Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shakedown (1950)

WHO: Joe Pevney's final credit as an actor (in a small role), and his first as a director.

WHAT: I've mentioned its imminent publishing before, but I've just noticed that a book I contributed to, World Film Locations: San Francisco, is now available for pre-order through Powell's and Amazon. My contribution is an essay tracing the special relationship between San Francisco and the cycle of 1940s & 50s noir produced by Hollywood, frequently shot on location right here in the city.

I had a very pleasant time researching this essay by watching and re-watching dozens of Frisco Bay noirs. I used Nathaniel Rich's 2005 San Francisco Noir as a starting point but also found quite a few titles not mentioned, much less profiled, in his book. It's a wonderful publication, but it contains certain errors of omission. The most glaring, to me, concerns Shakedown, which Rich lumps in with Undercurrent and Blonde Ice as films that "feature no shots of the city nor do they even pretend to be set in any actual San Francisco locations. They rely on flat backdrops, soundstages, and stock footage to create an ersatz San Francisco."

I have to wonder if Rich was ever even able to see a decent copy of Shakedown before writing this. I remembered (from a 2009 Noir City screening) that it had quite a rich cross-section of real city views, not simply grabbed by a second unit but integrated into scenes with the principal cast (Howard Duff, Brian Donlevy, Anne Vernon, etc.) who surely were here to shoot at least some of their scenes. Re-watching it via an exceedingly poor copy (most likely a bootleg from a bad 16mm print, as there has never been a commercial home video release of this title) at a library study center, I could barely make out most of these locations, but the film's sordid tale of an overeager photojournalist fascinated by money and power still sucked me into its grip. I'm certain that this is one of the best noirs ever made in this city, and it's a mystery why it's become a practically-forgotten title.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie at 8:00.

WHY: This rare screening comes at an opportune time. For one, with Star Trek Into Darkness as the new movie of the moment, it's worth noting that Shakedown director Pevney was one of the key directors of the original Star Trek episodes, and the one who suggested bringing in Walter Koenig (with whom he'd made an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) to play Chekov.

But more importantly, Elliot Lavine's ongoing I Wake Up Dreaming series includes not just this one Pevney film but also his 1955 Female on the Beach, which screens this Sunday.  I've been wanting to see that Joan Crawford starrer for a while now, and I think seeing Shakedown again first will provide the perfect warm-up.

HOW: On a double-bill with William Castle's Undertow, both screened via 35mm prints.


  1. Brian: I saw this at PFA some time ago and agree it's underrated.The audience got a kick out of Rock Hudson's bit. Pevney directed another SF based noir,1957's The Midnight Story.
    Your experience squinting for locations on a bad copy is like a recent one I had with some bootleg DVDs of the 1954-60 LineUp TV show, also made here

  2. I've seen The Midnight Story a couple times. It's not quite at Shakedown's level, but it's well worth watching. Curious to see that TV show sometime.