A Life at Stake (1955) Poster

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low budget quality film
non_sportcardandy19 April 2004
Just viewed this film tonight for the first time.The basic plot is that the main character(keith andes) is concerned that some near accidents are attempts to do him in for $175,000 worth of life insurance.That is still a good amount of money today but in 1954 when this film was made it was near a fortune.Previously I read the main character was a husband,not so,he is single and concerned a husband and wife are trying to put him in an early grave.The plot is not really deep nor is the ending a great big surprise.What puts the movie over are the quality performances in this black and white drama.Not to often have I viewed the t v program "murder she wrote" but have seen Angela Lansbury in a few old movies,as in this one she shows a lot of talent.Her part is a seductive one and she does it well lounging around or near the swimming pool all day long.The target of her charms is Edward Shaw(Keith Andes).Her husband is played by Douglass Dumbrille a fine character actor with many screen credits.I have been a fan of his since seeing him play the pirate Israel Hands in the 1934 version of Treasure Island.He is so talented it's hard to believe it's the same actor in both these movies.The kid sister of Angela Lansbury is played well by Claudia Barrett,one year earlier Claudia was seen in the infamous "robot monster".Whatever happened to Claudia?Jane Darwell plays the part of the landlady,she gave a strong performance as the mother of Henry Fonda in "grapes of wrath".A good cast,big overcoats,shiny big cars(they called them boats back then)and a lot of other things made this movie enjoyable for me.
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A hot Angela Lansbury! Who knew?
gridoon20197 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"A Life At Stake" opens with a shirtless Keith Andes (playing a smart patsy)....I have to admit he has a great body. Soon afterwards, he meets Angela Lansbury (playing a conflicted femme fatale) lounging in her pool....Lansbury was 29 when she made this film and although not conventionally beautiful even back then, she is shockingly sexy here....she uses her whole body strategically. Their dialogue is surprisingly suggestive for a 1950s movie, for example leaving little doubt as to how Lansbury's character became such a successful real estate saleswoman ("Isn't there a big Naval base in San Diego?" - "HUGE"!). Their second meeting, in an apartment, is almost equally heated. The rest of the movie is a little more lukewarm, but it does have a dependably slimy Douglas Dumbrille, and a fitting - and ironic - ending. **1/2 out of 4.
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A decent little thriller
MartinHafer22 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film stars mostly unknown actors, other than Angela Lansbury in a leading role and Jane Darwell in a supporting role. The leading man is played by Keith Andes--a handsome and rather non-descript actor who, at first, I had trouble recognizing. Then I realized that I saw him in a bad episode of the original STAR TREK series--he was the high priest of Val (a giant rock-hewn lizard god). Not exactly an auspicious role, I know.

Andes is a down and out architect whose old partner split and left him ridden with debts. Into this sorry life appears Lansbury who offers to have him go into business with her and her older husband. The offer is just too good to be true--sudden wealth and a somewhat attractive married woman throwing herself at him. Despite misgivings, he agrees to the partnership. A part of this partnership includes a life insurance policy on him, so in case he died his partners wouldn't be left without a builder. Over time, Andes becomes convinced that maybe the reason the two took him on in partnership was because they planned on killing him and collecting the $175,000 policy.

In the weakest part of the film, Andes goes to the police who seem almost completely uninterested when he announces someone is trying to kill him! In fact, the desk sergeant even goes so far as to make fun of him--something that surely never would happen in real life. However, after going to the police, real attempts to occur and eventually even on of the detectives in convinced that Andes might be in danger after all--but is it too late to save him? The acting and writing are decent and the overall film is pretty good despite the low budget. What I especially liked was the last ten minutes or so of the film--it kept me guessing and offered a lot of suspense.
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Angela Lansbury - a sexy seductress
blanche-28 September 2016
Yes, once, Angela Lansbury was young with a good figure (which I think she still has) and a sexy way about her.

In 1955's "A Life at Stake" she plays Doris Hillman, a woman who propositions a down-and-out architect, Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) with a business plan where she will buy property and he will put up houses. He had done this previously but he was bilked out of $37,000, (327,700 in today's money) some of which had been put up by friends. In the end he lost everything.

