Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Robert Ivers and Georgann Johnson
SHORT CUT TO HELL (1957). Director: James Cagney.

This is the only film ever directed by James Cagney. Kyle Niles (Robert Ivers) is a hit man hired to kill a builder and his secretary. His contact, Bahrwell (Jacques Aubuchon of Twenty Plus Two), makes the mistake of giving Niles marked money in the hopes he'll be arrested. As Ivers makes his way to Bahrwell and his employer, a man known only as A.T. (Richard Hale), he encounters Glory Hamilton (Georgann Johnson), whose boyfriend, Stan, is a cop (William Bishop of Harriet Craig). Glory winds up as Niles' not necessarily unwilling hostage, although her supposed motives are to save Stan's life. The acting is solid in this picture, which is distinguished only in the fact that Cagney directed it -- it is not an auspicious directorial debut. Both Ivers and Johnson were trumpeted as bright new stars in Cagney's introduction to the film, although both, especially Johnson, had several previous credits. They were talented actors but neither became a star. Johnson's rather pudgy face lacked true beauty, but she wound up a well-recognized character actress with many credits. Ivers did mostly television work; he looked like a cross between Jack Kelly and Richard Widmark. The character of Bahrwell is obviously meant to be homosexual, with snide references throughout the film. Hale offers his usual portrait of an absolutely hateful old man; he had a great many credits. Yvette Vickers [What's the Matter with Helen?] offers her typically vivid portrayal of the landlord's daughter in Niles' apartment house. The script has some stupid and psychologically dubious moments given what we know about sociopaths, and Glory's behavior is often ridiculous.

Verdict: Cagney wisely stuck to acting after this. **1/2.


Gary R. said...

This is a remake of 1942's "This Gun for Hire," Alan Ladd's breakthrough film.

"A cross between Jack Kelly and Richard Widmark"= Perfect!

William said...

Thank you! -- I haven't seen "This Gun" for literally decades so didn't realize the connection this time. It was undoubtedly a better picture.

As always, thanks for your comments!

angelman66 said...

Never knew Cagney directed a film...he was such a versatile artist. I love his early Busby Berkeley musicals (before he became an iconic gangster), and my all-time favorite performance of his is opposite Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me--he's the ideal villain with vulnerability.

William said...

Cagney was a terrific actor in the right role and you're right about "Love Me or Leave Me" -- he just had no particular panache as a director. Maybe if he'd stuck too it, but it's probably better that he didn't.