Up until recently, I’d never heard of VICE SQUAD. Now I’ve seen it twice and liked it a lot.
The plot is easy to explain – a day in the working life of a Chief of Detectives in a big city precinct. But it’s the detail and the pace that makes this film.
EDWARD G.ROBINSON doesn’t miss a beat as the hardworking Chief who starts work as soon as he arrives in his office at 8am.
What happens throughout the day is serious and funny and packed with so many good character actors.
We follow a gang led by EDWARD BINNS as they make preparations to rob a bank.
The first sight of Edward G.is of him striding confidently into his office, well dressed,flower in lapel. His men update him, as does his secretary played by KT Stevens.And the story gets going.
The scene keeps changing as we follow Robinson in everything that crosses his desk that day.
We discover he is quite prepared to bend the rules in the interests of justice.
Despite containing several different plot threads,writer LAWRENCE ROMAN and director ARNOLD LAVEN expertly weave them all together.
PORTER HALL is a meak, mild mortician with a girlfriend on the side (Joan Vohs). He witnesses Binns killing a cop but is reluctant to speak out. When he is held by the police,his lawyer, BARRY KELLEY says:
“Where does your wife think you are?” And Porter replies: “Out of town delivering a corpse.”
The running joke is Barry keeps getting Porter released and the cops make up excuses to re- arrest him so they can get him to tell what he knows.
JAY ADLER is also very good as a small time conman who has information he wants to trade to Edward G.
Second billed below Edward G. is PAULETTE GODDARD who is severely under used as the manager of an ‘escort’ bureau Edward G. knows and who may be able to help him .
Another strand of the story consists of one terrific scene between Edward G. and unbilled PERCY HELTON as a delusional little man whom the Chief knows and is kind to.Percy Helton – you’re the man!
Young Adam Williams(whom I always remember as one of the hoods who kidnaps Cary Grant in North By Northwest) is very good as one of Binns’s gang who talks tough but changes his mind about the bank job.
Steely eyed LEE VAN CLEEF is also in the gang.
There is just so much going on,but it is always clear where we are as the different strands develop.
I liked KT Stevens as the Chief’s secretary. A small part for this actress who was the daughter of director Sam Wood and was married to Hugh Marlowe for 20 years.
Both Binns and Williams had been in Arnold Laven’s first film in 1952, WITHOUT WARNING.
Although some interiors were done at RKO studios, this independent production was shot in Beverly Hills, Long Beach and Santa Monica, and it was great to see these outdoor locations.
I’m amazed this was only director Laven’s second feature. He subsequently directed DOWN THREE DARK STREETS and SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE then moved into television. He died in 2009.
I really can’t praise this film enough. It was released on DVD in 2011.
Edward G.Robinson is the glue that holds it together.There isn’t a second wasted but it’s not rushed.
Maybe a notch below THE ENFORCER but maybe not!
Only quibbles – the waste of Paulette Goddard who looked great and still with that dazzling smile that I remember from THE WOMEN.
And the title – it isn’t about a vice squad. In the UK it was called THE GIRL IN ROOM 17, which at least has some relevance to the plot.