(The Threat is the second in a series of four film noir titles I recently purchased from Warner Archive. Riffraff  was the first in that series.)
The Threat (1949)
Directed by Felix E. Feist
Screenplay by High King
Cinematography by Harry J. Wild
Warner Archive DVD/MOD (1:07)
It’s been called “The poor man’s White Heat,” featuring a standout performance by film noir icon Charles McGraw, but are those reasons enough to recommend The Threat, a 67-minute B picture?
McGraw plays Arnold “Red” Kluger, a vicious killer who breaks out of Folsom Prison with just one thing on his mind: vengeance on the people he blames for putting him there, including Williams (Michael O’Shea) – the cop who arrested him, MacDonald (Frank Conroy) – the DA who got him sentenced, and Carol (Virginia Grey) – the nightclub singer who betrayed him. Or did she?
Kluger and his two thugs (Anthony Caruso, Frank Richards) kidnap not only these three, but also a van driver (Don McGuire) who may just have an ace up his sleeve. Things move quickly in The Threat, and sure, it’s a B picture all the way, but you’re in the hands of director Felix E. Feist, who knew how to ratchet up the tension while keeping the action moving. Consider the moment when Kluger, with his hostages tied up in the back of a moving van, gets pulled over by the cops. Or the moment when Williams is speaking to his superior officer on a police radio, with Kluger’s gun pointed right at him. These might sound like typical moments from any crime film, but don’t be surprised if you discover you’ve gripped holes into your armchair.
Although the supporting cast is quite good (especially Grey), the film clearly belongs to McGraw, particularly as Kluger begins to lose his grip, becoming more vicious and sadistic with each passing moment. In Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (2007, reprinted in 2012), Alan K. Rode calls the actor’s work in The Threat “akin to a virtuoso performance by a spitting cobra. Charlie spewed forth a hail of venomous insults, coercion and actual bullets in a portrayal of unabashed ruthlessness that startled audiences with its intense ferocity.”
McGraw seemed so natural he didn’t appear to be acting. In Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998), Eddie Muller writes, “The most distinctively gruff voice in the movies was strangled out of McGraw; it sounded like a fist was gripping his larynx whenever he deigned to utter dialogue.” McGraw’s role in The Threat led to a seven-year contract with RKO. When you see the film, you’ll understand why.
Photos: RareFilm, Film Noir Board, DVD Talk