Republic Pictures was one of the most prolific and long-lasting of the so-called Poverty Row studios. Westerns and serials were its bread and butter, but it also made a surprising number of films noirs and noir-ish crime movies. A couple have already been reviewed on here, 'Federal Agent At Large' (1950) and 'Post Office Investigator' (1949), but there are literally dozens more... The quality varies a lot, but you don't watch these movies expecting 'The Maltese Falcon', hah... I'll say one thing tho for Republic, their movie posters were always well-made and nice to look at. Today's movie, 'Million Dollar Pursuit', doesn't have the prettiest one, but take a look at the posters for the movie linked above. It's a style I really like a lot!
That money's so hot it's blistering your fingers
One day small-time crook Monte Norris (Norman Budd) sees a key chain fall out of a man's pocket. He's been looking for a big score and once he realizes the keys belong to the head cashier of a department store, a plan for a bold robbery starts to brew in his mind. A team is assembled, and the robbery goes off without a hitch. The gang hides out in a remote farm, waiting for things to cool down. They realize the money's too hot to handle, and Norris asks his former business partner nightclub owner Carlo Petrov (Grant Withers) to launder the money for him. Meanwhile police lieutenant Matt Whitcomb (Michael St. Angel) is put on the robbery case, but tensions are already brewing between the gang members, with deadly consequences...
...and it is here that I should mention the woman in the middle, who is in this case quite literally in the middle. Night club singer Ronnie LaVerne (Penny Edwards) is Norris's ex-gf and he's hoping a big score will drive her back into his arms. She's also however currently dating, and working for, Petrov. Who may or may not be the one who framed her some time before which landed her in prison. Whitcomb was also a police officer at the time and still carries a torch for LaVerne, and he warns her not to get into trouble. But as she explains to him, she wants to find out who framed her...
So yes, this is a basic heist movie at its core, but the many ways in which Ronnie LaVerne is intertwined into the lives of the various men, good and bad, adds a whole layer of complexity to the movie. It isn't exactly a work of Chandler-ian levels, and the truth behind LaVerne's frame job is never really resolved, but the script by Albert DeMond ('Federal Agent At Large') and Bradbury Foote ('The Madonna's Secret') does make it rise above what you'd expect from the plot of a Poverty Row crime movie. Funnily enough the robbers get away with close to half a million dollars, not the full million dollars as promised by the movie's title. 'Close To Half A Million Dollar Pursuit' doesn't sound nearly as exciting tho, does it?
Performance-wise this is what you'd expect from a low-budget B-movie like this one... Nothing great, but service-able enough. Penny Edwards, who starred mostly in B-westerns but also the B-noir 'Missing Women', impresses the most here, while Norman Budd ('The Red Menace', 'Unmasked') has enough of a tough screen presence to carry this type of movie. It's surprising neither did more crime movies than they did.
Per usual the direction and cinematography is workmanlike, but nothing exceptional. Director R.G. Springsteen ('Secret Service Investigator', 'When Gangland
Strikes') proves himself to be a capable Republic director, making the
most of what he has to work with. There are some pretty neat scenes in this movie however, including a shoot out inside a garage, as well as a tense climax inside a warehouse. Both at night and with some decent cinematography courtesy of Walter Strenge ('Cry Terror!', 'Appointment With Murder'). It's not a hidden gem, but if you have an hour to spare (the movie is exactly one hour long!), you could do a lot worse than watch this one.