On the surface, there doesn’t seem like Plunder Road has much going for it. No big name stars, a low budget, and a second string Turkish director with a total output of eight films. But holy hell, this is one remarkable slice of noir. From the opening sequence in which a cast of hardboiled crooks pull off a multimillion dollar heist in the pouring rain, to the impossibly tense freeway climax, Plunder Road is one mean little film. Everything superfluous has been stripped away. Dialogue is scarce. Characterizations and back story are vague. All that’s left is an astounding exercise in crime and punishment.
This week at the Hardboiled Hangover, we’re taking a look at some films based on the books of Mickey Spillane – the prolific pulp maestro of sex and carnage. During his time on earth, Spillane (1918 – 2006) sold tens of millions of books, most notably his Mike Hammer series. A private detective who was fueled by rage and moral righteousness, Hammer was a misanthrope who preferred beating confessions out of anyone rather than question them. Spillane put the hard back in hardboiled, with Mike Hammer as his literary tool for vengeance. He certainly wasn’t going for deep insights into the human condition. Mickey wrote to get paid and his books were all about instant gratification of the two-fisted sort.
I, the Jury (1947) was the first Mike Hammer novel published and the first film adaptation. The novel became quickly notorious for its final line, which has become one of the most infamous bits of dialogue in crime fiction history. Ask around, someone will tell you. I, The Jury the film was released in 1953, when cinema wasn’t nearly explicit enough for Spillane’s brand of pornographic justice. This toned down version of the book pretty much follows the same plot, which is a convoluted one that begins with a simple murder and leads to an international art black market, hypnosis, and lots and lots of fisticuffs.
In much of film noir, sometimes the dirtiest thing about the streets is the cops. They either hold strong to such an unbreakable moral code of justice that they’ll destroy anything from a life to their families to ensure its vitality. Or they’re just as corrupt as the gangsters they through behind bars – beating their way to a promotion, pocketing seized cash in the meantime. One wicked example of the latter is the cop at the heart of Bruce Humberstone’s twisting tale of crime and punishment, I Wake Up Screaming (1941), featuring one of the most subtly psychotic cops I’ve seen yet on the Hardboiled Hangover.
Awww yeah…another Robert Siodmak joint. I love this dude! It’s also another Cornell Woolrich adaptation. Phantom Lady, based on his 1942 book of the same name, nicely conveys Woolrich’s motif of the passive male and avenging female that subverts the traditional femme fatale. It’s also a fine example of Siodmak’s German expressionistic style bleeding into the visual trademarks of noir. These elements culminate in a tense, tough little ride into fatalism, cover-ups, and good ol’ American psychopathy.