Movie: Chicago Confidential (1957)

There are so many character actors I have seen in so many old movies that I’m starting to wonder if I will eventually find a movie where the entire cast is actors like Eugene Pallette, William Demarest and Patsy Kelly.  One such actor is Elisha Cook.  I suspect four randomly picked noirs from that genre’s golden era will have this actor in at least one of them. 

Such a randomly chosen film could be 1957’s Chicago Confidential.  It has the actor in a bit part typical of his other roles. Every poor schlub he plays is like some doomed character suddenly finding himself in a Tom Waits song.  In this case, he’s a bum wandering the riverfront when he stumbles upon a gun. 

That gun was left behind by mobsters after they shot a union guy who had been on his way to give the District Attorney (Brian Keith) information on corruption in his organization.  The weapon will put the finger on forthright union head Dick Foran, as this gun belongs to him and even has his prints on it.

A mobster played by Douglas Kennedy planted that evidence. He has also whipped up something more peculiar to try to put Foran behind bars.  It is an audio recording that appears to be of Foran, supposedly as part of a ruse to establish an alibi for the time the murder was committed.  I’m not a lawyer, but I refuse to believe that tape would be admissible as evidence.  Part of the film’s third act will be scrutinizing professional stage mimics, as our heroes suspect one was used to impersonate Foran for that recording.  I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief enough to accept a major plot point involves desperately trying to find a comedian with a shtick like Rich Little used to do.

It is one of the few times I missed the otherwise oppressive narration.  Typical of these kinds of films, there is opening narration, and I’m OK with that.  But then it keeps popping up when it isn’t necessary, telling us exactly what we’re seeing or repeating information that was just relayed to us.  The worst abuses of narration are when it is used in place of dialog we can see an actor delivering, and providing a summary of what was said.  You know, voiceover text like, “She denied having seen the man that night…”, etc.  When the technique is used in such excess, I’m convinced the filmmakers believe their audience to be deeply stupid.

Still, there’s a lot to like here.  Except for interiors, the shoot uses real locations.  This is an aspect of such low-budget films that often seems to give them an edge over the big studios.  Deep pockets usually encourage the use of a studio lot for exteriors, where everything can be better controlled.  But there’s no substitution for the cinema verité touch added by filming on the streets of Chicago.

There’s also an interesting scene where audio experts compare the recording used to convict Foran to one made of him while behind bars.  I’m always intrigued by such glimpses into the early days of forensic work (think of the fingerprint analysis bit in the original M), and I was amused by the dueling oscilloscopes here used to compare the recordings.

The casting of Chicago Confidential is solid.  Brian Keith is dependable as always.  Dick Foran is so-so as the framed man, but he is curiously, largely absent from large portions of a movie where everything is centered around his character.  Beverly Garland delivers one of the more remarkable performances here, as Foran’s girl.  And, oh yes, Elisha Cook in the Elisha Cook part, the role he was born to play.

Dir: Sidney Salkow

Starring Brian Keith, Beverly Garland, Dick Foran

Watched as part of Kino Lorber’s blu-ray box set Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VII