Show Them No Mercy! is a great crime film about a gang of kidnappers who make it back their abandoned country house hideout to find a cute young couple, their baby daughter and doggy have picked the place to wait out a downpour. First the gangsters–Pitch, Buzz, Gimp and Tobey (Bruce Cabot, Edward Brophy, Warren Hymer, Cesar Romero) play it cool, but when the radio gives away their secret, they keep the couple, Joe and Loretta (Edward Norris and Rochelle Hudson), hostage and debate whether to kill them.
The gangsters are thrilled with their suitcase full of unmarked ransom money ($200,000), but as the FBI tell the police and media in a press conference, they secretly replaced all the bills with ones bearing specially coded serial numbers. Nationwide, people eye their bills like lottery tickets, while the stunned gangsters now have to improvise a getaway and spending plan, and get more quarrelsome and dangerous as they do so.
Meanwhile, the young couple gets just as desperate because their baby girl has a fever. They’re initially an impossibly sweet, happy-go-lucky pair with a relentlessly positive outlook, so decent and honest that they plan to leave money for whatever they take from the well-stocked cupboard. They’re thoroughly unprepared for this ordeal but they quickly get tough, resourceful and willing to use deadly force. There’s a fantastic ending to the crisis when (spoiler) Joe distracts Pitch long enough for Loretta to grab a machine gun. It’s a shock to see a someone graphically riddled with bullets in a Code era film, but because it’s that most righteous type of violence, used by a mother protecting her child and husband (and by extension families everywhere), it’s a good moral and just outcome for the villains (I know I cheered at the sight of Loretta in that doorway).
This story is very well told with great suspense and a few unexpected twists. The introductory scenes, with the rich family of the kidnapped boy, authentically shows the strain of waiting for news and deciding the best course of action as media and onlookers gather outside. Joe and Loretta’s cute little dog is the victim of cruelty from Pitch, but the stack of marked cash the pup chomps before escaping provides a vital clue for the Feds. The standouts to me were the four gangsters, especially Romero’s Tobey, the peacock, cool brain and possible conscience of the group. Cabot’s intimidating, unhinged Pitch scares his fellow thugs when he’s sober; after downing several bottles he staggers around the house threatening to shoot the baby. Hymer gives Gimp much heart as he frets over the baby’s well-being and turns back a watch to delay Pitch’s murder plan. Gimp also memorably visits a series of churches to launder his cash through their collection plates. Brophy’s Buzz and his vendetta with an annoying woodpecker (he calls it a buzzard, seagull and eagle) and fall through the floorboards provides some slapstick, but nothing that takes away from the gang’s real grit and menace.
Evil men like these inspired the title Show Them No Mercy! It was a simple and clear statement of the approach Edgar Hoover’s FBI would take when it came to kidnappers, and this movie, directed by George Marshall, is just as forceful, exciting and lean. Fox remade the story in 1951 as the western Rawhide with Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward.
Cliff at Immortal Ephemera has a really interesting review of the picture (where the second image in this post came from) and a piece on the real kidnapping that was the basis for the story.