The flirtatious and seductive Hillman says that her husband (Douglas Dumbrille) will put up the money but that Shaw will have to buy keyman insurance for $250,000, which is $2.2 million today. This is business insurance that compensates for financial losses that would arise from the death or incapacity of an important member of a company.

Well it isn't hard to figure out what's going on, and it doesn't take Shaw that long either, even though he and Hillman fall for one another and begin sneaking around. He dodges several cars and a car where the brakes slip -- trying to stay alive is difficult around these people, but the police want proof. On top of this, he has met Hillman's sister (Claudia Barrett) and she's fallen for him.

Pretty good noir. I noticed on the reviews that many people aren't familiar with Keith Andes. He had a small but decent film career, in films such as The Farmer's Daughter, Clash by Night, Tora Tora Tora, and And Justice for All, as examples. He starred on TV in a series, This Man Dawson, and was in dozens of prime time shows up until 1980.

Most notably, he appeared on Broadway with Lucille Ball in Wildcat - he had a beautiful baritone voice; he also did Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway and toured in Man of La Mancha. At the age of 85, beset by health issues, he committed suicide.

Definitely worth seeing for young Angela and Keith Andes was certainly a hunk - he had his shirt off a lot of the time.
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This job is killing me.
Spuzzlightyear16 April 2006
Interestingly thought out thriller here, with Angela Lansbury (one of my favorite 60's actresses) playing a seductress who may or may not be setting up her business partner to die just so she can collect on some life insurance they have put up for a business deal (don't ask, I'm not 100% sure of the logistics of it). Keith Andes, an actor who I've never heard of before, plays her would-be-victim. She of course plays up her sex to him, and Andes can't resist. Oh, and did I say Lansbury was married? Soon (well, actually, quite quickly) Andes wises up and tries to foil the plan, but Lansbury and husband have plan B's in place..

This was quite a tricky little thriller. It almost looks and seems like it once was a play at one time, what with it's dormitory sets, but the acting sure signs through. Lansbury is fabulous as usual, and I have no idea what became of Keith Andes, because he certainly had the looks and the acting chops to go a long way.
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Nobody is getting rich when I shove off. Even if they give me that last push themselves!
sol-kay9 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
***SOPILERS**** Steaming hot 1954 film noir drama with Angela Lansbury as the femme fatal Doris Hilman who gets out of work broke and in debt architect Ed Shaw, Keith Andes, to become a partner in her and her husband Gustave's, Douglas Dumbrille, shoddy real estate business.

Needing the money and living on the edge, in cheap hotel rooms and eating out of soap cans, Ed accepts the job as chief of the Shaw/Hilman real-estate company as its chief of operations. Being on the ball and not at all that impressed in the sexy Doris' advances on him Ed still has to play ball with her and Gustave who are bankrolling him. It's when Doris suggests that Ed get himself insured, with the He-man Insurance Company, for a cool 300 G's that he smells a rat in all this of taking him literary out of the gutter and putting him in a 5th Av penthouse!

It's later when Ed runs into Doris barley out of her teens sister Medge, Claudia Barrell, that his worst suspicion about Doris is confirmed! Her previous husband, before Gustave, was also heavily insured by her and ended up plunging down a cliff in the Rockies when his car breaks failed on him! Feeling that he's being set up by Doris & Gustave Ed becomes so paranoid that everyone as well as car on the street he sees he feel is going to do him in by being paid to do it by Doris and Gustave!

***SPOILERS*** It's Doris not Ed who cracks first by falling in love with the strapping and handsome young man and what seems like, the movie never completely make it clear, backs out in the plan she and Gustave cooked up to off Ed. Getting Ed to go to her and Gustaves cottage on top of the Hollywood Hills the trap is set but one of the trappers, Doris, gets cold feet at the very last moment! With Gustave seeing his plan to take out Ed, and get the life insurance money, going down in flames he comes out of the shadows, or was it the closet, to do the job himself! It's then that both Doris and Gustave's cheapness paid off for Ed by them not installing a porch at their house, to step out on and view the scenery, that turned out to be fatal for both of them!
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Unambitious but adequate
dinky-416 September 2009
The advantage of these compact, black-and-white "B" movies is that they usually tell a no-frills story in straightforward fashion without any padding or detours. "A Life at Stake" generally fits within these guidelines but it stumbles a bit in the second half because its script doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on the Angela Lansbury character. How does she regard the Keith Andes character? Is he just a potential source of money for her, or does she come to develop such a "crush" on him that she's forced to reconsider her plans? The movie doesn't seem clear on this point which causes its final reel to seem contrived and a bit unfocused compared to what's gone before. Few will be disappointed, however, since expectations for this kind of movie tend to be on the low side.

