Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Buchinsky (Charles Bronson), Jay Novello, Nedrick Young, James Bell, Dub Taylor, Gayle Kellogg, Mack Chandler, Timothy Carey, Jim Hayward, Hank Worden
Written by: Crane Wilbur, Bernard Gordon, Richard Wormser, based on a story by John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins
Directed by: André De Toth
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 73
Date: 01/06/1954

Crime Wave (1954)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Straight and Harrowing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Made just after his celebrated 3D horror film House of Wax (1953) and featuring some of the same cast and crew, Andre de Toth's nasty little masterpiece Crime Wave is about a former criminal, Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson), now married to Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) and trying to go straight.

Three prison escapees kill a cop at a gas station. One is wounded and shows up, unwelcome, at Steve's place for help. The other two, Doc Penny (Ted de Corsia), Ben Hastings (Charles Bronson, then known as Charles Buchinsky), eventually worm their way into the picture as well, while Detective Lieutenant Sims (Sterling Hayden) is hot on their trails.

De Toth shoots with realism surprising for the time; actors will share dialogue on a sidewalk, then climb into a car and drive down a real street -- all without a cut. Dialogue echoes when spoken in bare rooms and the lighting cuts across the center of the frame, as if emanating exclusively from table and desk lamps.

De Toth has a gift for thuggish violence, and a tense pace, punching through his story with all meat and no fat. (I was lucky enough to see this movie on the big screen back in 1997, with Mr. De Toth in attendance.)

The great, sneering Timothy Carey turns up as a thug in the final reel, and Hank Worden -- best known for his roles in John Ford films -- has one scene on an airfield.

The Crime Wave DVD features an enticing commentary track by James Ellroy and Eddie Muller and comes paired on a disc with Jack Bernhard's Decoy (1946).

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