When you watch enough noir, you get used to seeing somebody tailing another and suddenly having to duck behind something. Usually, the pursuer conceals themselves behind the corner of a building, or a pillar, or in a doorway. But 1954’s Cry Vengeance has the only occurrence I have seen of somebody hiding behind a totem pole. Even stranger, this happens in a downtown area.
But then I wouldn’t have expected a noir to be set in Ketchikan, Alaska. I keep a list in my head of the most “noir” cities, with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York usually fighting for the pole position. I guess “desert” is also in there, though not any one state or area in particular. But I don’t think anywhere in Alaska is anywhere on my list.
I was astonished much of this was shot on location, given this was made by a poverty row studio. This is an average noir overall, but the novelty of it being shot in Ketchikan is one of the reasons to seek it out.
Mark Stevens, who also directed, plays a man just released from San Quentin. He used to be a cop, but was falsely convicted, accused of taking a bribe. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his wife and daughter were killed in an explosion that has also left much of the right side of his face scarred. He has come to Alaska to kill Douglas Kennedy, the man he believes is responsible for his plight.
Ironically, though he committed many crimes, Kennedy is not responsible for the explosion. He laments this frequently in conversations with his henchman, played by Mort Mills. I’m not exactly sure why Mills accompanied his boss to Alaska. All I know is he weirdly looks like the human incarnation of Joe Camel.
One element of this I found interesting is how Kennedy is portrayed as a doting father to his young daughter. For a movie of this period, that is a nuance I wasn’t expecting for a man initially positioned as the villain.
The real villain is Skip Homeier, as a thug who follows Stevens to Alaska. He is genuinely unnerving as a nearly emotionless psychopath. He also looks rather odd: like Ted Danson in his twenties, but somehow with the hair that actor has today.
What is most bizarre is Stevens is presented as our hero, or at least our protagonist, yet he is deeply unlikeable. I realize this is supposed to be a man who is desperate to avenge the many severe ways he has been wronged, but I couldn’t overlook what an abrasive jerk he is to everybody. At least the scar makeup is pretty good.
Martha Hyer plays the love interest to both Stevens and Kennedy. I don’t recall having seen her in anything before, but she’s good as the owner of a bar. She also has a pretty good-sized boat. It is a nice change of pace to see somebody as a successful businesswoman in this type of picture. Odd, but I just now realized there isn’t a femme fatale, that staple of noir, in this movie. Another thing I feel compelled to say about Hyer is that she somehow looks like young Shelley Winters and 1960’s Shirley Jones had a child together, and I definitely would like to see that moment of conception.
Cry Vengeance likely wouldn’t be as interesting if it wasn’t filmed where it was. Filming in Ketchikan gives it a unique edge over most other mid-tier noirs. But if it wasn’t set in that environment, it would still have solid performances from a cast of actors I haven’t seen in other films before.
Dir: Mark Stevens
Starring Mark Steven, Martha Hyer, Skip Homeier
Watched on Olive Films blu-ray