It's surprising but not unsatisfying to find Angela Lansbury playing a "bad girl," and fans of Keith Andes will be pleased to find that the opening scene of the movie features him in full bare-chest mode. Has any other actor, (except for Harry Hamlin), ever displayed such an impressive set of male nipples?
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Intereseing 50s Noir Film with Little Known Keith Andes
liambean16 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not sure what happened to Keith Andes, he was a competent actor, had the looks (and chops for serious roles), had the perfect deep voice, and was just different enough to be noticeable.

IMDB shows he had seventy roles, but they all seemed to be "B" pictures. He did have a leading role in "This man Dawson," as Dawson of course. At least this role ran for 39 episodes.

He also played Dr. Peter Wayne in an Outer Limits episode called "Expanding Human" and as "Akuta" in a Star Trek (the original) episode called "The Apple."

Basically, Andes plays Edward Shaw, an architect, whose business failed, leaving him responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in investments. His lawyer recommends a partnership and he goes to meet this potential partner; a very sexy Doris Hillman played by Angela Lansbury. Shaw decides to take the deal and is then told his life needs to be insured, just in case, for the business.

There are quite a few double-entendres at the beginning, but the heat quickly cools when Shaw suspects the life insurance policy on his life might just be all the excuse Doris needs to bump him off. He finds out that her first husband died after he fell asleep while driving and drove off of a cliff.

At the beginning we are sure Doris is behind this, but there's a twist, someone wants him dead, but it's not Doris. The end comes when our criminal couple end up falling off of the balcony of their Big Bear cabin which just happens to overlook a cliff.

Heights play a prominent role in this picture.

Another highlight was the Kaiser Darrin featured at the thirty-eight minute mark. This was a fiberglass production car, produced before the Chevrolet Corvette.
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The (flat) belly of the architect
xisca-pap10 July 2014
Boring with poor script, direction and acting.

The storyline is not engaging. The main characters are both uninteresting and miscast. Lansbury is not a femme fatale and Andes is entirely unconvincing. He supposedly is a promising architect, but his daily activity and his physique resemble that of a prison inmate.

There are some bizarre and unintentionally funny moments too, e.g the dance in the club with Lansbury's sister where in the middle of May he is dressed (inside the club!) with heavy coat and she with a strapless!

I am a huge fan if the era, but this one will bore even the most enthusiastic
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Characters are Contrived
Hitchcoc23 May 2007
First throw in a character who is rather dull and afraid. Make him an architect who can produce nice little fifties houses that will sell. Hook him up with a millionaire who wants a 175,000 dollar life insurance policy on the guy's head in case he can't fulfill his commitment. Throw in a bored wife; or is she? Throw in police who have no respect for a dignified man who is concerned he is going to be killed. Remember, it happened before and insurance money was involved. Oh, yes, then there's the insurance company, which should be watching things like the respective hawks they are, since they got soaked the first time. Also, have everyone act stupidly, not able to figure things out. This is one contrived thriller. I'm not sure where Lansbury is in the picture. The guy should have dumped her early on. She is vapid and tiresome. She's reasonably attractive, but has more baggage than Northwest Airlines. Oh, well, it isn't Shakespeare and it does keep us guessing, sort of.
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Spotty Script
dougdoepke28 October 2015
That early scene at poolside with Andes in a tacky suit and Lansbury in a revealing swimsuit is a fine slice of fateful seduction. The movie's remainder may not rise to that level, but it has its moments. Andes, an unemployed architect, is inveigled into an insurance scheme by an unlikely couple-- an aging Dumbrille and his young sexy wife, Lansbury. The narrative unfolds in none to clear fashion, but at least we know someone's trying to kill Andes, probably for the insurance payoff. It's almost certain Lansbury's a part of it, yet the actress's performance doesn't suggest moments of deception, unlike Stanwyck's tour-de-force in Double Indemnity (1944). Then too, a spotty script doesn't help. As a result the climactic scene lacks the emotional force it should have.

