‘Loophole’ (1954)

[18 October 2013]

By Michael Barrett

This surprisingly tense noir, shot on the streets of Los Angeles, begins with a stentorian narrator intoning forebodingly about our hero, bank teller Mike Donovan (Barry Sullivan), who’s about to become a patsy when his cash drawer is robbed in a clever manner. We know from the start who’s guilty—a tubby middle-aged fellow (Don Beddoe) and his platinum blonde, cigarette-smoking bad-girl in a sweater (Mary Beth Hughes). With his faithful wife (Dorothy Malone) by his side, Mike is able to convince everyone of his innocence except the film’s real antagonist, a bull-headed, two-fisted, toxically stupid investigator (Charles McGraw) for the bond company, who hounds the couple nearly into debt by causing Mike to lose several jobs. It never occurs to them to call an attorney or file charges for harassment; this is the Fifties.

The regular figures of law and order are stand-up guys who believe in Mike’s innocence, but that one bad apple ratchets up the tension and frustration like nobody’s business, giving the viewer an unrelenting sense of unfairness barreling through the Donovans’ lives like a Studebaker. It all ends up in a Malibu beach house that looks for all the world like the same one in Kiss Me Deadly, also about a two-fisted hammerhead. The superb McGraw embodies the flipside of the supposed crusader for justice who takes the law into his own hands—in this case without realizing he’s just plain wrong. This gives the movie its subversive little charge. This Allied Artists item is now available on demand from Warner Archive.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/175619-loophole/