Chicago Confidential is an odd duck in movie terms. It's not a bad movie, but it's not good either. You can easily see it playing in some dumpy drive-in or cheap second-run theater. The oddest thing? I can't help but wonder if district attorneys across the country paid to have it made. It's almost a recruiting video for the profession, wrapped up nicely in a quick 75 minutes.
The district attorney in Chicago, Jim Fremont (Brian Keith) seems destined for bigger and better things, maybe even in the governor's office. For now though, he has one huge case in front of him that could make or break his career aspirations. The head of a union, Artie Blaine (Dick Foran), has been accused of murder, killing one of his staff who was supposed to have confidential papers that could possibly cripple the union. It seems like an open and shut case with evidence mounting up against Blaine, but Fremont begins to smell a rat, and he's right. With help from Blaine's girlfriend, Laura (Beverly Garland), Fremont tries to prove the murder was a frame set up by the mob interested in infiltrating the up to now clean union.
Aired recently on TCM in a Dick Foran tribute day, 'Confidential' is a weird one. At just 75 minutes, it plays like an extended TV episode, maybe a two-part episode if anything. With such a short run time, it is too short to make much of an impression and not long enough to be truly bad. As it is, this Sidney Salkow-directed film just sort of is. Not bad, not good, just sort of there. The narration spells every little thing out for us as a moronic audience, and the sets look like they were pilfered from a police procedural TV show.
So why watch this one? It's unabashed desire to show how cool district attorneys is certainly unique if not interesting. You can see Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy of Law and Order taking that leading part that Keith plays. Strong, resolute, and undeterred by the threats of organized crime, Keith's D.A. Fremont is going to accomplish his objectives no matter the detours thrown at him. But it goes beyond that. When he starts to think Foran's Blaine is innocent, he goes on an investigation of his own. In the final scene when everything has been righted, the narrator says proudly "Nothing can stop a district attorney" or something of that ilk. Subtle it is not. Stupidly entertaining? A little.
In a part that doesn't give him much room to flex and show off his acting ability, Keith is serviceable as D.A. Fremont. He's doing the best he can with a poorly written, sometimes dull character. Foran similarly isn't given much to do other than looked worried and/or angry. Garland as the crusading girlfriend ends up being more shrill than anything else, grating with every passing scene. The bright spots? The bad guys, evil in everything they do and reveling in their despicable actions. Douglas Kennedy plays Harrison, the mobster using Blaine's union as a means of moving organized crime into the city. His two brutal thugs are played by John Indrisano and Jack Lambert, both uncredited parts that deserved some more screentime. Elisha Cook Jr. is good in a small part as Candymouth Dixon, a lush who accidentally witnesses the dumping of the body early on. Later the host of the 1960s classic Home Run Derby, Mark Scott plays a cop working with Fremont.
Through all of its faults, 'Confidential' is certainly trying to be something different. In terms of police procedurals, we see the wide variety of techniques used by law enforcement in the 1950s, especially an interesting bit about voice analysis as a key piece of evidence surfaces. But in the end, it never amounts to a whole lot. It's a generally dull story made tolerable by Keith and Foran in the leads.
Chicago Confidential <---trailer (1957): **/****