Or….Sunset Boulevard and On the Waterfront redux!
By Paul Mavis
Those magnificent bastards at Mill Creek Entertainment (how cool are they? Got three hours?) have released on Blu-ray a very tasty noirish double feature—Hollywood Story and New Orleans Uncensored—both from the prolific director’s chair of future fright king, William Castle.
1955’s racket-busting/boxing murder actioner New Orleans Uncensored features Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, and Ed Nelson. Mill Creek’s Blu B&W transfers are crisp and clean—vintage noir fans will need these in their collections.
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While the head of the New Orleans Port Authority (Judge Walter B. Hamlin) confidently asserts there’s no corruption on the docks, everyone else knows full well there’s plenty of kickbacks going down at the Nawlins waterfront, that Mistress of the Mississippi, that Queen of the Gulf. All you have to do is look for a cigarette behind the ear of every stevedore toting that barge and lifting that bale: that’s the signal that they’re bought and paid for by Zero Saxon (Michael Ansara), whose cartage company somehow underbids every other company, even while paying union dues.
How so? Kickbacks from the workers in exchange for steady work, that’s how…along with paying off the longshoreman union’s business agent Jack Petty (Michael Granger), who keeps President Al Chittenden (himself), President, General Longshore Workers, Local 1418, ILA, in the dark about the graft. And since all the dock-wallopers are owned, Zero can play the old shell game with pilfered loads, making a tidy profit reselling goods while stiffing the insurance companies in the bargain.
Enter Navy veteran Dan Corbett (Arthur Franz) from California. He’s in N.O. to buy a rust-bucket LSM (Landing Ship Medium) from salvage owner Mac McCabe (uncredited…which is too bad; he’s marvelous). Dan needs a few more bucks to begin working on the tin can, so McCabe suggests the docks—something Dan is initially opposed to, since he visited there during one of Zero’s riots. However, a free ticket to the longshoreman’s picnic at Pontchartrain Beach sets up Dan with Alma Mae (Helen Stanton), the sexy friend of Jack Petty. When Dan knocks out the union’s boxing champ (who makes a drunken move on Alma), Dan is in, brother.
Soon, Dan becomes friends with Zero’s dock manager, Joe Reilly (William Henry), a regular Joe with ambitions, see, and a swell dame of a wife, Marie (Beverly Garland), who just wants her simple stevedore husband back. Dan also befriends Marie’s brother, Scrappy Durant (Stacy Harris), a former boxing champ who helps train Dan for some big-money boxing matches. However, once Dan figures out that Joe is involved in Zero’s kickback schemes, he’s soon pitted against the corrupt racketeer in a life and death battle for
insurance company premiums for the workingman’s right to a fair shake.
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When the words “A Sam Katzman Production” come up, you know it’s quality! Actually, when that credit pops on the screen, I know for certain I’m going to get a speedy, entertaining little exploiter, one that won’t spend a lot of time wasting my time. And New Orleans Uncensored is no different than the hundreds of other flicks that thrifty, crafty, no-nonsense producer shepherded throughout his career.
Owing more than a little to 1951’s classic, On the Waterfront (…along with every boxing and “ambitious man on the make” movie ever made), New Orleans Uncensored was just one in a line of city-named “exposé” crime thrillers Katzman produced in the mid-to-late 50s, after The Miami Story made him some serious money in 1954. Within two years, Katzman would also crank out Chicago Syndicate, The Houston Story, Miami Exposé, and Inside Detroit (whatever the national grosses were…you can bet they cleaned up in their hometowns).
New Orleans Uncensored is as much travelogue as it is crime meller, with copious amounts of shooting at such high spots as the Café du Monde (coffee and doughnuts, naturally), Pontchartrain Beach (bizarrely, the Longshoreman’s Picnic scene opens with two guys wrestling on a deserted stretch of beach), St. Louis Cathedral, the Club Slipper, and lots of shots of Bourbon Street and any number of other side streets and alleyways in the French Quarter (and as expected, the N.O. docks). Real locations (including real offices and apartments and gyms—no built sets, it looks like) only add to New Orleans Uncensored’s neo-realist noir tone (as well as plugging actual N.O. players into the cast, such as Al Chittenden, Judge Walter B. Hamlin, and boxers Pete Herman and Ralph Dupas, to make us think the story is legit).
As for the rest of the title…it’s hard to have an “uncensored” view of the city when the opening narration immediately reassures us that there is absolutely no graft on the docks. What?…you think all that location work came with no strings attached? No, sir—we’re told within the first 2 minutes that the N.O. port is “free of dock pirates so far…” putting the remainder of New Orleans Uncensored straight into fantasy land, rather than as a hard-hitting, muck-racking exposé of racketeering in the Big Easy (and don’t even pretend you thought that that “Uncensored” meant we might get a peek at the more salacious haunts on Bourbon Street. You know better…).
Luckily, New Orleans Uncensored doesn’t need reality to intrude on its punchy, pulpy production. Scripters Orville Hampton (lots of fun exploiters like Rocketship X-M and The Atomic Submarine) and Lewis Meltzer (the boxing classic Golden Boy, The Man With the Golden Arm) are working on thoroughly familiar ground…but at least they get on with it, as New Orleans Uncensored’s peppy 75 minute run time packs in a whole lot of juicy meller. Director Castle is in his usual trim manner, too, never lingering longer on a scene than is needed.
To be fair…sometimes things are too abbreviated: how did Dan get so chummy so fast with the sexy Alma? (Some worker!) And isn’t Dan trusted a tad too quickly by…just about everyone? If you’re a smug sonafabitch when it comes to these old timey movies, and feel like laughing at that dialogue (in the short span of two minutes, Marie comes up with, “Don’t let your boat cost…too much,” “Anything can happen,” and “Nice guys get hurt…easy,”), those scripters knew it was dopey, too (when nice guy Dan romances who-ahh Alma with a too-sincere, “No one lives in a vacuum,” wise-beyond-her-bustline Alma gives the only correct response: a snotty, “Hey…that’s deep stuff!”).
A plus, too, for New Orleans Uncensored is how Castle and the scripters detail exactly how the corruption starts at the docks, from the employee kickbacks, to the shell game moves with the stolen goods, to the bought-and-paid-for union officials that keep all those swell mugs in the dark. The level of detail into the mechanics of the pilfering is particularly interesting (most of these types of movies always assume you already know how the fiddle works), which helps make up for a central lack of threat to our hero (if we never feel that Arthur Franz can’t handle things…we can at least follow along as he learns about the meticulous deceptions of Michael Ansara).
The cast of familiar faces does quite well playing it straight. I’ve always enjoyed Arthur Franz’s low-key earnestness, and while I don’t buy the 35-year-old actor as a dangerous brawler, at least he looks like he could go a few rounds without passing out. He also hits the right notes bantering with hot dish Helene Stanton, who’s a bit of a “wow” around a tight dress and a smart mouth, and who makes you wish she had been given better material in more prominent movies.
Unfortunately for Beverly Garland, who could play a sexy moll like nobody’s business, Stanton steals her thunder; there’s not much for Garland to do here with her good girl widow (oops). Michael Ansara is fine as the greasy Zero Saxon (what a great name for a Bond villain), while you can get some solid laughs keeping your eye on Mike Mazurki, who finds plenty of opportunities to mug…and delightfully so. If the ending of New Orleans Uncensored comes on too familiar (those White Heat oscillators) and too fast (Franz’s chase of Ansara is over before it even starts), there’s no worry: it’s been an entertaining bit of noir gristle that goes down just fine.