A Life at Stake (1955)
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.