The Looters (1955)

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Like the poster says, five men and a girl on a mountain, add a plane crash, guns and money and you have a fun thriller. 

The Looters (1955) is an interesting action film set in the Colorado Rockies, involving survivors of a plane crash, a box full of cash, two brave rescuers who find and help guide the survivors to safety, not only from the elements but also from each other, in a deadly battle over the money and the lovely Julie Adams.

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The story begins as we meet Rory Calhoun of the Army mountain troops in his mountain cabin. He’s visited by an old Army buddy played by Ray Danton. “Buddy” might be too kind a word since Danton is creepy and arrogant; the way he reminds Calhoun how he saved his life in the war makes him sound more like a debt collector than an old friend. Danton says he needs a break from life and what better place to crash (uninvited) than Calhoun’s remote cabin. Calhoun and Danton go climbing the next day, an episode wherein we learn that Danton has a bit of a panicky, cowardly streak and Calhoun is heroic and unflappable under pressure.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain, an airliner just happens to crash and the only survivors are the aforementioned Julie Adams as a pinup model who dreams of a normal life (and whose cover issue happens to be on the plane for everyone to ogle and pass around), Thomas Gomez, who pretends to be a wealthy stockbroker but only has shattered dreams and ones and fives in his wallet, and Frank Faylen as a Navy officer and decent guy (plus one dying man we hardly see except carried on a stretcher). There just happened to be a Treasury agent on board the plane carrying $250,000; Gomez finds that lockbox in the wreckage and concludes that his lucky day of surviving a plane crash has turned into a lottery win and a new start in life.

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When Danton and Calhoun find the site, things get complicated as Danton grabs a gun, joins Gomez in a 50/50 split and holds the others hostage. They may have the weapons, but only Calhoun has the expertise to get them back down the mountain in one piece. The rest of the story has Calhoun and Danton trying to outsmart each other and either protect or attract Adams. Calhoun makes a great hero, cool and clever and not above some dirty tricks to get the upper hand. And Danton makes a great villain, slimy and conniving but smart enough to know his limits and to guess what Calhoun might try next. Poor Julie Adams is propositioned by Gomez too, but that one turns out to be more than a suddenly wealthy mature gentleman trying to entice the model; it’s the clue to a nice little O. Henry twist ending.

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There also just happens to be artillery practice going on in the area, and naturally that has to be suspended while the search for the crash site goes on; that’s another little detail you can put in your pocket till the plot comes asking for it. As you can see there’s a lot here that just happens to happen and some of these things strain credibility, but it really didn’t matter to me since there’s a lot of fun action and drama to make up for it. The version of The Looters that I saw on YouTube was poor but I had a great time watching what reminded me of an early version of Cliffhanger (1993). All the way through, the plot and pace kept the suspense almost as tight as a rope you could rappel down a mountainside with (clearly I don’t know the first thing about mountain climbing but you didn’t think I would resist the metaphors). Here and there the pace slows where it makes sense, to look after a dying man on a stretcher, to camp out for a night or to allow for some shady attempts at deal making or backstabbing.

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Call me shallow but there are worse ways to spend movie time than staring at the gorgeous combo of Julie Adams, Rory Calhoun and Ray Danton. They not only make for some nice eye candy but their easy screen presence and the angsty interactions the script gives them smooths the way through any other problems. Adams might spend a night in a tent with Calhoun but this movie was where she met Danton; they married soon after and remained so until 1978. The ending is spectacular; first I shook my head at how contrived the timing of those climactic events was, but I can say that The Looters has one of the all time best villain deaths I’ve ever seen. This was the first big picture from actor-turned-director Abner Biberman, who went on to tons of TV work on shows like The Virginian and Gilligan’s Island. He just happened to do a fine job with this action movie, setting a bunch of interesting actors against each other in an exciting story and in some amazing scenery. Fun discovery and as memorable to me as that tune Danton whistles all the way through.

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20 thoughts on “The Looters (1955)”

  1. This sounds great! I really like Adams and Calhoun so I’ll be looking out for it – thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Yeah this is one that scores extra points just because it surprises you. Unexpectedly fun one. Can’t help but repeat that those stars are great to watch. Hope you enjoy it.

    1. ha! But the rest of the movie is fun too! After all that stuff on the mountain, they picked a creative way to off the villain. You might cheer.

    1. I was in a rush, didn’t want to see it vanish like so many other YT finds! Liked the cast and the action, hope you enjoy it too!

  2. Sounds like a fun film. I dont think too many people realize that there are a lot of movies to be watched for free on youtube. Will have to look this one up. Great review.

  3. Good review… and dare I say it?: right on target (lol). I liked this one a lot too, and I think I did cheer when Danton got his 😉

    I believe the tune he kept whistling was the old French song “Aupres de ma blonde;” I first heard it in “Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel.” And it got into my head for days as a result!

    1. haha, right on target indeed! hit the spot! My first exclamation on that was WHOAAhoho! followed by a cheer. Thanks for reading and also for identifying that song for me, I haven’t seen the Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel! I liked how they used that melody as part of the score in the Looters too.

  4. Iv’e been offered ropey off-air copies of this film but live in hope that
    Universal Vault will release it at some point.
    Love the cast; and you may find this odd coming
    from a Brit but I always thought Ray Danton would have
    made an awesome James Bond.

    1. The copy I saw was very bad, it would look amazing in a nice print with all that beautiful mountain scenery. Not odd at all, I can see that casting, especially in an action role like this. Could have used some of that Bond charm to win over Adams’ character though!

    1. It is loads of fun, like I say you can’t help but enjoy this cast and the story is pretty exciting. The unexpected ones seem better when they impress, I always find. Thank you!

  5. Now this is a GOOD movie. I’m a Rory Calhoun fan and I enjoyed this film, which is lean and tense and doesn’t waste footage but gives you a lot of info in a short time. I agree with your point, the three leads are easy on the eyes (though I suppose by today’s standards Adams’s magazine cover photo would be considered quite mild). Hollywood could still produce tight little thrillers in the 50s; aspiring directors could do worse than watch this film.

    1. Yes and yes, I agree with everything you said there. I like how it slows down where it’s supposed to, and the action makes all the stuff that you think sounds unbelievable, somehow totally believable with a good payoff. I really had a good time with it and am glad to see so many people know it, like it or want to see it! Thanks!

  6. Am watching it youtub as I write this! Getting near to that ending you talked about.
    I’m enjoying it and hope it gets a release on dvd. A good adventure.
    That’s a spectacular ending!

    1. Glad you liked it 🙂 it is sure, um, explosive isn’t it? and I have to say, Danton sure left a MARK! ok I’ll stop now. I would love to see this in a nice print, would look super.

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