Plunder Road (1957) Hubert Cornfield
Regal Films (distributed by 20th Century Fox)
Amazon Instant Video
Plunder Road is probably not the first film you think of when you think of films noir or heist films. To be quite honest, you’ve probably never thought of it at all. Maybe you’ve never even heard of it, but Plunder Road is one of those little gems that can easily slip by you if you’re not careful.
The strength of Plunder Road is in its first 15 minutes, a tension-filled cascade of amazing shots of five guys pulling off a train heist with immaculate precision. We don’t know anything about these men, but it doesn’t matter; they look like they’ve been doing this all their lives. Their plan is so carefully executed, so absolutely compelling, you don’t even want to walk into the kitchen to get a beer.
Once the heist – $10 million in gold – is completed, it’s time for the long getaway, which covers the rest of the film. During this time, we meet the five men:
Eddie (Gene Raymond), the mastermind of the heist
Roly (Stafford Repp, whom many will remember as Chief O’Hara from the Batman TV show), a gum-chewing guy who’s not the sharpest pencil in the box – When a cop asks if he’s been drinking, Roly tells him he chews gum so he won’t start drinking.
Frankie (Steven Ritch, who also wrote the screenplay), a former race-car driver who’s as nervous as a cat in a dog pound
“Commando,” (Wayne Morris, an actual war hero) a man who never married, but has an 11-year-old son he’s never seen
Skeets (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a wiry little man who wants nothing more than to take his grown son to Brazil, even though he’s never been there himself
Let’s face it: these guys are losers. Even though Eddie has a beautiful girlfriend (Jeanne Cooper) and is clearly the smartest of the bunch, his plan has one huge flaw. We can see the mistakes these guys are going to make a mile (or more) away. They should’ve seen them, too. Yet we don’t totally condemn these guys; yes, they’re losers, but they’re trying to win the with cards they’ve been dealt. Some hands are better than others, and if the other players happen to be looking away from time to time, well…
Their plight is somewhat comedic, but director Cornfield never lets things get too ridiculous, although he comes close by having the same radio announcer update the story every time the radio is on. (Of course, we know in a crime film that every time you turn on the radio, you’re going to get an update on the crime the film’s all about, but in this case, you can’t help but chuckle.)
Although Plunder Road is a low-budget film, it boasts a master cinematographer in Ernest Haller, who worked on such movies as Mildred Pierce, Rebel Without a Cause, and a little film you may have heard of called Gone With the Wind. How Cornfield got him, I have no idea, but Haller does a wonderful job with very little.
Haller’s cinematography, Cornfield’s direction, and good performances from the cast make Plunder Road a film noir that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I watched the film on Amazon Instant Video and the print was not very good. (You can also view the film on YouTube, which for me is always the absolute last resort for watching movies.) Olive Films released a Blu-ray edition of Plunder Road in 2013, which is no doubt the way to go.