Saturday, March 25, 2017

Girl On The Run (1953)

This very cheap independent production gets off to a discouraging start, as the opening titles play over a still of a creepy clown while generic school-band music plays. However, if you stick with GIRL ON THE RUN, its weirder elements start to take effect, leading to an unusual, almost dream-like narrative that barely sustains its 64-minute running time. And Steve McQueen is in it.

The whole film takes place over one night in a single location: a small-town carnival. Traveling carnies may not have been as skeevy as GIRL ON THE RUN indicates, but it’s an appropriately grim setting for Joseph Lee and Arthur Beckhard’s murder tale. Richard Coogan, best known at the time as TV’s Captain Video on the DuMont network, stars as Bill Martin, a newspaper reporter accused to killing his editor, a man named Marsh, who was investigating allegations of vice at the carnival.

In keeping with normal B-movie pacing, Martin’s backstory is dispensed through early dialogue. Our first glimpse of the film’s hero is inside a dark tent, where he and his girlfriend Janet (Jacqueline Pettit) are hiding from both the cops and a local councilman named Reeves (Harry Bannister). Martin suspects Reeves and the carnival’s owner, a midget (!) named Blake (Charles Bollender), of pimping and, of course, Marsh’s murder.

So with the story already in motion when the film opens, it moves along pretty rapidly while still leaving room for local color — namely tantalizing views of the forbidden pleasures awaiting inside the adults-only tent. Whether the result of the low budget, desperate casting, or the filmmaker’s attention to realism, the hotsy-totsy burlesque dancers are a long way from Vegas showgirls. Dumpy, weary, hard-edged, and certainly not the girls next door, they’re alluring enough to entice the rubes, but with no question Blake’s rundown show is as far as they’ll ever get.

As for McQueen, he can be seen early in the picture testing his strength with a mallet, and then again a few minutes later squiring his date to the fortune teller’s tent as Coogan walks into frame.

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