You may recall that on Sunday (though it seems so long ago—doesn’t it?) I did a post here on the blog that briefly described my happy dance over our free Epix movie channel weekend. Meanwhile, at the paying gig, I wrote up an anniversary essay on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, which made its radio debut on June 17, 1947. In its abbreviated first season on NBC Radio (as a summer replacement for Bob Hope), the role of Raymond Chandler’s “white knight in a trench coat” was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Van Heflin…but when the show reappeared in the fall of 1948 over CBS, dependable radio veteran Gerald Mohr was the actor telling listeners to “get this and get it straight.”
I honestly think Mohr was a sensational radio actor, capable of handling both drama and comedy (he turns up in a few Our Miss Brooks broadcasts as French teacher Jacques Monet…and he’s hilarious), but like his fellow wireless performer Frank Lovejoy, Mohr wasn’t always effective in front of a camera. This was reinforced by Thrilling Days of Yesteryear godfather Scott Clevenger of World O’Crap fame, who weighed in on Facebook with this review: “I’m not some starry-eyed bobbysoxer fantasizing about the secret lives of celebrities, but some quiet evenings, when I’m absently stirring my Ovaltine and staring out the window as snow silently blankets the yard, I can’t help wondering if—deep down, in his heart of hearts—Gerald Mohr ever wanted to chuck his career and become an actor.” (Talk about needing some aloe for that burn!)
Now, I laughed out loud at this because Scott does have a way with words (it’s his living), but I teasingly suggested that he only felt that way because he was scarred after seeing Gerald in Invasion USA (1952)—admittedly not one of Mohr’s finest cinematic hours. After reminding me that Mohr was also quite fragrant in 1959’s The Angry Red Planet (and not in a pleasant way), Scott continued with this short playlet:
DIRECTOR: Say Gerald, how do you see this character?
MOHR: As a generic tough guy without feelings or motivations who recites words in a lifeless monotone as he bulldozes his way toward a paycheck…
DIRECTOR: Perfect! And we’re live in three…two…one…
But I know that deep down in his very heart of hearts…Scott really doesn’t care for Gerald Mohr. As such, I couldn’t help but suppress a snicker when I chose this week’s “Overlooked Films on Tuesday” because my man Mohr has the leading male role—the 1959 crime caper Guns, Girls and Gangsters, in which Gerald squares off with the irrepressible Mamie Van Doren.
In Guns, Mohr plays ex-con Charles “Chuck” Wheeler, who’s hatched a foolproof scheme to rob an armored car that meets a meticulous time schedule on its trek from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to deliver its take of casino cash. Like Danny Ocean of Ocean’s Eleven, Chuck is assembling a team to pull off this heist (though owing to Guns’ independent low-budget origins, it’ll be a small crew); he’s already enlisted the help of electronics whiz (and dipsomaniac) Lou Largo (Paul Fix), but Wheeler really needs to get big-time operator Joe Darren (Grant Richards) on board; Darren’s bidness is the black market, and he’s got the connections to launder the casino take (because the bills that go to the bank are all numbered in sequence).
Fortunately for Chuck, Joe needs money…and he’s ready to sign on the dotted line where the caper is concerned. Chuck will also be getting Darren’s lady friend, nightclub chanteuse Vi Victor, as a confederate, doing some of the logistics needed to ensure the success of the heist. Here’s the twist: Vi is married to Chuck’s old roommate Mike Bennett (Lee Van Cleef) from the pen, who helped plan it all and who’ll be getting $700,000 once they pull off the robbery (the take is guesstimated at a cool two million). Mike’s only got a few more months to serve on his sentence and he’ll have a nice little nest egg to go with his twenty bucks and a new suit.
What could possibly go wrong with this scenario? Well, it seems that Vi wrote Mike in care of The Grey Bar Hotel asking for a divorce…and jealous type that he is, he crashes out and heads to Vegas to hug her and squeeze her and call her his own. A situation like this is liable to scotch the entire robbery. (Spoiler warning: it scotches the entire robbery.)
Guns, Girls and Gangsters is never going to be mistaken for great cinematic art—as if seeing Mamie Van Doren’s name in the credits hadn’t hipped you to that already. If Jayne Mansfield was “the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe,” then Van Doren was “the poor man’s Jayne Mansfield.” Not that there was anything wrong with that: I prefer Mamie’s oeuvre as a rule, mostly because while she wasn’t going to ever be mistaken for a great actress she came across as completely genuine—you never saw anything phony in Mamie. Her movies are for those willing to park their brain in neutral and just be entertained: Untamed Youth (1957), The Beat Generation (1959), Girls Town (1959), College Confidential (1960), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960)…and my personal favorite, the cult classic High School Confidential (1958).
Van Doren’s films are often punctuated with musical numbers performed by Mamie herself; Guns features two songs (well, she does work in a nightclub) penned by tunesmiths Buddy Bregman and Stanley Styne, Anything Your Heart Desires and Meet Me Halfway, Baby. Guns is one of the better Van Doren vehicles I’ve watched even though Mamie doesn’t get to be as kittenish as she is in, say, High School Confidential. And while I liked Mohr’s delightfully sleazy Wheeler, he doesn’t have any chemistry with Van Doren—their whole “romance” isn’t too convincing.
The film manages to deliver some nice suspense towards the end even if you’ve doped out in advance that things are turning to merde (crime does not pay, folks) thanks to Robert E. Kent’s screenplay, adapted from a story by Paul Gangelin and Jerry Sackheim. (Among the interesting items on Kent’s c.v.: two entries in RKO’s Great Gildersleeve franchise including Gildersleeve’s Ghost .) Holding the directorial reins is Edward L. Cahn, whose helmed quite a few Crime Does Not Pay and Our Gang shorts at MGM before finding his niche as a second-feature director at Columbia in the 1950s and finishing out the decade with United Artists and AIP (among his efforts are the delightfully demented Creature with the Atom Brain  and his best feature, It! The Terror from Beyond Space ).
Cahn’s biographical entry at the (always reliable) IMDb made me giggle: “Some are bad enough to be (almost) enjoyable (particularly after a glass of wine or two).” Ed and Mamie would make another feature together that same year, Vice Raid, which I have yet to see (I thought it might have been in the Epix vault but that was Vice Squad ). Their print of Guns, Girls and Gangsters is better than average with the exception of a missing minute-and-a-half between a scene in which Gerald and Mamie are threatened by the fugitive Van Cleef at gunpoint and the final armored car heist. Other than that, Guns is entertaining as all get-out; I had to call an audible and do this one as a review because the movie I had originally planned was preempted so Mom could watch Svengoolie take on Man Made Monster (1941).