|"If I kissed you, Bill, it wouldn't be fair"-Jane Russell, THE LAS VEGAS STORY|
There may be better ways to spend a brutally hot summer afternoon than watching a vintage Jane Russell film but damned if I can think of any right this minute. Jane Russell is one of my all time favorite beauties of the silver screen and I'll watch her in anything, like, for instance, THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952), a Russell vehicle produced by the legendary Howard Hughes at RKO. Russell was only one of many young actresses that the tycoon was involved with but it was Russell that became a star under his patronage.
The screenplay (by a committee of Paul Jarrico, Earl Felton and Harry (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE) Essex, from a story by Jay Dratler), is pretty routine stuff. Some experts may classify this as film noir, but I see it as more a straight crime film. After all, it has songs and piano playing by the great Hoagy Carmichael and a happy ending, elements which are not commonly found in bonafide noir. Linda Rollins (Russell) and husband Lloyd (Vincent Price) (one of my all time favorite actors, here in the pre-horror film phase of his career), stop off in Las Vegas on their way to Los Angeles. Lloyd needs to try to win money at the casinos to cover up his embezzling while Linda revisits her old haunts, particularly the Last Chance casino where she was previously employed as a singer accompanying piano playing Happy (Carmichael). She's tailed by Tom Hubler (Brad (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) Dexter), an insurance company investigator sent to keep an eye on Linda's fabulous diamond necklace. Linda runs into old flame Dave Andrews (Victor Mature), who is now a detective with the Clark County Sheriff's Department. Before long a casino boss is dead, the necklace is stolen, and Lloyd is arrested as a suspect.
But the real killer kidnaps Linda at gunpoint and makes a mad dash across the desert. Dave gives chase in a helicopter in a nifty set piece orchestrated by director Robert Stevenson. The chase climaxes at a deserted military base where the chopper flies through two hangars during the pursuit. This may have been the first time such a stunt was used in a film. It's all very well staged for the period and the on location setting adds a gritty element to the final showdown between Dave and the bad guy.
In addition to the chase sequence, THE LAS VEGAS STORY features impressive production design. The interior sets of the The Fabulous, a fictional Las Vegas have a mid-century atomic ranch vibe to them while there's lots of exterior footage of the Las Vegas strip and the Fremont Street areas as they were in the early 1950s.
The supporting cast is good. The durable Jay C. Flippen is the sheriff, while Will Wright (Ben Weaver on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) plays the owner of The Last Chance. Veteran cartoon voice actor Paul Frees plays a district attorney in one scene. Mature and Dexter are solid but Price is more fun to watch than either of them.
But nothing in this film is as much fun to watch as Jane Russell.