In fact, the script, as others point out, contains a number of gaps—like Andes apparently walking away from a cliffside car plunge! Then too, director Guifoyle lacks any noticeable style that might lift the visuals. Had the production been done, say, 5-years earlier, I expect a 70-minute noir would have emerged. After all, the elements are there—a spider woman, a wobbly fall-guy, a fateful scheme. All in all, the potential is there, but muddy execution undercuts the result. (In passing, at least, worthy movie vet Jane Darwell picks up a payday in a tacked-on role. Thanks be to someone in production.)
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Mediocre thriller
Ryu_Darkwood31 December 2007
The main-character finds himself in a Hitchcockian situation when he suspects his female boss ( Angela Lansbury ) from wanting to kill him over insurance money. I didn't quite grasp how that works, it seems a bit far-fetched to me...Is he being paranoid? Or is there really a sinister plot to kill him over the dough? And what about the beautiful younger sister and her amazing story? The movie is as mediocre as a thriller can get, filled with illogical twists and weird choices from its characters. Angela Lansbury just doesn't convince as the seductress, but maybe that has to do with her current status as mystery solving-granny Jessica Fletcher. The main-character Keith Andes is decent enough. He's like any fifties ''hero''; a touch cynical, overly masculine and well-behaved.
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Keith Andes Fascinates, Dominating This B/W Thriller--Unusual
silverscreen88815 June 2005
It's no secret that many judge Keith Andes (by the criteria of ethical-emotional normativeness and acting prowess) to be the best actor of the past century. Because of studio politics and poor judgment--the presentation of merely pretty faces who looked good on posters as "stars"--he only played leads in fewer than 10 films; this is a very interesting one I suggest, for several reasons. Andes has been rediscovered by critics and film fans more often than Atlantis; with the exception of 2 "I Spy" episodes where they deliberately denied him the camera to set him up for a defection and future elimination, every part he ever played, by my evaluation, deserved a nomination for best actor at some length of film. Here he plays the interesting part of an architect in a B/W noir thriller. He gradually comes to believe he is going to be killed by his partners once he signs an insurance contract, ostensibly to protect their financial investment in his ability (that alone makes a new project of profitable building possible); and he is fascinating at every moment and professionally superb in a film that give him little to work with; he makes a charismatic triumph out of an underwritten cipher. Opposite him, Douglass Dumbrille is powerful as always as his backer's jealous husband, and Angle Lansbury is attractive bu no match for Andes as a siren who tempts and perhaps threatens him a the same time. As her sister, the interesting young Claudia Barrett does quite well. The serviceable direction by Paul Guilfoyle is taut, the script above average for a "B" B/W film of ant era. This is the sort of film which has seldom been made--a good piece of inexpensive storytelling carried by competent actors. But the focus is on Andes as he goes from boredom in a lonely room to temptation by Lansbury to the gradual realization that he is perhaps being set up for elimination. The violent climax is both surprising, satisfying and visually exciting; and the ending leaves viewers equally satisfied that Andes' character will receive justice, and that he has someone who genuinely cares for him. An underrated thriller that I can unreservedly recommend; I obtained it to see Andes. But this is a good story well told on screen, a true rarity when it was made, and especially in the years of badly acted and special-effects-dominated childish film-making that have been practiced since its mid-1950's release.
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Qualities of a television drama for the big screen.
mark.waltz18 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Angela Lansbury had a bad break after leaving MGM where at least she played some interesting character parts. She did get some leads, but they were in one dimensional bad girl parts in low-budget films. Broadway would beckon later on, and she had a huge rise to musical comedy stardom, but in between, her talent was misused in such films as this and "Please Murder Me!". They are basically the same film with different character names, different motivations, and different conclusions. But with her radiance untapped, Lansbury (who would later solve murders rather than commit them) had to bide her time before much better things came along.

