"Crime Wave"

                                                          The first striking feature of Crime Wave, an excellent, low-budget 1954 release from Warner Brothers, is the sound. For a Film Noir, a type of film typically identified by its visual designs, this may seem unusual, but in many cases the aural attributes of these movies added an extra ingredient of formal quality and interest. This is what we have here. Crime Wave has all of the imagery one associates with Film Noir – the high contrast lighting, dark shadows, canted angles, etc. – but the sound is something unique. Many scenes are void of a complementary score or background music. Instead, we're presented sequences as if we were there, or at the very least as if the direct recording has simply been taken and immediately played back without any sort of technical manipulation. It gives the film an almost hollow quality, like we're in these unadorned rooms and offices, with no amplification, resulting in a bare, simple and extremely realistic atmosphere.

In terms of story, Crime Wave is Film Noir through and through. Ex-con Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson) is trying to make a legit go of his new life. He's got a wife, Ellen (Phyllis Kirk), a decent job, and he's doing all he can to stay the course and avoid all reminders of his past criminal existence. But this is Film Noir, and fate frequently steps in to make sure that the best laid plans seldom meet expectations. For Lacey, everything starts when he gets a phone call, apparently from a former prison acquaintance. The blast from the past upsets Steve and Ellen (in Film Noir, the past is always ready for a reemergence and that usually means trouble), so when the phone rings again, he doesn't answer. This is unfortunate for Steve because as chance, luck or fate would have it, at the same time three men who just so happen to know Steve are robbing a gas station, shooting a police officer and assaulting an attendant. Steve's proximity to the area and his troubled history make him a possible suspect. If he's home, he probably didn't commit the crimes, but he may still board the crooks. Det. Lt. Sims (Sterling Hayden) has one of his men put in a call to the Lacey house, and that's when no one answers, and that's when Steve becomes a hunted and wanted man. This sets off a string of events where the true criminals are sought and Steve seeks to maintain his innocence and keep his distance from those seeking his illegal assistance.

Crime Wave was directed by André De Toth, a Hungarian immigrant who came to Hollywood in the early 1940s and made feature films and worked in television through the 1960s. Some projects were uneven, but he excelled in several high quality genre pictures, usually of the "B" variety – Westerns, crime films, thrillers, and horror (his most famous movie was probably the 3-D House of Wax, from 1953, a technical achievement all the more impressive when you know that De Toth only had one eye). Though made in 1952, Crime Wave would be the fourth film to carry his director credit released in 1954. With Hayden, the most famous performer in the film is Charles Bronson, acting as one of the hoods. Listed by his real name Charles Buchinsky he's barely recognizable at first.

Crime Wave is a remarkable little movie. It's a great example of the quickly crafted and artistically competent films Hollywood could produce in this period. Shot in just 13 days and with a running time of 73 minutes, it's a taut, sharp and entertaining picture; for the eyes and ears it's an arresting film, impressive from start to finish.

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