Here’s the inconvenient truth about unions. They have a tendency to attract the wrong element, and by that I mean they are an irresistible temptation for the M-O-B. That’s the story behind Chicago Confidential (1957): Mickey Partos (John Morley), treasurer of the Workers National Brotherhood, arranges a meeting with Cook County State’s Attorney James Fremont (Brian Keith) to report that the “syndicate” is making inroads into the W.N.B., thanks to the mobbed-up connections of W.N.B. vice-president Ken Harrison (Douglas Kennedy). There’s a war going on between Harrison and W.N.B. president Artie Lange (Dick Foran) …and it looks as though Harrison has the upper hand (temporarily) when he has Partos rubbed out before Mickey can sit down for a chinwag with Fremont.
Harrison’s elaborate plan to frame Lange for Partos’ murder hits a temporary snag when the murder weapon (a Smith & Wesson belonging to Artie) left at the scene of the crime is picked up by rumdum “Candymouth” Duggan (Elisha Cook, Jr.). The syndicate is able to track down Duggan, and he’s persuaded to tell Fremont he witnessed Lange gun down Partos. Another witness, Sylvia Clarkson (Beverly Tyler), also perjures herself on the stand and having been convicted of the crime, it looks as if the state is going to offer Artie The Chair. Only Artie’s fiancée, Laura Barton (Beverly Garland), knows Lange is innocent—but will she able to convince Fremont, who’s benefitting from the notoriety of the case as a stepping stone to higher office?
Chicago Confidential has been described in many reviews as a film noir, and I can only guess it’s because folks often believe “crime picture = noir.” There’s really not much noir in Confidential (well, some of its delightfully seamy milieu might qualify) …but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The B-picture was inspired by a best-selling novel written by Jack Lait (a one-time editor at The New York Daily Mirror) and Lee Mortimer, though little of the book’s actual content made it into the movie. Lait and Mortimer collaborated on a number of other “Confidential” titles; one of them, New York Confidential, also made it to the big screen in 1955 (a splendid write-up by Our Lady of Great Caftan can be found here), and all that was really used was the title—Lait and Mortimer don’t receive credit on that film. The screenplay for Confidential is credited to Raymond T. Marcus—the nom de blacklist of writer Bernard Gordon, who also wrote The Case Against Brooklyn (1958), a B-flick that I kept thinking of when I watched Confidential. (Gordon wasn’t able to use his real name until 1963’s 55 Days at Peking; in 1997, he began to retroactively receive credit for a good many of the films for which he wrote…but he was understandably a mite bitter about the whole experience.)
Chicago Confidential isn’t a particularly inspired film. It does not break any new ground in the police procedural. But here’s the thing: while some people are powerless to resist cheesy monster flicks or repetitive B-westerns, if a movie features guns and cops and mob guys—deal me in. Confidential does have some great things going for it; I loved Brian Keith in this one, as an ambitious D.A. who can ride the Lange case all the way to the Governorship…but his fundamental decency dictates that he do whatever he can to make sure Foran’s union boss doesn’t fry when evidence clearly shows Dick was framed. (Because real-life public officials rarely act in this fashion, you can tell this is a work of fiction.) Beverly Garland also turns in sensational work (I ran this again a second time for mi madre, commenting that “her favorite actress” was in it…and she knew right off the bat to whom I was referring) in a role tailor-made for her trademark “take-no-guff” kind of women.
It was nice to see Dick Foran in a part that didn’t require him to sit tall in the saddle while crooning a Western ditty (yes, I know he was capable of other roles…but for some reason the oaters always stick out in my mind)—I just wish he had a bit more time onscreen (and he seems fairly nonchalant for a guy who has an upcoming date with “Ol’ Sparky”). Elisha Cook, Jr. is in his element as the bum who momentarily cocks up the scheme to frame Foran; Andrew “Grover” Leal will be gobsmacked to learn that Cook manages to stick around for at least four reels in this one.
The rest of the cast appears to be borrowed from a Lone Ranger casting sheet: Douglas Kennedy plays Harrison (though I think he could have put a bit more menace in his portrayal—it might because he has to answer to the real boss, played by Gavin Gordon), and I spotted Ranger regulars Harlan Warde, Dennis Moore (as a jury foreman), Thomas B. Henry (as a judge), and Jim Bannon (as the pilot near the end) as well. Fans of The Adventures of Superman might also get a giggle seeing Phyllis “Gypsy” Coates (as Keith’s wife) and John “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” Hamilton (a defense attorney). Other familiar faces include Checkmate’s Anthony George (this was the first movie in which he used “Anthony George,” having previously gone by “Tony George” and “Ott George”), Jack Lambert, Paul Langton, Beverly Tyler, and George “Cyrus Tankersley” Cisar (as the proprietor of a seedy nightclub).
There are a number of offbeat touches in Chicago Confidential: there’s a whisper of a white slavery ring being operated the syndicate (well, maybe not so much a whisper as sotto voce) and part of the plot turns on a nightclub impressionist (Buddy Lewis) who’s used to cast doubt on Foran’s alibi. The great thing about Confidential is that it’s over and done within 73 minutes; it’s available on MOD DVD, released by MGM as part of their “Limited Edition Collection” in 2011…but since most of those titles have been relocated to Kino-Lorber it’s possible this one may make it to Blu-ray in the future.