In "A Life at Stake", she plays a bored housewife who goes into business (both real and funny business) with an associate of her husbands, and pulls a Barbara Stanwyck/"Double Indemnity" attempt at murder in which nobody ends up the winner. Here, the lover is the sexy Keith Andes, and the husband is that famous 30's villain Douglas Dumbrille. The film is actually better looking than most "B" movies of the 50's with some interesting outdoor photography that appears to be part of the "New Wave" taking over by independent filmmakers. Lansbury doesn't look bad, either, but unfortunately, the script is rather poorly executed.
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Tepid potboiler that is almost good
GManfred10 June 2008
Honest, I tried very hard to like this one. It came in a Film Noir DVD collection with several pictures I had never seen, or even heard of - this was one of those.

The plot was fair-to-middling and Angela Lansbury was, in current phraseology, a hottie. I didn't know Keith Andes could act as well as he did in this one - I had seen him when I was younger in the '50's in some action pictures and he didn't make an impression. Pacing was not good and I found myself checking my watch several times - it was made on the cheap and it shows in several areas.

Long story short, if you are confined to quarters or laid up in traction, this picture will kill 75 minutes for you. If you're looking for a real recommendation to see it, 'fraid not.
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Mediocre Crime Noir
Rainey-Dawn14 May 2016
This one is a bit weird... first of all, who in the heck would build a cabin in the mountains with a back door that opens on the edge of a cliff? This door literally opens up and if you step off you are gone. Unrealistic and too convenient to me. That is my main problem with the film.

The other problem is the film starts out slow - the first 20 minutes seems like 2 hours but it does pick up after that and does get somewhat interesting.

Another problem I had is the 21 year old helping the poor guy figure out what to do - not to run away with the $1000 bill. That is a pretty lame way for this guy's problems to be solved.

It's not a horrible film mind you, it's just not all that good either. I did watch this one until the end so it's kinda interesting.

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Silly / Bizarre / Enjoyable
cdale-4139214 March 2019
We meet down-on-his-luck architect Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) in his ratty room in a run-down boarding house. He is visited by Sam Pearson, the lawyer for a wealthy couple who are interested in a partnership with him. Gus Hillman would put up the money to buy properties, Edward would oversee building houses on the lots, and Doris Hillman (Angela Landsbury) would sell them.

Edward meets Doris at her home one afternoon. She's sunbathing on an inflatable in a small pool in the backyard. Doris doesn't waste any time mentioning that her husband is frequently out of town for long stretches of time, and that they have a lot of money to throw around. She also makes some nonsense excuse to pull her bathing suit top down (and cover herself with a towel). They discuss the business proposition and he leaves.

They meet again at "a friend's apartment", alone, for a couple of drinks and to "talk business". You can tell the business Edward is interested in as he blatantly leers at her. Drinks are poured and Doris declares "Mmm! I feel just luscious!"

This is where Doris starts talking about getting some life insurance on Edward ... to protect their investment ... and Edward balks. "Is $250,000 too high?" "Not if you're a mountain goat!"

And it becomes painfully / hysterically obvious where all this is going! But it's entertaining!

My favorite scene comes up right after this. Edward is brooding on the porch of the ratty boarding house when Doris comes up in her convertible. She awkwardly leans over the passenger side and they passionately kiss WHILE NEGOTIATING AN INSURANCE POLICY! Kiss-Kiss-Smooch-Kiss-"How about $225,000?"-Kiss-Kiss-"No, $150,000!"-Smooch-Kiss-Kiss-"$200,000?"-Kiss-Kiss-"$175,000!"-Kiss-Kiss-Kiss-Kiss! It is the most bizarre and awkward thing I've seen in a long time!

Then we find out that Doris has a rather interesting past, and Edward -finally- gets suspicious about the Hillmans' intentions. When Edward reports his suspicions to the police (who can do nothing without any hard evidence) an officer asks, "Where can I get in touch with you?" and Edward replies "Rap twice on my coffin!"

There's a lot of silliness here. The Hillmans have a cabin that sits on the top of a mountain, and there is a door that literally opens onto a sheer drop off the edge. There is some nonsense about a framed $1000 bill. And there is a fight scene towards the climax where the elderly Mr. Hillman comes after Edward with a KARATE CHOP!

The sets are dirt cheap, the story isn't terribly new or clever, and Keith Andes desperately overacts as if this were "Casablanca" ... but it's interesting to see Angela Landsbury when she was a young hottie, and some scenes / plot devices are just plain old bizarre.

