Highway Dragnet
(1954, dir. Nathan Juran)
Kino Lorber Blu-ray $24.95
Allied Artists Picture 70 min. / B&W / 1.66:1

Newly decommissioned Marine Richard Conte picks up cheap but comely Mary Beth Hughes in Las Vegas, and before any of us can get out the second “hubba,” she’s been strangled with a leather strap and seemingly innocent Conte’s on the run from tough-guy cop Reed Hadley. On the road to anywhere, he’s picked up by traveling photographer Joan Bennett and her shapely assistant Wanda Hendrix; they come to recognize him as the notorious Strap Killer that’s all over the news, but Miss Bennett’s got a secret of her own and not anxious to call in the cops. Conte, meanwhile, needs to get to his old house, which has been partially sunken by a rising tide in the Salton Sea, where – according to him – proof of his innocence lies.

Got all that?

27-year-old Roger Corman had given up his previous attempts at a career, such as they were, and settled into the business of “gopher” at 20th Century Fox, where he wrote a script inspired by seeing the Salton Sea flooding: The House in the Sea. Rewritten and given a more commercial title, Highway Dragnet also credited Corman as an Associate Producer, allowing him to be on-set and “learn the business.” Famously, he took his profits from this picture, borrowed a few grand from friends, and made Monster on the Ocean Floor, which led to The Fast and the Furious, which led to him deciding the best way to produce movies cheaply was to direct them himself and the rest, as they say, is history.

Not a great movie by any standards (hardly), but an interesting minor film. Mary Beth Hughes is so good and disappears so quickly I was hoping she’d reappear in a lengthy flashback (she doesn’t); Conte is good and rises above the material; Miss Bennett looks as though she’s going to murder her agent as soon as the director says, “That’s a wrap,” and Miss Hendrix appears to be missing the scene in which she miraculously stops fleeing from the Strap Killer and starts falling for him.

In bit parts, Iris Adrian is a hoot as the rude and obnoxious diner waitress, and Frank Jenks is the wrong suspect in the wrong place. Regrettably, the film’s “big climax” is a letdown: ever try to chase a suspect through crotch-deep muddy water? You may catch him or her, but you’re going to look plenty silly doing it.

Million-dollar Dialog:

Miss Hughes: “I was once the highest-paid fashion model in New York … There’s my picture on the wall when I was modeling.”
Mr. Conte: “Hey, you were really beautiful then!”

I’m still laughing at the Kino Lorber description of the film (“a film noir classic!”) but it’s from a 4K scan and looks great, at least. Includes 5 or 6 trailers for other Kino offerings. This title will appeal to only a cult audience, but I think they’ll really enjoy it – I know I did.