fun 1951 low budget noir about a lot standing between crook Lloyd Bridges & his money
YouTube did its statistical mojo to suggest me this 1951 Lloyd Bridges B set in Italy after I got through watching a couple mafia movies (Milano Calibro 9, Battle of the Godfathers) and though Three Steps North is no noir essential, I’m glad I watched it. After getting a tip that he’s about to be found out for black market activities and earnings while stationed near Naples, U.S. GI Bridges pulls his truck over at mile marker 66, finds a tree, carves his initial into it, takes three steps north and buries the loot. After serving four years, he comes back to Italy to dig up his reward.
Unfortunately between him and his money stands every possible obstacle, ranging from an annoying, clingy criminal who helps Bridges get across the Atlantic with no passport, then shadows and nickel-and-dimes him for every further favor, or that new cemetery on the site of the buried money, or the overly friendly, nosy and light-sleeping cemetery manager (Aldo Fabrizi) who eagerly rattles off all the American foods, movies, drinks and names he knows to impress Bridges, or the bad luck and timing that has Bridges cross paths with the Law far too often; something is constantly preventing him from putting shovel to dirt to get at his dough.
Though some of the situations strain credulity, it’s a forgivable part since the plot depends on it (reminded me of Mickey Rooney’s Quicksand), and Bridges plays it expertly, reacting just like the viewer would, rolling his eyes and being increasingly exasperated by the unbelievable luck he’s dealt. Bridges also looks up the woman he stood up 4 years ago (Lea Padovani), and tries to rekindle their relationship, initially just to use her in case he needs papers or a place to hide. Pressure gets greater as the con man stalking Bridges is murdered, he’s approached by a local private detective who seems to know his secret, and his assumed identity is almost busted by the sudden appearance of the mother of the man he’s impersonating.
All these events actually help make Bridges’ character more likable, because though he starts out a pretty arrogant, self-centred worm, you can’t help but feel more sympathy for him as he’s worn down and learns to care about the various people hurt by the war and his own actions. As the twist ending confirms, the whole point of this adventure was to finally make him the changed man that obsessing over the money while serving time obviously didn’t. Directed by Billy Wilder’s brother W. Lee, the movie’s nothing overly memorable but it works and there’s a lot to like; it gives you a nice look at postwar Italy, good performances by all involved, good music, and is worth the time spent for fans of Bridges and the genre.