Jolly Cinema > 14:30


Felix E. Feist
Introduced by

Eddie Muller (Noir Film Foundation)


Monday 24/06/2019


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Director Felix Feist’s first film noir is a reckless and startlingly subversive B-movie thrill-ride that, without warning, careens from silly comedy to scary psychopathy. The meager plot revolves around a slightly drunk good Samaritan giving a ride to a guy who’s robbed and killed a cinema cashier. When they pick up two women along the way, things spin completely out of control. It’s merely a question of who will live through the night. Feist was eager to helm a feature again after years stuck in the trenches making shorts and travelogues for MGM, and RKO gave him ample freedom to adapt Robert DuSoe’s hitchhiker-from-hell novel, The Devil Thumbs a Ride. It was a test of his mettle since the film’s star, Lawrence Tierney, was notoriously devilish himself, a boozing and brawling demon with a police record longer than his list of film credits. Far from intimidated, Feist fully captured Tierney’s dangerous combination of ribald humor, sinister charm and hair-trigger volatility and violence. Feist’s willingness to juxtapose comedy ‘relief’ with moments of startling cruelty was unheard of at the time; the mix of sardonic humor and casual sadism wouldn’t be equaled until 1952, when Jim Thompson published The Killer Inside Me (Tierney and Feist would have been simpatico collaborators on a contemporary film version). Writer Barry Gifford remarked that “Tierney invests this basically stupid plot with such genuine virulence that Devil must be ranked in the upper echelon of indelibly American noir”. Due to rights issues, the film has been unavailable for years, but thanks to a brand new restoration by the Library of Congress, modern audiences (at least outside America) can once again see this singularly disconcerting example of B-moviemaking at its most berserk.

Eddie Muller

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1938) di Robert C. DuSoe. Scen.: Felix Feist. F.: J. Roy Hunt. M.: Robert Swink. Scgf.: Albert D’Agostino, Charles F. Pyke. Mus.: Paul Sawtell. Int.: Lawrence Tierney (Steve Morgan), Ted North (Jimmy Ferguson), Nan Leslie (Beulah Zorn/Carol Hemming), Betty Lawford (Agnes), Andrew Tombes (Joe Brayden), Harry Shannon (Owens), Glenn Vernon (Jack Kenny), Marian Carr (Diane Ferguson). Prod.: Herman Schlom per RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.. DCP. D.: 62’. Bn.


Film Notes

The Threat, a brisk and brutal B-movie from RKO, concerns a notorious crook (played with savage cool by Charles McGraw) who breaks out of prison looking for revenge. That is the entire plot. What it lacks in story, it makes up for with a hostage drama that is surprisingly violent for its era. The creative force is Feist, who had previously made The Devil Thumbs a Ride for the studio – and The Threat is a nasty encore. Both revolve around an unrepentant psychopath holding a houseful of people hostage. Neither movie cares about plot – they’re all about the guilty pleasure of watching a powerful actor given free rein to wreak havoc, escalating to a satisfying and cleverly directed finale in a forlorn shack in the California desert. Feist flourished within the constraints of a picture like The Threat. His brilliance shone in violent contemporary melodrama, while his historical pieces such as Battles of Chief Pontiac and Pirates of Tripoli, weren’t nearly as exciting.
The Threat was the breakout picture for supporting actor Charles McGraw – RKO gave him only third billing, but the press heralded him as a new and entertaining menace in the mold of Richard Widmark, Dan Duryea, and Lawrence Tierney. McGraw had already made 25 pictures prior to this, working with geniuses like Robert Siodmak (The Killers) and Anthony Mann (T-Men, Border Incident). But in The Threat, he wasn’t a scary hoodlum lurking at the edge of the frame – he’s front and center, a burly juggernaut. Feist relishes turning this ferocious bulldog loose on a bruised and battered supporting cast that includes Michael O’Shea, Frank Conroy, Don McGuire and Virginia Grey – who takes her fair share of lumps as McGraw’s possibly duplicitous girlfriend. Like The Devil Thumbs a Ride, this is a live-action cartoon, with humans standing in for savvy roadrunners and wily coyotes. Buckle up for this 66-minute flight from justice; it may be short, but there is much turbulence.

Eddie Muller 

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Hugh King. Scen.: Dick Irving Hyland, Hugh King. F.: Harry Wild. M.: Samuel E. Beetley. Scgf.: Albert D’Agostino, Charles F. Pyke. Mus.: Paul Sawtell. Int.: Charles McGraw (Arnold Kluger), Virginia Grey (Carol), Michael O’Shea (Ray Williams), Frank Conroy (Barker ‘Mac’ MacDonald), Don McGuire (Joe Turner), Robert Shayne (Murphy), Anthony Caruso (Nick Damon), Frank Richards (Lefty). Prod.: Hugh King per RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.. 35mm. D.: 66’. Bn.