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The Grissom Gang (1971)

November 28th, 2006 · No Comments

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In the Kansas City area circa 1934, two small time crooks stop at a rural gas station. A local reporter drops by and reveals that he’s covering a party that evening, where heiress Barbara Blandish is scheduled to appear wearing a priceless diamond necklace.

At the party, Barbara (Kim Darby) gets into a row with her plastic boyfriend. They hit the road, but the crooks tail them and force their car off the road. The boyfriend is shot and the heiress abducted.

Stopped at another gas station, the crooks are approached by Eddie Hagan (Tony Musante), a gangster a notch higher on the underworld food chain. Eddie spots the heiress and when the radio reports her kidnapping, puts two and two together.

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Along with the dim-witted but deadly Slim Grissom (Scott Wilson), Eddie tracks the crooks down, kills them and takes Barbara. The gang’s leader, Ma Grissom (Irene Dailey) intends to ransom the heiress, then kill her, but Slim takes a creepy liking to Barbara and decides to protect her. The heiress’ daddy (Wesley Addy) hires a two-bit private eye to find her. Nightclub performances by Connie Stevens, shootouts and car chases with T-men ensue.

Directed by Robert Aldrich, from a screenplay Leon Griffiths adapted from a “shocking tale of vile, ruthless gangsterism” by James Hadley Chase titled No Orchids For Miss Blandish. The 1939 pulp novel inspired an essay from George Orwell, who offered that it was a “brilliant piece of writing” but distressed him with the rising popularity of pulp fiction, its devotion to sadism and lack of any redeeming social value.

As for the film, everywhere you look, The Grissom Gang is mind numbingly bad. Forget social value. This story has no momentum, as if every third page of the script was ripped out. It isn’t remotely believable either. I never bought that the heiress wouldn’t have been thrown in a closet and taken advantage of four ways to Sunday, like Patty Hearst. Kim Darby doesn’t make much of an effort to escape, and is kept around to perform bad soap opera dialogue with the slimy Scott Wilson.

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Darby – a TV actress who had won acclaim for appearing with John Wayne in True Grit – wouldn’t have a film career much longer after this and shows why. It’s almost as if she and everyone else in the cast were instructed to camp it up, but none of the actors – save old pro Wesley Addy – can rise to the level of making fun of themselves. The casting just sucks.

Joseph Biroc’s lighting looks good, but the film still manages to be ugly. The supposedly Depression-era sets are like something the Brady Bunch would have stayed up all night to make look really groovy. Gerald Fried’s score is abominable as well, wholly lacking in texture. Any Kansas City jazz cue would have been a great improvement over the music here.

The director never finds a consistent tone. The story calls for something kinky and hard edged, but Aldrich favors a fast paced, breezy style and violence that is almost comical in its silliness. If pushed a bit further toward the ridiculous, with good performers, this would have been a comedy. What a piece of crap. Robert Aldrich is capable of so much better than this.

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