by Del Harvey
“You going legitimate is like a vulture turning vegetarian.”
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During American Cinematheque’s recent Film Noir festival, I decided to join our resident noir expert, A.K. Rode, for a screening of this rarely seen gem which took us into the seamier side of late 1940’s Los Angeles, as a reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) pursues a missing girl into the bowels of a black market baby racket.
When Paula Considine (Gale Storm) travels to L.A. to locate her missing sister and baby girl, she is met at the police desk by Mark Sitko (Dennis O’Keefe), a reporter looking for a story, who takes an interest in the case mainly because he is attracted to Paula. He decides to help track her sister down, even though Paula is reluctant to have him help because she is afraid that this will appear in the newspaper and that might embarrass her family.
When followed by a corrupt private investigator named Kerric (a pulpy Raymond Burr), Sitko realizes there might be something more to this story than meets the eye. When Sitko catches Kerric off guard, it is explained that he has been hired by Paula’s father to trail her. He was also hired to find her sister. Sitko remarks, “…and since you’d failed once, you figured why spoil a perfect record.” It is explained was that the older sister ran away because she didn’t get along with the father and their relationship became worse when their mother died.
Sitko uses his reporter’s resources to learn that the sister was killed by carbon monoxide while in a stolen car, and that her death has been ruled a suicide. Of course, Paula can’t believe it, especially since her sister doesn’t drive. Sitko takes Paula to visit with friend and Police Chief McRae (Chandler). McRae explains that if Sitko can come up with something to back up his story of a black market baby ring, then the police will gladly help out.
Their investigation eventually leads to a Salvation Army Home for Women, where they discover that the sister stayed and formed a friendship with another pregnant girl named Dottie (Meg Randall). Dottie tells them about an elderly lady with a cane who visited the Home and paid for her sister’s expenses and made arrangements to buy the baby from her, but the sister changed her mind. That was the last Dottie ever heard from her.
Told in a straight forward docu-drama style by veteran director Joseph M. Newman (This Island Earth, 711 Ocean Drive, The Human Jungle), Abandoned is a truly great little noir with some of the most incredible dialogue this side of Raymond Chandler. This is thanks to William Bowers, who also wrote Pitfall, The Gunfighter, The Mob, Cry Danger, Imitation General, -30-, and many, many more. Joseph Newman was at the screening and discussed this film and his longtime friendship with star Dennis O’Keefe, whose real name is Bud Flanagan.
O’Keefe, perhaps best known for the films Topper Returns and Raw Deal, is outstanding as wisecracking newspaper reporter Mark Sitko. He is tough, smart, sarcastic, sentimental, a tough guy and an average Joe all wrapped into one. It really is too bad he did not get more leading man roles, because he exhibits a master’s ability in both comedy and drama here. After years of walk ons and bit parts in any number of classic films ranging from Duck Soup to Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary, O’Keefe—a longtime friend of director Newman’s—he finally got a starring role in the B film Burn ‘Em Up O’Connor. He would go on to co-star in such popular films as The Fighting Seabees, Brewster’s Millions, and Topper Returns.
The baby faced Gale Storm, perhaps best known for her TV series My Little Margie, is surprisingly good as the woman whose search for her sister is founded on the strongest of family ties and an unerring belief in the goodness of people. She is a good match for the charming O’Keefe, exuding a powerful persona for her diminutive frame. An up-and-coming Jeff Chandler took the co-star’s role in this film, just before he really came into popularity. Looking bloated and tormented, recurrent baddie Raymond Burr plays sleazy gumshoe Kerric, whose mind is solely on self-survival and the pay-off. When he begins to realize he’s the one loose thread in this whole cloth, and thus the easiest to frame, he muses aloud, “I should have stuck to blackmail and petty larceny.” At one point he is tortured by another perennial noir heavy, Mike Mazurki (Murder, My Sweet).
Abandoned possesses some of the finest attributes of film noir, adeptly sculpted to reveal all the many facets and faces of humor, pathos, anxiety, and danger. And it does so while managing to reach a positive conclusion, which is truly remarkable for any noir story.
The print shown at The Egyptian was a rare 16mm copy with numerous scratches. All things considered, it was a beautiful print and I can only hope it is restored and transferred to DVD in the very near future.
Until it is, be sure and check out the festivals held annually by American Cinematheque at The Egyptian in Hollywood, or the Palm Springs noir festival every year in May. For these festivals currently hold the only opportunity of enjoying rare gems such as Abandoned, with such incredible dialogue as, “What? You got lonely so you decided to take your gun for a walk?”
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and a lover of film noir.
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