The Argyle Secrets (1948) Poster

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moody, quirky low-budget late 40's crime-noir
django-18 March 2005
As I was boxing up some old films for an upcoming move, I stumbled across THE ARGYLE SECRETS, a film I must have watched a decade ago. I didn't remember anything about it and even thought it starred Tom Conway (!!), but I must have been thinking of another film. So THE ARGYLE SECRETS seemed new to me, and I was VERY impressed by it. Yes, there are some similarities with THE MALTESE FALCON, but many detective/crime films were influenced by that classic. I have not heard the radio play on which this film is based, but taken on its own, this is--like many of the releases from the fascinating "Film Classics" company, an outfit that specialized in very low-budget but quirky and atmospheric crime and detective and late noir films--a moody and distinctive film that is surprisingly good. William Gargan (close your eyes while he is speaking and see if you don't think that his speech rhythms are reminiscent of George Raft) is always an excellent hard-boiled leading man, and here he plays a journalist who is entrusted with some vague information about something called The Argyle Album, which supposedly contains all kinds of incriminating information about WWII traitors and collaborators and profiteers. He is framed for the death of the man who gave him the information, and thus he is being pursued by both police and international crooks. There are a number of hair-raising sequences where he is about to be caught or killed (one scene where he sneaks into an apartment where a policeman--an almost unrecognizable Robert Kellard-- and his mother live, and the cop has a newspaper with Gargan's face on the cover, but insists on looking at the sports section first, but is always ABOUT TO look at the front page) is very cleverly done, and there is a very creative hallucination montage after Gargan is beaten up by the bad guys. There's also an undercurrent of suggested brutality in the film that is disquieting. Gargan beats a woman who asks him to so that she will have bruises on her and thus she can claim he escaped after choking her; Gargan strong-arms a woman into submission; and there's a scene with an acetylene blow torch that is quite effective and would be considered a classic if it had appeared in , say, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Writer-director Cyril Enfield was responsible for some excellent and creative mysteries in the late 40s and early 50s--THE SOUND OF FURY (aka TRY AND GET ME) is an amazing film with a strong liberal message, and THE LIMPING MAN is a wonderful mystery with a switch ending that has to be seen to be believed. Endfield is superb at creating a sense of dislocation, of disorder. A surprising credit for Assistant to the Producer is famous silent-film archivist and entrepreneur Raymond Rohauer. The film is produced by Sam X. Abarbanel, a writer and producer responsible for some of my favorite guilty pleasure such as the Spanish crime films THE NARCO MEN starring the late Tom Tryon, and THE SUMMERTIME KILLER with Chris Mitchum. Also, there are a number of juicy supporting performances--Ralph Byrd as the police inspector who isn't sure about Gargan and appears in the final scene of the film which is hilarious (and which I won't give away), and Jack Reitzen (who was in a LOT of grade-c crime films in the late 40s), doing a florid Southern accent and chewing the scenery. There are many distinctive little touches in this film--for instance, when Gargan is being interrogated by Ralph Byrd, we see a few shadows of men with hats hanging suspiciously outside the opaque windows of the office. When Gargan leaves the office and walks off screen, about five seconds later we see these shadows head in his direction. Maybe using shadows allowed the producer to use non-actors to play the roles and save money, but the effect works for whatever reason it may have been done. I will undoubtedly watch this film again soon and show it to some like-minded friends who appreciate low-budget, indie crime films of the post-World War II era. Check it out if you get a chance--it will be worth your time if you find the above description interesting.
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Obscure poverty-row noir packs as much into an hour as you can imagine
OldAle15 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Argyle Secrets" is a poverty-row noir made in 1948 for Eronel Productions (heard of them? I sure haven't) that follows newsman Harry Mitchell (William Gargan), hot on the trail of the mysterious Argyle album, a package of incriminating evidence of wartime collaboration and betrayal that results early on in the death of an older, famous reporter whose fragmentary whispers and one photo-stat of the cover of the album lead Mitchell on what first seems to be a wild goose chase in search of an item that may or may not even really exist. This might seem reminiscent of The Maltese Falcon and other mcguffins, though in this case it seems that the album really does exist - though what it actually contains, we never know.

This is classic noir territory, with a femme fatale (Marjorie Lord) who is apparently playing any side of the fence she needs to, seedy European thugs and their suave boss, a fat corrupt private eye named "Panama" who speaks in courtly Southernisms, a murder pinned on our hero, who at one point outwits both police and thugs to find himself in the cheap apartment of old neighbors of his, a Jewish family whose rather dimwitted older son turns out to be a cop himself, coming home with the newspaper that has Mitchell's face splashed on its front page. This scene is a bit of calmness and comedy in the middle of a very short (64 minute) and frantic film, and it exudes a warmth and loving attitude towards the American dream of immigrants - the bright side of the postwar dream contrasting with the dark side of ex-Nazis and collaborators trying to find refuge or start up new criminal activities here.

