711 Ocean Drive (1950)

Vintage Columbia Pictures 1950 crime film noir 711 Ocean Drive, starring Edmond O'Brien, Joanne Dru and Otto Kruger, tells the story of how an ambitious and happy go lucky expert in telephony becomes a mean and vicious gang-land leader.

It's a wandering tale of crime, bookmaking and the perils of making a fast and succesful rise in the world of gangsterism.

It leads us from the small bookies of coastal California, through the high lives and low lives of its gangster antagonists, to wind up on and within the Boulder Dam in Arizona, where the gangster meets his inevitable end.

Edmond O'Brien is known from other contemporary film noirs such as The Killers, A Double Life and The Web (all 1947), to D.O.A.and Backfire in 1950.

And he does good guys just he does bad guys, and here we see him doing both.

Sure, he starts off as the wisecracking and fun telephone engineer, who likes nothing more than to bet in the horses.

But when he has the bookmaking system explained to him, and the importance of telephony, he is offered a job that he can't refuse.

Later, excellence and enthusiasm become ambition and ruthless drive, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, when his character Granger becomes the lynch pin and the high heid yin, ready at this stage to hire hitmen when need be.

The donwfall and unravelling of all this are somewhat predictable, as is Granger's weakening grasp of reality. As he's always been a sucker for the horses, he has never felt the need for female company, eschewing such things. But this gives too, and yet too late; certaiunly too late for there to be any interest in the female casting, for want of any interesting female characters.

Edmond O'Brien - Super Gangster

Of more interest is the hype that 711 Ocean Drive ships with, as it starngely asserts that it was produced and even filmed under police protection, so outrageous were its contents in the eyes of the real gangsters of the USA, who would seek to shut it down for revealing their terrible secrets.

This all seems a bit heavy on the bunk, a fact that was even identified by Bosley Crowther at the time, when he wrote in the New York Times, in July 1950:

"Despite some considerable advertising of 711 Ocean Drive as a daring and courageous revelation of the big bookmaking and gambling syndicates, this modest Columbia melodrama, which came to the Paramount yesterday, is no more than an average crime picture with some colorful but vague details thrown in. Certainly no one who reads the papers with a fairly retentive eye can have any less comprehension of the gambling racket than is illustrated here...In short, this little picture, conventionally written but well photographed, does no more than any gangster picture in reminding us that gangsters are crooks."

Despite this, 711 Ocean Drive is still a feisty film, and one that makes a real journey, unlikely as it may be.  

Certainly of interest are the filming locations in the L.A. area, including great streetscapes with period detail, and modern architecture with its circular drive-ins, open plan houses, funky bars ands nightclubs, and even some taste of what it's like to go to Palm Springs for the weekend.

As O'Brien's character changes from from a telephone repai guy into a crime lord, we see many improvements in his dress, and the sartorial variety among the leads gives a cute sense of the personal style of this period.

Of course, this being a fascinatingly earnest stage in human history, all the excitement is bookended with sermonising, with the announcement at the end that the two bucks you put on a horse go straight to facilitate murder!

The backdrops make it all fascinating however, and aside from the excellent sweating of Edmond O'Brien (perspiration-acting he also employed in D.O.A and The Hitchhiker) we get a close-up and complicated technical look at the telephone technology of 1950, as well as many fine geographical backdrops, as discussed.

The film noir effect is deliberate and evident also in 711 Ocean Drive. While many film noirs subtly portray complex issues that unravel into a feeling of paranoia and doom, what we get in 711 Ocean Drive is much simpler: While Mal Granger seems like a pretty nice guy at the start, his darker, ambitious side comes to the fore when competition for money and women are involved.

Is that the message?

It's hard to tell among the preaching and the technical efforts but some of these filmmakers seem determined to highlight the difference between portraying crime, and actually encouraging it.

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