Saturday, December 5, 2020

Movie Reviews: Five Against The House

Five Against The House
directed by Phil Karlson
Although some consider this a film noir, I don't. It looks like one but it's just a heist movie and not one that's very engaging, with the exception of Kim Novak. It has some comedic asides about college life. It has some muddled thoughts about post traumatic stress disorder and what society owes to those veterans suffering from it. 
Five Against The House has Novak for the va-va voom factor. She definitely brought that element but had little else to do. There's no real conflict in her character or in her interactions with any of the other actors. She was no femme fatale. Not every noir movie has a femme fatale of course but they are common enough in the genre to be noticeable when absent. 
The film's other failing was that except for Novak the actors were simply too old to be believable as college students. The film addresses this problem by making the older looking characters law students instead of regular underclassmen but I still thought the other would be college students looked too old. 
There are some actors and actresses who can get away with playing 18-22 year olds well into their late twenties or early thirties but I didn't think any of these guys did that here. Four college students from Arizona take a weekend trip to a Reno casino. They have fun but obviously lose money. That is after all the point of a casino.
While the two younger students Ronnie (Kerwin Matthews) and Roy (Alvy Moore-people of a certain age may remember him from his later work in Green Acres) are in line at the cashier's window, the man ahead of them tries to rob the place. However the crook fails because of surveillance and silent alarms. The casino security and police swiftly identify the robber and subdue him. 
Unfortunately the police misidentify Ronnie and Roy as being involved. Their buddy, older law student Al (Guy Madison) sees this go down. Al's not having it. Al has put people in the ground during the Korean war so he's certainly not intimidated by any bumbling cops. Al interferes verbally and physically with the arrest. Al makes a ruckus until the actual criminal admits he never saw Ronnie and Roy before.
I had a laugh imagining someone trying this in real life, especially if he were Black. Anyhow all's well that ends well. The cops inform the friends, including Brick (Brian Keith), also a Korean War vet, that the casino is impossible to successfully rob but that dummies keep trying.

Ronnie gets an idea. Ronnie is a rich kid who thinks he's smarter than he is. Ronnie's system to win at roulette didn't work. Undeterred, Roy works out a surefire, can't miss, just for kicks, scheme to rob the casino. Eventually Ronnie tells Roy and Brick. Roy thinks it's dumb but Roy is a go along to get along type. 
Brick likes the idea. Brick has mental and emotional issues from his wartime experiences. Brick also resents being his age and not being further ahead in life. Brick thinks that Al's assistance in class and Al's concern about his mental state are too patronizing to tolerate any more. Brick is not a guy you want to upset as he has a demonstrated capacity for quick violence.
Ronnie says he needs four people. The friends need Al. But Al, Brick's former CO in the Korean war, is a straight shooter. He'll never agree to participate in a crime, even if Ronnie intends to give the money back. Al's primary interest is his nightclub singer girlfriend Kaye (Novak). Al's serious about Kaye. Al would rather hang out with Kaye than his buddies. It's indeed True Love. But Brick has a plan to get Al's agreement. It's not a nice plan.
I wasn't that impressed with this film. Some directors have pointed back to it as an influence, which is in part why I watched it. Madison was convincing as a leader. Novak is glamorous. It's easy to see why Sammy Davis Jr. allegedly risked the wrath of Hollywood bigshot Harry Cohn and the Mob by dating and supposedly briefly getting engaged to Novak. It felt like the director and writer(s) were pulling their punches with this film. I'd like to see this movie remade with younger actors and some more bite. William Conrad has a small role. 
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