Monday, May 18, 2009

Flaxy Martin (USA, 1949)

Walter Colby (Zachary Scott) is the pompous, self-righteous lawyer of mobster Hap Ritchie (Douglas Kennedy) who is sick of getting Hap's henchmen off the hook all the time. Flaxy Martin (Virginia Mayo) is a hard as nails two-faced bitch pretending to be in love with Walter but who is actually simply another tool of Hap's. When Peggy (Helen Westcott), a false witness hired by Flaxy and Hap to supply the killer Caesar (Jack Overman) with an alibi, tries to blackmail for more money, Flaxy and Caesar kill her. Walter, in a fit of chivalry, decides to confess to the murder to save Flaxy from jail, but a new false witness destroys his manslaughter defense and he gets sent up for twenty years. Escaping, he finds rest with Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone), a nice country librarian but in no time flat, Roper (Elisha Cook, Jr.) finds Walter. Soon, he and Nora are handcuffed together, watching their grave being dug. They escape and make it back to town, where Walter goes out on his mission of revenge. Finding Caesar dead, Walter almost gets dusted by Roper, who ends up doing a nose dive off the side of a building. Finally, at he big showdown at Flaxy's, the Blond Poison (as the film is titled in Germany) tries to double-cross both Walter and Hap but ends up getting caught just as she is wiping her finger prints off the gun she used to shoot Hap. Walter, $40,000.00 in his pocket, tries to convince Nora to disappear with him, but she refuses even as she declares her love, stating she doesn't want to run, for running takes you nowhere. She leaves him, Walter grumbles a bit before deciding that true love will survive the two years he'll probably have to go to jail. Flaxy Martin ends with a nice little shot of the two holding hands as they walk into the police station, the camera coming in close on the two halves of a separated pair of handcuffs that they each wear.
A quick moving little film that entertains without wallowing in its message, full of familiar faces that are fun to see. Modesto-born Richard L. Bare is hardly a familiar name in films, as he seldom made feature films. When he did, they were low budgeters like Flaxy Martin or This Side of the Law (1950) or bombs like his legendary last film, Wicked, Wicked (1973). In his twilight years, Bare did a lot of television work, but for much of life his most regular directorial activity was a never-ending series of shorts that began with So You Want to Give Up Smoking (1942) and ended with So Your Wife Wants to Work (1956).
A calm director not given to visual tricks or experimentation, Bare's solid, no-nonsense approach is a great asset for Flaxy Martin. The film is no undiscovered classic, but it is definitely a well-made ride that keeps going quick enough for one to ignore the one or two unbelievable aspects of its relatively direct, uncomplicated script. Scriptwriter David Lang rode off into the sunset after this film, never again writing a script that didn't feature a horse, a six shooter and chaps, but Flaxy Martin is tight enough to make one think that he gave up crime dramas much too early. Special mention much be given to the music, an exceptionally striking, at times almost classical score by William Lava, a composer of stock music and for b-films who spent his last decades doing the music for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck shorts.
The cast is a fine one, featuring numerous familiar faces with forgotten names. The title character, actually a secondary character in the movie itself, is played by Virginia Mayo, who comes across like a satanic combination of Mamie Van Doren and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Most people remember her as the mole in White Heat (1949), but fans of bad cinema tend to think first of the legendary The Silver Chalice (1954) and Castle of Evil (1966). Mayo would've probably had a more active career in her twilight years had she not chosen to eschew television work. Lead lady number two, the good girl, is Dorothy Malone. Her striking eyes flash in many a forgotten film, her career being long but unspectacular, her roles always shorter the better the film. As late as 1992 she was to be seen in a small part as Hazel Dobkins in Basic Instinct. Elisha Cook, Jr. is there for the ride, doing one of his patented turns as Roper, a killer whose bravado matches the size of his gun, and character actor Douglas Kennedy is once again the heavy, pretending to be Robert Ryan.
The weakest aspect of the film is actually the much too smooth Zachary Scott as Walter Colby. Scott, who died of a malignant brain tumor in his home town of Austin on October 3rd, 1965, is an oddly dislikable hero. Slick, loud, self-righteous and full of himself, he is much too conceited a person for the viewer to sympathize with. Why Nora falls for him is a bit hard to understand, for he is not a pleasant guest and looks like a cheap film star. That he would even suggest taking the rap for Virginia is also hard to swallow, for despite his constant pledges of how much he loves her, only a retard would suggest something like that. Why Hap didn't simply have him shot in the first place instead of sending him up (and thus giving him a good reason to sing, if he wanted to) is also a bit unrealistic. Still, Flaxy Martin doesn't bore and is quick, and that is what counts.

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