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The Long Wait 4K

by Glenn Erickson Mar 14, 2023

This Mickey Spillane noir tale has its good points: star Anthony Quinn gives a solid ‘tough guy’ performance, sizing up a quartet of thrill-crazy Spillane dames that promise no end of trouble. The surprisingly clever script dares to exploit the gimmicks of both amnesia and plastic surgery — without insulting our intelligence. Peggie Castle is our new favorite in the glamour sweepstakes, and Gene Evans, Charles Coburn, Mary Ellen Kay, Shawn Smith, Barry Kelley, Jay Adler and Bruno VeSota co-star. And remember: ‘Evil to Him who Evil Thinks.’


The Long Wait 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
ClassicFlix
1954 / B&W / 1:75 widescreen / 94 min. / Street Date March 21, 2023 / Available from ClassicFlix / 39.99
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Charles Coburn, Gene Evans, Peggie Castle, Mary Ellen Kay, Shawn Smith, Dolores Donlon, Barry Kelley, James Millican, Bruno VeSota, Jay Adler, John Damler, Frank Marlowe, Paul Dubov.
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Art Director: Boris Leven
Film Editor: Ronald Sinclair
Editorial Supervisor Otto Ludwig
Original Music: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Screenplay by Lesser Samuels, Alan Green from the novel by Mickey Spillane
Produced by Lesser Samuels
Directed by
Victor Saville

The veteran filmmaker Victor Saville was associated with four early Mickey Spillane movie adaptations, all Parklane Pictures identifiable by their mostly yellow one-sheet posters. Three of them are the Mike Hammer crime tales I, the Jury (1953),  Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and My Gun is Quick 1957. Only Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly can be called a really great picture, a masterpiece, actually.

The fourth thriller The Long Wait is a non-Hammer Spillane tale. Mostly out of reach since the 1970s, it has finally arrived in a deluxe Studiocanal restoration. Star Anthony Quinn easily projects the hero’s Tough Guy qualities. Quinn’s eagerness to do good work is evident in every scene. The other sterling contributions are from the cameraman and art director, whose combined talents would seem to have overcome the input of Victor Saville, the credited director. Saville’s other readily available movies are not particularly great: Green Dolphin Street,  Kim, and especially not  The Silver Chalice, the much-deplored turkey with Paul Newman.

 

The Long Wait is from Mickey Spillane’s first non-Mike Hammer novel, published in 1951. It’s a ‘Tough Guy’ tale — the hero is neither a cop nor a crook, just an isolated protagonist taking on trouble from all sides. The Tough Guy setting is often a corrupt town, with the hero ‘in a frame’ or suspected as being part of the corruption. Good examples are The Glass Key and  The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Screenwriters Lesser Samuels and Alan Green jettisoned the simple revenge format from Spillane’s book. The main plot device is Amnesia, an old thriller bugaboo fumbled too many times to count. The amnesia victim’s loss of memory is almost always a narrative convenience. The means by which he snaps in and out of his forgetful state is often ludicrous, even in Joseph Mankiewicz’s respected Somewhere in the Night. But Samuels and Green don’t treat memory loss as a gimmick — this hero doesn’t undergo a sudden re-awakening at the climax.

 

The Long Wait is far from perfect but the performance of star Anthony Quinn can’t be faulted. In the opening scene his unnamed hitchhiker suffers burns and memory loss in a truck crash. He spends two years as an oil field worker without a name, picking fights out of frustration. An excellent setup has a romantic rival (Paul Dubov) get rid of ‘John Doe’ by sending him to a town called Lyncastle — but without telling him that his name is Johnny McBride, and that he’s wanted for a murder.  

That clever setup soon settles into standard Mickey Spillane crime conflicts. Johnny is nabbed by cops Tucker and Lindsey (Barry Kelley & James Millican) almost as soon as he hits the pavement in Lyncastle. He’s accused of murdering Lyncastle’s D.A. Minnow two years before, but they have to let him go when it’s discovered that the fire burned off his fingerprints. Someone with a silenced gun begins sniping at Johnny, and an old associate is killed before he can offer needed information. A cooperative bellboy (Jay Adler, marvelously glum) helps Johnny get on the right track. The key to his past is the ‘Can Can’ Casino owner Servo (Gene Evans), who owns almost the whole town save for the bank where Johnny was once a teller. The bank president Gardiner (Charles Coburn) is actually on Johnny’s side, but Servo and his henchman Eddie Packman (cult actor Bruno VeSota) just want Johnny out of town. They can’t buy him off, and various attempts to have him killed fail.

