Roadblock 1951

All Honest Joe wants for Christmas is Diane. All Diane wants for Christmas is money. More specifically, a wealthy sap who can supply her with the lavish lifestyle she dreams about. Over the course of Roadblock‘s 73 minutes, the audience witnesses Joe’s integrity completely spiral down into the darkest parts of immorality. While the turning point of the film occurs on Christmas Eve, when the holiday spirit changes Diane’s heart, Joe’s manic desire for her has already pushed him past the point of no return.

Harold Daniels’ Roadblock kinda feels like a lesser noir. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table or possess a unique take on the sensibilities and themes already firmly established. But, for all of its flatness, it’s a highly captivating film that barrels through its twists and turns efficiently. What the film does present, whether it’s worn out territory or not, Daniels presents it well with a keen knack for entrapping the leading man in an ever-tightening grip of doom. It’s really entertaining as hell.

On his flight home to Los Angeles, insurance investigator Joe Peters (Charles McGraw) meets Diane (Joan Dixon), who cons the airline into believing she’s his wife in order to get a discounted fare. Joe’s a straight-shooter, so at first her swindle turns him off. Then a storm forces the plane to make an emergency landing, so he has to share a hotel room with her arranged by the airlane (who thinks they’re married, after all).

Over the course of the night, Joe falls for her. But she explains she has expensive tastes and there’s no way she’ll settle for Joe’s measly salary. The two part ways in L.A.

Joe’s sent to investigate high profile racketeer Kendall Webb (Lowell Gilmore), who’s suspected in a string of fur coat robberies. Coincidentally, Webb is the one Diane has her claws sunk into. In an act of bravura only an insurance investigator would have (I guess), Joe breaks into Diane’s apartment and puts up a Christmas tree – tinsel and all. Whatta creep! His Christmas gusto starts to wear away at Diane though, and she soon realizes she loves him too. Still, she’s worried she won’t be content on his shitty paychecks.

Hey man, at least Diane is honest. Most femme fatales simply manipulate men into doing their bidding, leaving their scruples in the dust. Diane never asks anything of Joe, she just gives it to him straight – evidenced in one delicious bit of dialogue:

Diane: “Maybe someday you’ll be able to afford nice things.”
Joe: “Like what?”
Diane: “Like me.”

Joe decides he’s gotta have Diane no matter what. So he goes to Webb with a business proposition. He knows of an enormous shipment of old bills being transported via train to the federal reserve. He gives Webb all the details, including the serial numbers of the satchels containing the cash, and all he wants in return is a third of the loot. Webb agrees, and Joe signs his soul over to the crime gods.

This psuedo business meeting takes place in a shoe store Webb uses as a front. It’s great, Joe goes in and immediately a couple suits tell him they don’t have anything in his size. Then he starts going through boxes, finding them all empty. A shoe store with no shoes makes for a shitty front, but the watching Joe open empty box after empty box is pretty funny.

Roadblock Charles McGraw

Now it’s Christmas Eve and Diane finds herself alone at a bar. Webb’s gone away to plan the train heist, leaving her to celebrate the holiday with a shot glass. It’s here that she realizes she really loves Joe, money or not. She dashes to his apartment to tell him so and the next thing y’know they’re married. Like I said, Roadblock barrels along…

Ironically, Diane would’ve been with Joe regardless if the heist was pulled off or not. But once she catches wind of it, she’s disgusted. I never really bought her drastic shift in motivation from money to love. It happens so suddenly, but then again, it does happen on Christmas Eve, which is an infamous night for changing hearts. Joan Dixon plays Diane effectively cold at first, then when she’s all about love she becomes a much more animated character. I believe she’s just as guilty for Joe’s fate as Joe’s raging boner for her.

Joe is part of the team of insurance investigators looking into the heist, and much like Walter Neff, the noose quickly tightens around his throat. Daniels delivers a solid film noir, albeit one that’s not very inventive. The cast is terrific, and gravelly-voiced Charles McGraw is a top notch leading man for the B-noir column. I enjoyed the shit out of the entire thing and thanks to its brisk pace, there’s never a dull moment.

Patrick Cooper

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