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Not bad
strikezero-397-71937521 October 2017
Not bad, but not great. A kind of middle of the road noir film. My biggest issue is personal, I just cannot see Angela Lansbury as a sex kitten - she will always be Jessica Fletcher or Miss Price. For a general time killer this one is fine. Hades its better than most movies put out today.
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Plods Along Philosophically.
rmax3048237 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Keith Andes is a down-and-out architect and builder through no fault of his own. He's approached by Douglass Dumbrille and his sexy wife, Angela Lansbury, who offer to finance a new development. Andes would be the key man in the enterprise, so naturally they want to take out a "key man policy" on his life -- just in case.

Well, Andes may be tall, brawny, and suntanned but he's no stoop. He sees through the plan right away, just like Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity." Insure Andes for a cool half million and then knock him off. But Andes gets all glandular and gives in when he's seduced by Lansbury who, in this production at least, looks capable of seducing a guy.

There follow a series of ominous incidents and one ominous panorama. "Look, darling," chirps Lansbury from their mountain cabin, "you can see miles and miles from this invitingly open porch from which you might be shoved at any time." Andes plops down on the sofa and says, "I'm comfortable here." Then the plot gets kind of anfractuous. Lansbury's sprightly younger sister enters the picture and complicates things. Andes goes ape, believing that he's being followed up blind alleys and watched while in public. Revealing letters are crumpled up, retrieved, and re-retrieved. The police, as usual, are half sympathetic and half dismissive but in any case there's nothing they can do until after he's killed, then they'll try to catch the murderer.

As the not-too-bright hero, Andes looks glum. It's his default expression. That's okay except that he doesn't seem able to convincingly portray any other emotion. (He was good as the judge in "Helter Skelter.") Lansbury's performance is obvious, and so is her sister's, but at least Madge may be a bit zoftig but she has a massive bosom that seems to resent enclosure.

Nobody seems to have put much effort into the production, and Paul Guilfoyle, the director, who was a slime ball in "White Heat." He's from Jersey City. Keith Andes is from Ocean City, New Jersey. The Jersey coast has produced innumerable examples of highly talented actors: Richard Anderson, Jack Nicholson, Abbot & Costello, Danny DaVito, and Norman Mailer, who was the best of them all, as long as he had no lines.

I couldn't grasp the logic behind the climax. Maybe you can.
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Femme Fatale Angela Lansbury
AaronIgay21 October 2013
This film was so completely forgettable I can't think of anything to write about it less than 12 hours after watching. But since my current project is to write a review for every single classic film noir I will give it a go. I'm sorry but I just can't get into a film with Angela Lansbury as the romantic femme-fatale lead. Maybe a case of reverse typecasting? I couldn't get all her later matronly roles out of my head. There was even a suggestion we might just see her swimming in the buff in an early scene, but you needn't worry, it was just a tease. Not even the loungey Les Baxter score can save this one, even though it's available as a free download your time is worth far more.
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"Salesmanship, some of us have it, some don't."
classicsoncall23 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Before Angela Lansbury began solving murders she was out there trying to commit them. Or was she? Doris Hillman's (Lansbury) true motives may have changed over the course of the story, but she started out suspiciously enough requiring that her new business partner (Keith Andes) take out a hefty insurance policy just in case, well, just in case. One of a certain age will find it hard to believe that Lansbury might actually have been hot at one time; I'm talking in the looks department. Too many episodes of 'Murder, She Wrote' will do that to you.

Here's what I'm wondering about the Ed Shaw (Andes) character - when he was careening down the mountain road after being drugged by old Gus (Douglas Dumbrille), why not just STOP the car? This doesn't take a lot of reasoning power to figure out. Then, as his car flips over at the bottom of the ravine, suddenly it's hood is gone - how does that happen? No sense trying to figure it out.

Here's an observation though - have you ever seen a film in which a looker like Madge (Claudia Barrett) has to show ID at a club in order to get a drink? I don't know what the point of that little scene was but it managed to kill a couple of minutes.

This might have been a more effective noir thriller with a little more thought and a little more atmosphere, you know, dimly lit back alleys and slinky dames on the prowl. Try as I might, I can't figure why anyone would own a house on the side of a cliff with a back door that goes straight down. Watch out for that first step.
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