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Claire Sinclair is hiding in Mexico to avoid testifying against her gangster boyfriend. Her seclusion is made difficult by Cappy Gordon, a mob strongman out to kill her unless she runs off with him. Trying to help Claire is Russ Lambert, an American prizefighter.Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Picture this scene, it's a rainy Saturday afternoon in England, circa 1962, the televised horse racing on BBC has been cancelled and a voice-over informs us that "We are unable to bring you the scheduled programme, instead the film ... will be shown". It would usually be REBECCA, HIGH NOON or SECOND CHANCE. I got to love these three movies, which I would always associate with bad weather at Doncaster. SECOND CHANCE was the only movie in which screen tough guy Robert Mitchum played a prizefighter, and he really looked the part. Mitchum had experience as a boxer, official and unofficial. In November, 1951, he was on location filming ONE MINUTE TO ZERO and was involved in a brawl with the heavyweight boxer Bernie Reynolds, who fought Rocky Marciano and Joe Baksi. Mitchum proved he was a tough guy off the screen as Reynolds was taken to hospital while Mitchum walked away without a scratch.
The boxing match in SECOND CHANCE was filmed at the Plaza de Toros Bullring in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and was beset with problems, mainly due to the heat. Mitchum's screen opponent was Abel Fernandez, who had recently retired from the ring due to a near fatality. This was his film debut, which coincidentally had the story of an American boxer barnstorming the South American circuit trying to regain his nerve after a ring fatality in New York. Unfortunately for Mitchum, Fernandez occasionally forgot he was in a movie fight and not a pro fight, he knocked out Mitchum three times during the arduous all-day shoot in the boiling sun. Mitchum eventually flattens his movie opponent, and then goes over to his corner and enquires, "You okay, Rivera?" - no trash talking or histrionics back then in the fight game. Opponents showed respect. Fernandez later appeared in THE HARDER THEY FALL, but got type-cast playing Indians in television westerns before landing a leading role in the TV hit "The Untouchables".
The bad guy in SECOND CHANCE is another ex-boxer Jack Palance, who also fought Joe Baksi. Method actor Palance got carried away in his fight scene with Mitchum aboard the cable car, but Mitchum retaliated and Palance vomited after taking a right hand in the stomach. Palance frightened the life out of me when I was a child, the menacing voice, sinister grin, almost plastic facial features and intense air of menace about him are well served in this 3-D action thriller. Every time Palance makes an entrance, "Bad Man" music plays, as if we couldn't work out that he is a psychopath, hissing and virtually spitting evil every time he's in a scene with Linda Darnell. For someone so athletic, Palance never seems to be able to catch up with the fleeing Darnell, who is wearing very high heels on cobblestones. Palance is hindered in his chase by the local peasants, who conveniently always seem to get in his way, as he knocks their wares over. Palance confesses to Darnell that he's always had the hot's for her, and would be willing to forget about silencing her if she goes away with him (but wouldn't Spilato then send another hit-man to get them both?)
The climax aboard a stationary cable car thousands of feet in the air is very exciting, but recently came back to haunt me while on holiday in Matlock, Derbyshire. The wife and I were sitting hundreds of feet in the air in a cable car, which had come to a deliberate halt so the tourists could enjoy the marvellous view, when I suddenly thought of what happened to the cable car in SECOND CHANCE. I immediately had a panic attack which would have made Woody Allen look brave, unlike the plucky English couple in the cable car, who look like they have wandered into this movie from the set of THE LADY VANISHES. I love the way health and safety hadn't yet been invented in 1950's films. Mr. Woburn, a harmless middle-aged pipe smoking genial gent, scampers up the steps of the disabled cable, and climbs on top of it - 70,000 feet up - to survey the severity of the situation. He doesn't even blink at the possibility of losing his balance, and he still has his pipe in his mouth. When Linda Darnell collapses, Mrs. Woburn immediately takes over and asks the conductor for the First Aid kit, which seems to consists of just one item, the smelling salts, which she coincidentally needed.
Look closely at the fiesta dance sequence. Everybody seems to have overdosed on Happy Pills, except for just one extra, the 18 year old George Chakiris. He is observing a very sensual display of illicit dancing, with an expression that reads, "I could do that - if only the producers had given me a second chance!" Still toiling in bit parts in Hollywood musicals, it would be another decade before George got his chance to shine, in WEST SIDE STORY.
The best part of the movie is the Linda Darnell-Jack Palance chase sequence, up and down the cobbled streets of a Mexican village. Bizarrely, Palance appears to be moving in quick motion, while Darnell and all around her are walking in normal motion. You'll think twice about getting in a cable car after seeing this enjoyable 1950's flick, the only thing I didn't like was the dismal pastel Technicolor used.
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