Canon City (1948): At Colorado State Penitentiary, a group of convicts (including Jeff Corey, Whit Bissell, Stanley Clements) plot their big breakout. They escape on the night of an epic blizzard and scatter; some, like Clements hide out in places they know, but most of the cons invade homes and terrorize the locals. As each is caught or gunned down, the police draw a giant “X” over their mugshot, until one remains: Scott Brady. He’s the decent one, who was trusted to work alone in the prison darkroom, and expected to serve out his time, but reluctantly got involved in the escape. When he busts into a home with a deathly ill little boy, he’s soft enough to let the mother and child go for help, knowing it will likely lead to his capture. The twist(s) that comes from that kindness repaid makes a nice, hopeful and to me, unexpected touch in such a gritty semi-documentary noir. It’s character moments like that, plus the exciting pace and great photography by John Alton that made this so riveting and unique. Writer-director Crane Wilbur starts things off slow, with Reed Hadley doing newsreel-style narration (this was based on real events only a few months old at the time), and almost a half-hour of prep work on the escape plan and the character development, but that all pays off with distinct, compelling individuals to follow through the manhunt and various standoffs (the one on the gorge lift and bridge is stunning).
I loved the strong women in this, one in each home invaded by the convicts, all of whom act coolly and intelligently under pressure, then bravely try to protect their homes and families. There’s a fabulously tense bit where Mabel Paige twice sneaks up on Corey holding a hammer; when he foils her first attempt, she hides the hammer under her apron and offers him an orange instead. Paige and another woman are rewarded with medals, while the grateful mother pleads with the prison warden (played by real warden Roy Best) to consider Brady’s act of kindness.
Port of New York (1949) is a good, gritty customs and narcotics procedural in which Brady plays an agent eager to work with seasoned investigator Richard Rober, on the case of a massive heroin shipment imported by classy kingpin Yul Brynner. When Brynner’s girlfriend K.T. Stevens sours on him and the whole smuggling racket, she approaches the agents and promises to give them info. She’s murdered before she talks, but she leaves a clue that leads the Feds to a drug package, which they follow to a junkie nightclub performer (Arthur Blake), who’s persuaded to name a higher up, and so on until they reach Brynner. Determined Agent Brady is killed when he’s discovered working undercover at the pier, which leaves Rober with a personal vendetta against the cartel. Directed by Laslo Benedek, Port has lots of nice shots all over New York City (loved the Penn Station part), familiar faces like William Challee, Neville Brand and John Kellogg, and narration by Chet Huntley, later to be far better known as TV news anchor.
They Were So Young (1954): Young ladies from around the world are lured into a prostitution/white slavery ring when they answer an ad by a sham modelling agency operating out of Rio. When two of the new girls (Johanna Matz and Ingrid Stenn) try to tell the police about their situation, their “instructors” get violent. The other girls point out that silence is the only way, unless they want to end up like the former student found dead on the beach in the movie’s opening scenes. On Matz’s first night as a model, she was picked out for a good time by Scott Brady, a mining foreman working for Raymond Burr. Brady got drunk and insistent, and Matz broke a bottle over his head, but now, alone and terrified, she thinks Brady is the only one who might help her escape the evil Germans running the agency (Gisela Fackeldey and Gert Frobe). Unaware that Burr is the leader of the ring, Brady makes the mistake of hiding Matz at Burr’s remote villa, and from there our couple flees into the wilderness, and gets separated when Matz is abducted and kept on a riverboat.
This is a mix of fairly graphic violence, gritty and shocking subject matter, with a lot of adventure and a little romance thrown in. Aside from some clunky pacing in the finale, things move fast. Brady is a rugged sweetheart and Matz is innocent enough that you believe she’d be fooled into this mess, but she’s also cautious, quick on the uptake, and a fighter. She refuses to keep quiet despite the threats, and she doesn’t want to be like the girls who have convinced themselves that all the designer clothes and fancy living quarters make up for the degradation. One advises Matz to just tolerate the parade clients until a rich one decides to marry her. At Burr’s place, Brady meets one slave who knows better; she may currently be the favoured lady, she says, but she’ll be disposed of once a younger prettier model comes along.