Saturday, November 7, 2020

Stubs - No Questions Asked


No Questions Asked (1951) Starring: Barry Sullivan, Arlene Dahl, George Murphy, Jean Hagen Directed by Harold F. Kress Screenplay by Sidney Sheldon. Produced by Nicholas Nayfack USA Run time: 82 minutes. Black and White. Film Noir, Police, Drama, Crime

In 1948, Dore Schary left RKO studios where he was Head of Production, choosing to return to MGM and a contemptuous relationship with Louis B. Mayer, rather than work for RKO’s new owner, Howard Hughes. With Schary as Vice-President in charge of Production, MGM began make grittier films, including Tension (1949), SideStreet (1950), Caught (1949), Border Incident (1949), Act of Violence (1949), TheAsphalt Jungle (1950), and No Questions Asked (1951).

It is the last film that we’re interested in here. Filmed with a budget of $742,000, production on No Questions Asked lasted barely a month, from December 12, 1950, to January 13, 1951, with retakes beginning on February 26, 1951.

The film opens, as do many films noirs, with the hero in trouble. Steve Kiever (Barry Sullivan) is running through the dark streets of New York City, trying to hide from police and thugs alike. And, as he hides, Steve begins to recount how he got into this situation.

Steve Kiever (Barry Sullivan) doesn't know his beautiful fiancée, Ellen Sayburn
(Arlene Dahl), has married another man while on vacation.

We go back a little in time to meet Steve, an unambitious lawyer working for a large insurance company. He goes to the airport to meet the plane carrying his beautiful fiancée, Ellen Sayburn (Arlene Dahl), who has just returned from a ski holiday by herself. Steve is happy to see her, but Ellen is somewhat distant. She lets him know that she wants the finer things in life, and Steve promises to ask for a raise.

Steve asks for a raise but his boss, Henry Manston (Moroni Olsen), turns him down.

At work, a secretary at the insurance company, Joan Brenson (Jean Hagen), makes it clear that she has eyes for Steve, but his love for Ellen blinds him to that fact. Screwing up the courage, Steve goes in to see his boss, Henry Manston (Moroni Olsen), to ask for a raise. Instead, Steve receives a sort of song and dance from Manston. While he cannot give Steve a raise he assures him that he has a bright future. Manston then gives Steve a settlement to write up, commenting off-handedly that he would gladly pay $10,000 to recover some stolen furs rather than pay the much higher $40,000 claim. Steve gets an idea.

Steve's first attempts to recover the stolen furs doesn't end well.

With the help of his friend, taxicab driver, Harry Dycker (Dan Dayton), Steve goes to various underworld hangouts, offering $10,000, no questions asked, to recover the furs. He encounters suspicion at first and is roughed up, but eventually makes contact with mobster nightclub owner Marty Callbert (Mauritz Hugo), who eventually arranges the deal. Manston is happy to recover the furs and gives Steve a $2,500 finder’s fee.

Steve uses the money to buy a diamond engagement ring for Ellen. However, when she doesn’t come to the door, a neighbor informs him that Ellen has checked out and gone to Europe with her new husband on their honeymoon.

Stunned, Steve returns to Marty's club and gets drunk. Marty suggests that they continue to work together, and soon Steve is so successful at recovering stolen merchandise that he leaves the insurance company and goes out on his own. Although Steve is technically not breaking any laws, Inspector Matt Duggan (George Murphy) lets it be known that he thinks Steve is responsible for an increase in robberies of expensive merchandise.

Joan worries about Steve, fearing he's getting in too deep.

Manston has no choice but to accept the recovered items, but increasingly dislikes it. With Ellen out of the picture, Joan, who has always been in love with Steve, becomes his girlfriend. She worries that Steve is getting in too deep.

Two "women" rob the ladies in the lounge.

One night, when Steve takes Joan to a Broadway opening, she runs into Ellen in the powder room and recognizes her from a picture in Steve's apartment. A moment later, two women draw guns and rob the wealthy occupants of the powder room. Joan tries to stop them but is knocked out. The thieves are whisked away in a waiting taxi, where they remove their wigs and laugh over how convincing they were as women.

The robbers make their getaway.

Soon the police arrive and question the victims, who describe the thieves as attractive women and no one suspects that two of gangster Franko's (Howard Petrie) henchmen, Floyd (William Reynolds) and Roger (William Phipps), are actually the thieves.

Detective Walter O’Bannion (Richard Anderson) helps Steve
find out where Ellen and her husband are staying.

Duggan holds Steve responsible for the robbery, but Steve is too concerned about Joan and Ellen, whom he has just seen in the lobby, to care. Using Duggan’s partner, Detective Walter O’Bannion (Richard Anderson), Steve finds out where Ellen and her husband, Gordon N. Jessman (Dick Simmons), are staying and goes to see her. He is, of course, angry, but soon kisses her and she says that she made a mistake and is going to leave Gordon. She tells him that she can get a quickie divorce in Mexico and the two of them can be together.

Steve then meets Joan for lunch at their favorite café and confirms what she suspected all along, that he still loves Ellen.

When Steve later learns from Manston that the robbery amounted to $860,000, he presses for a higher fee and recovery amount. Manston reluctantly agrees to pay $250,000 for the merchandise and $100,000 to Steve.

However, Steve finds out at the racetrack that Duggan has been picking up his usual go-betweens and those who have not been taken in are afraid to deal with him.

Meanwhile, Floyd, who is anxious for his cut of the robbery, goes into Harry's cab and threatens him and his family if he doesn’t deliver a message to Steve that the deal is set for that night.