Johnny never suddenly remembers things, and has to re-learn who he is from scratch. He meets people who say they knew him before, without knowing if they are really enemies. Newsman Alan Logan (John Damler) fills in Johnny about his old girlfriend, Vera West. It’s said that Vera ran away, got plastic surgery and has secretly returned to Lyncastle. Nobody knows who she is.

 

Yes — in addition to amnesia The Long Wait also uses that other dubious narrative element, plastic surgery. But the screenplay doesn’t fall into the usual cliché pitfalls associated with the amnesia gag. In fact, the villain Servo jokes that he’d better not slug Johnny on the head — he might get his memory back.

The film’s main sexist gimmick is that Johnny can’t recognize his lost Vera on sight, and to find her must fondle four different women. Naturally, all are playgirl lookers that think Johnny is the sexiest man alive. Servo’s secretary Carol Shay (Shawn Smith of The Land Unknown) invites Johnny to her apartment for some dancing (Quinn still has the knack) followed by a makeout session. Wendy Miller (Mary Ellen Kay of Vice Squad) also makes a big play for him; she’s Servo’s floor manager at the Can Can. The dour bellboy tells Johnny that Servo has his latest girl toy is Troy Avalon (TV actress Dolores Donlon). Servo has her stashed away in a hotel room, with her clothes locked in a closet to keep her from straying. The fourth Spillane babe has the brightest personality and seems the most genuinely interested in Johnny — the fashionable, ‘agreeable’ salesgirl Venus (Peggie Castle of I, the Jury).

Which one is ‘Vera West’ with a new face?  Despite the fact that his former girlfriend has supposedly been transformed by plastic surgery, Johnny is convinced he’ll recognize her, by touch or by kiss. And she will be able to fill in everything he’s forgotten. He taps his temple:

“There’s a locked door up here. Vera has the key.”

 

The magnetic Anthony Quinn is in top form as the rough but resourceful hero. His dialogue is excellent — slightly witty, and not too hardboiled. Johnny is no longer just another Spillane ‘avenger.’ His short fuse is tagged as PTSD from combat, aggravated by his amnesia crisis. He’s on good terms with his kindly old boss, the banker Gardiner. Second-billed Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier) may not look long for this world, but he lived seven more years, staying busy acting both here and in Europe. Gene Evans (The Steel Helmet) is a convincing seedy gangster, and Bruno VeSota (Dementia) is excellent as his repugnant henchman. VeSota simply looks like an evil creep — his features all seem to be converging in the middle of his face.

The ‘Spillane’s Broads’ angle is just as clumsy as in the other Parklane Spillane adaptations. All lust for Johnny, naturally. Each greets him decked out in tight slacks, high heels and in a couple of cases backless leisure tops.  Wallace Wood might have used them as models for his Mad Magazine illustrations. In the spirit of Spillane, the women are aggressors. They have most of the come-on lines, all invitations to play. But only once do we get a transition indicating possible sexual activity.

Peggie Castle is the most appealing of the four.  She also projects the most personality. Second up is Shawn Smith, also known as Shirley Patterson. She has the most eager grin, and her enthusiastic clinch with Quinn on a sofa is the closest to horizontal that things get. Dolores Donlon, the pampered prisoner in the hotel room, makes the least impression.

Mary Ellen Kay’s casino employee is the only ‘babe’ that seems miscast.    She’s unconvincing and her line readings fall flat; even Anthony Quinn can’t bring her to life. The weakness makes a big difference at the conclusion.

Johnny must figure out which woman is his Vera West, which motivates numerous kissing scenes. Quinn definitely generates what’s needed: of the various Mike Hammers, neither Biff Elliot nor Robert Bray were really acceptable as Mike Hammer, especially during the heavy-duty smooch action.

 

Two actresses go unbilled, and are not identified at the IMDB. One is ‘Molly,’ another casino worker. The other is ‘Lori,’ a woman Johnny has shacked up with while working in the oil fields. Lori is not happy when Johnny ditches her to pursue his identity, leaving her free to go back to her old boyfriend Chuck. Johnny’s farewell to them is so dismissive, he doesn’t even refer to Lori as a person:

“I’m traveling light — here Chuck, it’s all yours!”

The Long Wait benefits from a decent production polish. Cameraman Franz Planer had recently filmed Roman Holiday and would move on to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The interiors don’t look cheap and the women are given good glamour lighting. The location shoots don’t look rushed. Downtown Lyncastle appears to be 3rd Street in Santa Monica (now a promenade), with the Criterion Theater prominent in one shot. Outside the Lyncastle Hotel is a ‘Culver Barber Shop,’ identifying the location as Culver City, also in the Los Angeles area.

