The Long Wait (1954)
Directed by Victor Saville
Produced by Lesser Samuels
Written by Alan Green and Lesser Samuels
Based on a novel by Mickey Spillane
Cinematography by Franz Planer
Edited by Ronald Sinclair
The Long Wait opens with “Once” (written by Harold Spina and Bob Russell), one of the most un-noirish songs ever, which makes us think we’ve walked into a romance picture instead of a film noir. Thankfully the mood changes as we see a hitchhiker (Anthony Quinn, above) who gets picked up, then seconds later – in an almost laughable sequence of edits – finds himself first in a wreck, then in a hospital (wearing a robe that proclaims “County Hospital” just in case we’ve missed that fact), then suffering from amnesia. This all happens in the first four minutes of the film (which of course includes the song, which you’ve probably forgotten by now).
After a couple of years working in an oil field, the amnesiac walks into a bar where a businessman is giving some serious attention to the amnesiac’s girl. The businessman shows them both a photo of the amnesiac he picked up during a business trip to a town called Lyncastle. The amnesiac decides to head to Lyncastle (over 700 miles away) while the businessman reveals to the girl where the photo really came from: a wanted poster. The amnesiac’s real name is Johnny McBride and he’s wanted for the murder of a District Attorney in Lyncastle. Best of luck on your tour of Lyncastle, Johnny.
Johnny immediately starts turning heads as soon as he arrives in Lyncastle, especially those of the ladies. But others recognize him as well, including the manager of the Lyncastle Hotel, Pop Henderson (Frank Marlowe). But Johnny can’t place either Henderson or Joe the bellhop (played by the wonderful Jay Adler, above, who recently popped up in a recent rewatch of 99 River Street).
Soon the cops meet up with Johnny and inform him that not only did he shoot the DA, he also stole $250,000 from the bank where he worked as a teller.
Johnny evades the cops and winds up (where else?) at the local library, where he learns from the paper and a local reporter named Alan Logan (John Damler, above left) – who wrote the newspaper article Johnny’s reading and just happens to be in the library – that Johnny had a girlfriend named Vera who worked at the bank who might be able to clear his name. Johnny further learns (I won’t tell you how) that Vera disappeared, underwent plastic surgery, and is now connected to a racketeer named Servo (Gene Evans).
The plot is amazingly contrived and convoluted with lots of unintentional laughs (including the aforementioned edits, gunshots that literally light up the sky, and Anthony Quinn’s campaign to be the hardest, most violent kisser in all of film noir), but I must admit I had a great time watching The Long Wait. Despite its shortcomings, the film contains the type of cinematography that’s typical in noir, yet many of the shots are atypical and stand out as bold risks that pay off handsomely (such as the last two photos below).
The film is based on the 1951 Mickey Spillane novel of the same name and if you don’t know anything about Spillane before seeing the film, you will by the time it’s over. There’s plenty of action, violence, and at least four gorgeous blondes. Welcome to the world of Mickey Spillane.
Victor Saville had worked on another Spillane project one year before this, producing I, the Jury before directing The Long Wait. Saville brought on board some great noir actors in this film including Charles Coburn, Gene Evans, Peggie Castle, and Jay Adler. I’ll admit to never having been a huge Anthony Quinn fan, but he does a nice job here as a guy with amnesia trying to put the pieces together. (I’ll have more to say in a few weeks about amnesia in film noir. Stay tuned.)
The Long Wait is not a great film noir, but it’s entertaining, exciting, and certainly worth seeing. You can view it right now on Rarefilmm.