goes from one end of the spectrum to the other with a snap of the finger.  This really comes to fruition in the end as his paranoia finally gets the best of him, turning the one person on his side against him.

Two things drive me nuts here.  One, Winters' character falls hard for Roby within about 18 minutes of meeting him.  As they hole up in the apartment, the incredibly stupid duo decide to run away together because what they have is a true love.  Really?  That quickly?  Is Winters' Peggy that frustrated with her life that a cop killer is her best option out there?  From Roby's perspective, it kind of makes sense.  He's always been alone and finally has met someone who likes him for what he is.  Plot developments that make no real sense but are necessary for the sake of the story reek of laziness, and this was a big one.

The other thing is the actual kidnapping.  Messed up and rather stupid crook that he is, Roby looks at this kidnapping as some sort of bizarre family get together.  He buys them lots of food and gets pissed when the Dobbs refuse to touch the stuff.  Roby threatens to SHOOT them if they don't eat.  That's right, a cop killer being hunted down by the whole police force has a limit.  Don't eat his food? Oh, you'd better watch out.  It is a scene that I'm guessing is supposed to be tense but ends up being laughable instead.  The premise that this kidnapped family is supposed to welcome their kidnapper as one of their own was just too much for me.  I get it, Roby is a twisted, messed up individual, but there's a point where it isn't believable anymore.

An interesting premise here if nothing else, reminding me of movies like Suddenly and The Desperate Hours but not handled as well.  Garfield's performance is worth watching even if it feels a little off at times, and Winters makes a believable character of this young woman looking for something more, something better out of life.  The apartment setting is like an additional character and does add a dimension of claustrophobia to the proceedings.  A mild recommendation but nothing more than that.

He Ran All the Way <---TCM clips (1951): ** 1/2 /****

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