Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I watched BACKFIRE (1950) for the first time the other night, thanks to a recent broadcast on TCM. The film is a minor film noir with an interesting pedigree.

The film, which was written by Ivan Goff, Larry Marcus and Ben Roberts and directed by Vincent Sherman, was made in 1948 and promptly shelved by Warner Brothers Studio. In the meantime, screenwriters Goff and Roberts penned the script for WHITE HEAT (1949), which, in addition to the legendary James Cagney, featured Edmond O'Brien and Virginia Mayo, both of whom had appeared in the still unreleased BACKFIRE. In addition, O'Brien starred in the film noir classic D.O.A. in 1950. Warner Brothers, taking notice of the box office and critical successes of those two films, decided to release BACKFIRE in 1950 and strike while the irons of Goff, Roberts, O'Brien and Mayo were hot.

BACKFIRE stars Gordon MacRae as Bob Corey, a wounded WWII vet who is about to be released from the veteran's hospital at the beginning of the film. He plans to open a ranch with his buddy Steve Connolly (Edmond O'Brien)  but the doctors say Corey, even after he recovers from his wounds, won't be able to do any heavy physical activity. Corey is nursed back to health by Julie Benson (Mayo) and one night a mysterious woman (Viveca Lindfors) appears in his room to tell him that Steve is in trouble and needs Bob's help. Was she real or just a drug induced hallucination?

When Bob is released from the hospital, he sets out to find his missing buddy only to be brought in police Captain Garcia (Ed Begley), who believes the missing Steve may be involved in a murder case. Bob disobeys Garcia and sets out on his own in a desperate attempt to find Steve.

Bob meets several characters who provide him with much needed information (all in the form of extended flashback sequences) and some of these people meet their death after telling Bob what they know (no, Bob doesn't kill them, the real killer does). Bob finally finds Steve, who has been injured in an attempt on his life. The real killer is revealed, a shootout ensues and Bob, Steve and Julie ride off into the sunset to open the ranch of their dreams.

BACKFIRE has a cast of minor actors, none of whom ever achieved major stardom. Edmond O'Brien, Virginia Mayo, Gordon MacRae, Dane Clark, Viveca Lindfors and Ed Begley, never became big name stars but they all did have film careers that had the occasional starring roles and many supporting ones. BACKFIRE isn't a bad little film but it's far from a great noir (due mainly to the happy ending). Worth seeing once if you're a fan of the genre.

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