 

A key creative contributor is Art Director Boris Leven, whose fine work graces pictures as diverse as The Shanghai Gesture,  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,  Criss Cross and Invaders from Mars. He became a top Production Designer on great pictures by George Stevens,  Otto Preminger,  Robert Wise, and  Martin Scorsese.  A clear designer’s eye is at work in The Long Wait right from the start. Behind the main titles is a strong graphic of Johnny walking along a bare horizon. It conforms to the John Ford / Fabelmans rule about horizons.

Other clean designs give the show a sharp look, like the exterior of the Can Can casino with its neon sign. A midnight murder in a quarry is brilliantly blocked out. We ‘sense’ the location through minimalist audio and visual clues, yet nothing feels like a budget shortcut.

Another nice detail we don’t see often is a convincing newspaper archive in a library, where McBride reads about the crime for which he was framed. One of the few continuity mismatches is a model shot of the truck crashing and burning. The miniature is obviously not even a truck, but a 1930s sedan.

 

Leven and Planer save their most extreme designs for the jeopardy climax. The gangsters torture Venus and Johnny inside the power station, a darkness lit only by a spotlight and light from a single open door. It’s a ‘noir limbo’ — the stark, stylized images are as John Alton might fashion them. The shots of Peggie Castle crawling worm-like to reach the incapacitated Johnny evoke the sordid glamour of pulp pocketbook covers — erotic yet censor-proof. Lingerie figures in the close-call rescue, a garter with a Latin inscription, the film’s only classical reference:

“Evil to him who Evil thinks.”

The show wraps up a bit weakly with a twist that would be a  Spoiler if described — it’s almost as if the wrong dame was substituted at the last minute. We’re more interested in a different woman, who doesn’t even get a farewell scene. The mystery is explained in an awkward string of quickie flashbacks, that might have confused some viewers in 1954. In the bank flashback, each teller’s cash drawer has a loaded gun — can that possibly have been a normal policy?

Anthony Quinn’s assured performance keeps The Long Wait on its feet, aided by Peggie Castle and those great visuals. He carries the show in style, easily turning the amnesia gimmick into a performance asset. Scoring a romantic lead must have meant a lot to Quinn, who was still stuck playing support to bigger stars, and often as ethnic minorities. *

Even as we enjoy the four Parklane Spillane thrillers, we’re reminded that Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly is the one winner in the bunch. It is legendary because it’s utterly subversive: writer A.I. Bezzerides hated the Mike Hammer ethos and wrote his screenplay as a scathing condemnation of Spillane and all he represents. The Long Wait is no classic, yet we’re amused by its dated attitudes, the ones Fred Astaire had just lampooned in his on-target satirical musical number The Girl Hunt Ballet. Audiences in 1954 surely found the corny Playboy fantasy of ‘thrill hungry dames’ just as laughable as we do now.

 


Peggie Castle, Shawn Smith, Mary Ellen Kay, Dolores Donlon.
 

ClassicFlix’s 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray of The Long Wait is a fine presentation that bears an opening logo from Studiocanal. ClassicFlix scored a coup with this and their previous I, the Jury. Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs look terrific. The 1:75 framing is reportedly correct — in 1954 most U.S. product would finally settle at 1:85.  For some reason, a few shots in the first hospital scene look too tight on the North-South axis.

The audio behind the main title sequence starts out a trifle distorted, a problem that goes away after a few notes. Composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco spent much of his film career uncredited, with dozens of additional uncredited stock music contributions to films at Columbia and Universal. Heard throughout The Long Wait and sung over the main titles is ‘Once,’ a Harold Spina-Bob Russell romantic song that’s . . . pretty unmemorable.

The film’s main extra is an audio commentary by Max Allan Collins, a writer who officially continued Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer book series. Collins also spoke on the I, the Jury disc and repeats a lot of information, but we’re glad to learn more about Anthony Quinn’s tough-guy outing and the actresses chosen to ‘entice and excite’ him.

An image gallery features rare stills also provided by Collins. The English subtitles are good, but we were amused when Shawn Smith and Anthony Quinn dance to a phonograph record. It’s an orchestral piece similar to a Tango — but the subs identify it as ‘mariachi music.’

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Long Wait
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent except under the main title
Supplements:
Audio commentary by author Max Allan Collins
Image gallery
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One 4K Ultra-HD disc and one Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
March 12, 2023
(6897wait)

*  The Long Wait was Anthony Quinn’s last Hollywood picture before spending a year in Italy, taking modest guest roles but also winning a major career boost by starring in Federico Fellini’s masterpiece La strada. His introduction to Fellini may have come through Giulietta Masina, with whom he played in the interesting-sounding Donne proibite.

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Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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