Thursday 4 June 2020

Movie Review: Plunder Road (1957)

A B-movie heist thriller, Plunder Road is a slick and compact story of desperate men attempting to get away with a masterful robbery.

In the middle of a dark and rainy night in rural Utah, five men use two trucks to pull off a daring train heist of $10 million in US mint gold bars. Eddie (Gene Raymond) is the mastermind, and his crew consists of veteran Skeets (Elisha Cook Jr.), failed racing car driver Frankie (Steven Ritch), movie stuntman Commando (Wayne Morris) and chewing gum addict Roly (Stafford Repp).

The five men hide the gold in three trucks intending to drive 900 miles to Los Angeles, where Eddie's girl Fran (Jeanne Cooper) is waiting to help with the final stage of the plan. But with a police cordon throwing roadblocks at every turn, the journey will be treacherous.

A Poverty Row production from Regal Films, Plunder Road clocks in at 72 minutes and does not waste a second. Writer Steven Ritch (who also plays the nervous Frankie) and director Hubert Cornfield open with the immediacy of the train heist, and the first 15 minutes are almost silent, the gang executing flawlessly.

Most of the rest of the film is a tense road trip, the men split into three groups each driving a truck, making their way to a rendevouz point in Los Angeles where Eddie has readied another ingenious twist to complete the crime. But with $10 million at stake the police across multiple states deploy all their resources to find and stop the trucks, resulting in several taut stand-offs.

The road scenes allow writer Ritch to introduce some character background, and veteran Elisha Cook Jr. as the scrappy career criminal Skeets gets ample screen time to imagine an idyllic post-crime world where he can live with his son in an exotic location. Frankie emerges as the most coiled of the five men, ironically the former professional racer now exceptionally edgy about the drive ahead.

But this is a micro budget production, and the corner cutting emerges in the ruthless abruptness of some scenes. Once the men run into trouble and tangle with the authorities the film is prone to abandoning them to their fate with checkmark efficiency.

Cinematographer Ernest Haller makes excellent use of the few available dollars with stellar black and white work, particularly during the night heist scene in the pouring rain. Haller also recognizes the trucks as the true stars of the show, featuring the machines in most shots and leveraging the rumbling momentum of the large beasts into a source of energy.

Plunder Road may lack the depth and nuance of more sophisticated productions, but forcefully floors the accelerator and steers straight ahead.

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