Crime Wave (1953) – Movie Review



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Crime Wave, from 1953, was an amazing crime noir classic starring Sterling Hayden, Phyllis Kirk, and a young Charles Bronson, among others. It’s a great film with a gritty crime flavor and plenty of the local footage that I enjoy in old films like this.

The film opens with a group of criminals ‘Doc’ Penny (Ted de Corsia), Gat Morgan (Nedrick Young) and Charles Bronson as Ben Hastings, who are holding up a gas station. Doc is the boss, and the other guys are his hoodlum henchmen. Interesting that both Nedrick Young and Charles Bronson were both in House of Wax with Vincent Price, and both were evil henchmen there was well. And as I’ll get to later, Andre Day-Toth directed that film as well.

Well, anyhow, after slugging the attendant they rob the place, around the time a motorcycle cop shows up. When he investigates they shoot him, but he gets a shot at Gat Morgan before dying. Gat drives off, with a bullet in him, and they finish the robbery and leave. The attendant later revives and calls the police, and it’s interesting to see how different the LA dispatch looked in the early 1950’s, handling calls and so on. There’s a cool degree of old realism to this film.

Gat get to a phone and calls Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson, of Oklahoma fame) who knows him from his past years in prison, in the joint. His wife Ellen is played by Phyllis Kirk. She was in House of Wax as well. Many familiar faces. She tells him to ignore the calls from these baddies from his past.

Well, the investigation is on. Sterling Hayden is Det. Sims, on scene at the gas station of the crime.
He’s just great here as this hard-edged cop, chomping away on toothpicks through the film. I’ve seen him as the baddie in Asphalt Jungle, and I liked seeing him as the detective in charge for a change. He’s a no-nonsense investigator driving this film.

So, soon there’s a lookout for men who meet the description of the guy at the gas station. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I love in watching old films is seeing area footage at the time: the gas station, the interior of a bar, the airport, the city hall and so on. It’s realistic, convincing element in films like this that help make the narrative convincing. I also love the sound quality at the city hall, how there’s the open sound of large rooms that you can really hear when the detectives talk. That echo-ey quality.

They suspect Steve might be someone they go to, but are unable to reach him on the phone. Steve ignores it, but he’s got a defeated realization that “Once you do a bit they never leave ya alone”, but she convinces him to leave it.

Will he escape his life of crime or fall back into it? Well, check out this film to find out.

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