I abandoned Susan Shaw last night and watched a Brit Noit that starred Trevor Howard: They Made Me a Fugative.
Clem (Trevor Howard) is an ex war semi-hero who has always been a little shady. Unfortunately, the movie gives us no backstory and leaves this character thin from the get-go. Clem joins a band of smugglers who are looking for a front man who has had class bred into him. (Again, no to little back story on where Clem comes from, but apparently he comes from a finer background.) Does Clem need the money? Is he just looking for excitement? We have no idea. Clem is a character out of nowhere that we can never care about one way or another.
On his first job, Clem finds himself taking part in smuggling “Sherbet” which I assume is drugs but it’s never explained. A little Googling reveals that it is probably cocaine.
Well, Clem has his ethics and tells Narcy (short for “Narcissus”…but the significance of that name is never explained either) he will leave the gang if they have anything to do with this kind of stuff. Narcy, as we shall see throughout the movie, is a ruthless fellow. He tells Clem that they will no longer smuggle “Sherbet.” But on the very next job, Narcy hangs Clem out to dry by tripping the alarm while Clem is still in the building and the rest are all waiting outside.
Clem makes its out. (Somehow. Again…sketchy storytelling.) He jumps in the car. (If Narcy is trying to hang him out to dry, why did they wait for him?) Clem is the driver, I think. Sketchy. I was zoning out of this movie early, and this was the best part.
Speeding away in their getaway car, a copper appears in the middle of the road and whistles for them to stop. Whistles don’t have much effect on a moving car. Clem attempts to steer around but Narcy grabs the wheel and forcibly steers the car into the copper, killing him. While the car is still moving fast, Narcy clubs Clem over the head, knocking him out. The car crashes. (Good plan, Narcy?) Everyone climbs out and escapes except Clem who is slumped over the wheel. The cops grab him at the scene of the crash.
It then fast-forwards to Clem in prison serving a term for manslaughter. One of Narcy’s old gang visits Clem. She’s Narcy’s old dame. Everyone knows what Narcy did to Clem and she wants to help him. But her motivations are sketchy as written. Later Clem escapes from prison, but we don’t how. I assume he walked away from a prison work detail.
And then the movie becomes a real mess of talk, talk, talk but not much happening. One amusing moment was when Clem stumbles upon a remote house on the moors. He knocks and asks for some help. Everyone has heard on the radio that there is a fugitive on the run and it seems apparent that this lady knows who Clem is. Long story short, she promises to help Clem with food, clothes, money, etc., if Clem will kill her good-for-nothing drunken husband.
Clem declines. He has his ethics, you know. Clem takes off but then the lady shoots her husband and blames it on Clem. One of the major problems of this film is that they couldn’t decide whether to make Clem a sympathetic bad guy (even perhaps in the Cagney mold) or the framed good guy who just made a couple wrong movies. This is truly textbook horrible character misdevelopment.
One good character in the movie is this old lady in Narcy’s gang. I think she’s “Aggie,” played by Mary Merral. But she is a hoot and should have been a more central “Ma Parker” part of the movie replacing the wasted time on other, blander characters.
The dames in this, including Sally Gray as “Sally,” are not very good actresses, in my opinion. They seem more like they are just reciting lines. Howard seems horribly miscast for this film as well. But then no actor — perhaps not even Humphrey Bogart — could have made this script work.
The final death of this movie comes at the end where you have these horrible speeded-up fight scenes very dreadfully choreographed. This movie had “amateur hour” written all over it. It wasn’t quite bad enough to be good nor good enough to be good. But I do think the old broad, Aggie, was a hoot.