But Harry can only find Joan, who is drunk pretending to have an anniversary party for herself and Steve. He asks her to deliver the message since the cops are watching Steve.

Joan delivers Harry's message to Steve and gets to meet Ellen.

Joan has no trouble delivering the message and goes to Steve's apartment. She’s not surprised but still hurt to find Ellen there, but she delivers the message and leaves.

Publicity still shows the moment Steve figures out the robbers' secret.

Following instructions, Steve heads for Franko's hotel. When he sees a men's ballet class, he guesses that the "women" thieves were really slightly built, graceful men. Steve agrees to the deal, then secretly calls Duggan so that he can arrest the men when the transfer takes place at his apartment at 11:00 pm.

Duggan sends Detective O'Bannion, who is already there when Steve arrives. At 11:00, the jewels are delivered, but a few moments later, the lights go out and shots are fired. Steve finds that O'Bannion has been killed and the jewels are gone.

The shots draw the police, so Steve sneaks out of his building, and Duggan issues an all-points bulletin for his arrest. Steve goes to Franko, who seems genuinely shocked that the jewels were stolen. Suspicious of Steve, Franko and some of his thugs start to take Steve down to the basement to get rid of him, but Steve manages to escape among some drunken conventioneers in the hotel. With nowhere else to go, Steve heads to Harry's apartment. Although at first suspicious that Harry had double-crossed him, Steve soon realizes that Harry is a true friend.

Steve calls both Joan and Ellen, not knowing which had set him up, and tells them to meet him at the address across the street in an hour. However, Duggan and the police arrive instead. When they can’t find Steve at the address, they all leave. Steve waits for Ellen to arrive and is surprised that it is Joan instead.

Roger (William Phipps) and Floyd (William Reynolds) in men's clothes.

Meanwhile, Ellen and Gordon are hurriedly packing when Floyd and Roger show up looking for the jewels. Ellen hides them before letting Floyd and Roger take them at gunpoint back to Franko’s. Steve observes them driving away and secretly follows them to Franko's, where Franko demands that Ellen and Gordon give him the jewels.

Steve sneaks away and is trying to call Duggan at a payphone in the lobby across the street, when Floyd sees him.

Down in the boiler room, when Ellen and Gordon refuse to cooperate, Floyd's thugs badly beat Ellen and shoot her and Gordon.

When Floyd arrives with Steve, they take him out through the hotel's pool area. Steve makes a move for Franko and the two men tumble into the pool. Franko, who routinely practices underwater endurance, is able to free himself after Steve drowns. As Franko rises to the surface, he is captured by Duggan, as are the rest of his men. Duggan figures out on his own where Steve might be.

They quickly get Steve out of the pool and are able to revive him. Later, as Steve is about to be placed in an ambulance, he is comforted by Joan. Although Duggan says Steve is still in trouble, he lets Joan go to the hospital with him.

No Questions Asked was released on June 15, 1951 to tepid reviews and even worse box office, with a loss of $377,000.

The New York Times called the film “Standard”, which is hardly high praise. The acting doesn’t get a much better review in the staff writeup in the NYT. Barry Sullivan is said to give a ”solid but uninspired reading”, which is true of others in the cast as well, including George Murphy.

The film isn’t really bad but it is far from great. A B-movie if there ever was one, despite the cast, the story doesn’t really rise above that status.

While Barry Sullivan can be good, in films like Tension, he is sort of flat here. Maybe it’s casting, but he doesn’t really seem well suited for this fringe sort of character, who fences stolen goods back to the insurance companies who are on the hook. It’s an insurance scam but doesn’t rise to the ones depicted in Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

I keep hearing that Arene Dahl is a great beauty, but she doesn’t really do it for me here. She seems like a good choice to play the femme fatale, but personally I would have preferred Jean Hagen. Dahl would find some amount of stardom in the 1950s, first as an advice columnist and entrepreneur but later in such films as Slightly Scarlet (1956), alongside Rhonda Fleming, and Wicked as They Come (1956), the latter at Columbia, whom she sued over the film’s advertisement, which she said was "lewd" and "degraded" her. A judge threw out her $1 million suit. She would later play the female lead in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), one of her most successful films.

Jean Hagen made her film debut playing a comical femme fatale in the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn classic Adam's Rib (1949). She would also play Dix’s love interest in The Asphalt Jungle. She is pretty good here, and gets some of the film’s better lines and she delivers them with a certain comical flair. But Hagen is probably best remembered for her role in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), for which she would earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress playing washed up silent movie star Lina Lamont.

Soon to be Senator George Murphy plays Inspector Matt
Duggan (George Murphy) in No Questions Asked.

If Sullivan appeared to be flat, George Murphy was pretty wooden in the role of Police Insp. Matt Duggan. Murphy, who had been the Screen Actor’s Guild President, must have already had his eyes on running for office when he took this role. I’ve heard the criticism that he was calling it in, but it must have been long distance as he doesn’t really stand out in the role. Murphy is probably best known for being the first actor to win statewide office in California when he served as U.S. Senator from 1965 to 1971. He also served as a mentor for actor Ronald Reagan, whose own political ambitions took him to the White House in 1980.

Insurance scams can really be interesting subject matters for films, it’s too bad that can’t be a blanket statement. No Questions Asked is nothing really worth searching out unless you really like Barry Sullivan or looking at Jean Hagen. If you're looking for good film noirs about insurance scams. your time is better spent with Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, both classics. No Questions Asked left me flat.

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