Techie talent gets O’Brien mixed up with the mob in this “Dam” good noir
In 711 Ocean Drive (1950), Edmond O’Brien plays a lineman for the county (Los Angeles), who gambles all his earnings at the racetrack, and manages to parlay his technological expertise into a job with the mob, helping them improve their radio communications systems to transmit race info at lightning speed. He pulls one of the great tricks of career building, that is, makes himself so useful—more useful than an armed thug–that he can write his own ticket. He demands a bigger cut of the bookie’s pie, and eventually ends up running the operation. O’Brien’s soon wrestling with a bigger Eastern Syndicate, with bigger heists and schemes, and with the wife (Joanne Dru) of one of the bosses. You’ll see some impressive tech tricks that have since become familiar plot devices, and you get some great scenery around L.A. and Malibu where O’Brien gets to live after moving up in the mob heirarchy.
Speaking of scenery, there’s the very impressive chase scene through the Boulder dam, into it, under it and out the other side. Follow me, and watch your step, as O’Brien and Dru try to blend in with a dam tour group, take in some dam fun factoids, and then try to get away from the police. Enjoy the impressive variety of shots and angles, the dizzying perspective of impossibly high walls, massive equipment, long stairwells and tunnels in the dark dam contrasted with the blinding sun of the Lake Mead exterior. The name of the dam had almost since the start of its construction been a point of contention; only a few years prior to the film it was “settled” by an Act of Congress and called Hoover Dam, though as seen in this film it would remain popularly and interchangeably known as Boulder Dam for some time.
Edmond O’Brien shows once again why he was one of the very best. As in D.O.A., he’s tightly wound and seemingly ready to burst into smithereens at any moment. He’s quick to notice and fast to strike, fearsome and suspicious, yet smooth, virile and masculine enough to appeal to Dru, who truly falls in love with him. The other woman he really appeals to is Dorothy Patrick, who pines for him but is left behind and far better off not getting ensnared in his bundle of trouble and complicated ambition. This mob story is the type of film that you could just as easily pop in the time machine and send forward for Scorsese to work on with very few adjustments. One would be chopping off the finger waving message directed at the audience to stop making those dollar bets because, really, it’s all your fault for supporting this type of criminal activity.
According to this fascinating blog post , this movie was originally titled Blood Money, was meant for Victor Mature, and was based, right down to recreation of specific scenes (much like Weegee photos were “seen” in Naked City) on real wire racket and wiretapping stories, cases, informants and investigations. The movie gained added authenticity through generous help by an LAPD Lieutenant acting as technical advisor. Such insider input resulted in an amalgam of the juiciest activities of mob luminaries like Busgy Siegel, Mickey Cohen, and the closest inspiration for Edmond O’Brien’s character, one Jimmy Vaus. Vaus had started out working as a techie for the mob (hired by the aforementioned Cohen to sweep rooms for bugs) then was born again at a Billy Graham revival; after seeing the light he joined the good guys. Vaus’ memoirs mention locations unmistakably seen in the movie – Vine street hangouts, baseball games and fight nights.
a version of this was previously published in THE DARK PAGES newsletter for film noir fans; click here to check out the latest issues
image sources here