Though the film is overall plenty cynical and as downbeat as plenty of other noirs, the central scene I mentioned shows something of director Cy Endfield's passion for his country, and his belief in the American dream and the Good War, which makes it all the more sad that soon he would have to flee for being "un-American", never to work in Hollywood again.
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Rare Maltese Falconish yarn
mgmax4 October 1999
Very rare low-budget film from director Endfield (Zulu) plays like a not-bad student film version of The Maltese Falcon-- the supporting performances aren't always convincing but there are nice touches of visual imagination and good pacing.
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It's not The Maltese Falcon, and Gargan is no Bogart, but...
bmacv6 August 2004
The Babel of foreign and regional accents in The Argyle Secrets seems too exotic – overdone – until you learn that Cy Endfield directed this short, cheap thriller from his own radio play. There, probably no more than four actors took the many and generic parts, distinguishing them with funny voices. Movies can't get away with that, so a roster of character players – several of them familiar from ‘50s television – was rounded up to fill out the cast. Since the stars are William Gargan (a couple of seasons as Martin Kane, Private Eye) and Marjorie Lord (Make Room For Daddy), with Barbara Billingsley (Leave It To Beaver) visible to those who don't blink, viewers should know better than to expect The Big Sleep.

Actually, The Maltese Falcon is the better template, of which The Argyle Secrets resembles a fifth-generation knockoff. The object in demand is a book called The Argyle Album, a detailed list of war profiteers that's being used for blackmail. A famous investigative columnist, in hospital, tells his younger colleague Gargan about it shortly before he expires, either of poison or a scalpel plunged into his pajamas. In tracking down the album, Gargan meets up with and fends off a motley of grotesques, including femme fatale Lord.

By no stretch of hyperbole can it be called good – it's coarse and jumpy – but now and again it shows flashes of talent (Endfield, two years later, would direct the much better The Underworld Story). There are some neat shots of the waterfront at night (the city's unspecified, but Boston comes to mind) and a tense and well-photographed sequence where an acetylene torch burns through a metal gate behind which Gargan has locked himself for safety.

Alas, Gargan is foisted off as an energetic young turk of the fourth estate, even though at the time he was 42 and looked at least 10 years older. He had started in movies in 1917, chalking up a more than respectable list of credits, but what charisma he may have once displayed had long since dissipated. Sad that the Indian Summer of his career would be spent in those lesser mediums of radio and newfangled TV. But he earns praise for spending the last years of his life, following a laryngectomy, working for the American Cancer Society.
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Another Maguffin
boblipton30 December 2018
Newspaperman William Gargan interviews a hospitalized newspaperman about "the Argyle Album." While Gargan gets him a glass of water, the other guy dies of a heart attack ..... and a knife in his heart. Gargan heads off to figure out what is going on, with the cops on his trail, encountering a gaggle of eccentric characters played by Marjorie Lord, Jack Reitzen and John Banner, all looking for the Maguffin, with Ralph Byrd as a dumb cop.

Yes, it's pretty much THE MALTESE FALCON rewritten and directed by Cy Enfield, with the characteristics of participants assorted differently and no homosexuality anywhere. It's definitely second-string Universal material, with only one interesting credit behind the camera: Raymond J. Rohauer as "Assistant to the Producer." Everyone has to start somewhere, I suppose.

Enfield's script is pretty much an unremarkable retread, except that Gargan occasionally does a voice-over in the linking scenes, telling us what we can see him doing. The IMDb shows it was originally written as a radio script. No one pointed out that the voice-overs were unnecessary and annoying.
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B thriller by Cy Enfield ...
... and not his best movie by far : very talkative, dull casting, no rhythm, only a few good scenes in an hour movie that lacks a real script. Cy Enfield would do a much lot better two years later with "The Underworld Story" and "The Sound Of Fury", in 1957 with "Hell Drivers" and of course in 1964 with "Zulu", strong movies with real casting. But forget this dull "Argyles Secrets".
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Traitors get exposed.
mark.waltz3 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This post World War II espionage thriller focuses on the search for a book which lists the names of allies who betrayed their country to gain a profit by selling secrets to the Nazi's. William Gargan tells his story from a hospital bed just in case something happens to him of how he went on a mission to find this book and all the dangers he encounters. A bunch of bizarre characters (one of them an unrecognizable John Banner of "Hogan's Heroes", another being two of the favorite of all TV moms, Marjorie Lord and Barbara Billingsley in obvious femme fatale parts) pop in and out. He has guns pulled on him, but then the person holding the gun is shot so the second shooter can pull a gun on Gargan. It's complex, darkly shadowed and intense, all over in just under 65 minutes, the way B movies ought to be. Ralph Byrd ("Dick Tracy") plays the police lieutenant Gargan manages to fool. I wouldn't call this the most sensible or easy to follow plotlines, but it's a film that with repeat viewings can provide plenty of intrigue and thrills and might begin to make more sense. At any rate, it's a nice minor B thrller/film noir that is aided by some nice photography and superb editing, and went to show that just because peace was declared didn't mean that the war was officially over.
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War Secrets
sol-17 November 2017
Framed for the murder of a colleague, a reporter has to evade both the police and international criminals while trying to learn the truth about an album that contains "a fortune in blackmail" information in this noir thriller from 'Zulu' and 'Jet Storm' director Cy Endfield. Released shortly after the end of World War II, the film intimately ties itself to the aftermath of the war with the album featuring the names of those who profiteered from the war, those who were traitors and those who cut deals to advantage themselves no matter which side won. War connections aside though, this is a pretty typical noir entry with an unremarkable slate of shady supporting characters. The idea of having to elude police and antagonists alike is hardly fresh or original and as others have pointed out, the film is too reminiscent of 'The Maltese Falcon' for its own good at times. The movie has some pretty neat touches of its own though including hypnotic spiral effects and swirls after the protagonist is knocked unconscious. Leads William Gargan and Marjorie Lord also certainly try to get the most out of their characters and clocking in at just over an hour, the film at least avoids outstaying its welcome.
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