THE TURNING POINT, no, not the overheated, overhyped ballet catfight trifle from 1977, but a sober, crisply-written & persuasively acted crime drama from 1952. Oddly overlooked at the time, its box office of $1,100,000 registering just 196th among the year’s output. In fact it’s the least-seen film for both of its stars, William Holden and Edmond O’Brien. One of several movies from the era that were inspired by the Kefauver Hearings, and one of the best, a neat discovery for fans of the stars, with a fine supporting cast backing them up. *
The Midwest, a big town. When gutsy Special Prosecutor ‘John Conroy’ (O’Brien) goes after the powerful crime syndicate run by ‘Neil Eichelberger’ (Ed Begley, excellent), old friend and journalist ‘Jerry McKibbon’ (Holden) does what he can to help but thinks his crusading pal is naive about the toll of potential retaliation. Wounded by revelations that hit too close to home, Conroy also suffers a blow when his socialite girlfriend ‘Amanda Waycross’ (Alexis Smith) becomes involved with Jerry.
The intelligent screenplay by Warren Duff (Angels With Dirty Faces) provides the cast with well-delineated characters and smart naturalistic dialogue, and director William Dieterle (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame) doesn’t let it stray into melodrama, the personal confrontations serious but subdued, the action scenes tense and believable.
Dieterle and cameraman Lionel Lindon don’t go for a shadowy noir look, instead the clean, unadorned visual approach conveys that the type of corruption portrayed is so widespread and accepted that it goes down on city streets in broad daylight or in front of a crowd at an arena.
Holden was expert at conveying worldly cynicism masking essential decency, wry, alert intelligence coupled with easy physical grace. O’Brien’s weight fluctuations would presently move him from leading roles in decent B-pictures (Warpath a good example) to boisterous supporting work in A-list items like The Barefoot Contessa: he’s low-key here. Smith adds her knowing style of elegant charm, Begley essaying the bland confidence of a well-connected criminal. Among the sturdy supporting lineup, Adele Longmire makes the most of her brief scenes as a terrified witness, while another, less-ruffled but obviously irritated ‘person of interest is hot number Carolyn Jones, 22, making her impressive debut in a short bit as a sassy moll (riffing off Virginia Hill of Bugsy fame).
85 minutes, trim and effective. With Tom Tully, Ted de Corsia, Danny Dayton, Ray Teal (a cop, for the umpteenth time), Don Porter, Neville Brand, Whit Bissell, Jay Adler, Russell Johnson, Russ Conway.
* In 1950-51 the public, already shell-shocked by the Korean War and shellacked by hysterical witch-hunts for Commies was further spellbound by the the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, nicknamed for Estes Kefauver, the Democratic Senator from Tennessee who kicked it off. Televised, hearings in 14 cities with 600 witnesses gave citizens up close ganders at an array of sweethearts that included Mickey Cohen, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky and Virginia Hill. Other movies that revolved around or touched on the spectacle of law-grills-mobsters include The Captive City, The Hoodlum Empire, The Miami Story, New York Confidential, The Enforcer, F.I.S.T. and The Godfather Part II.