A Bullet for Joey (1955)

The curious late-cycle film noir gangster-spy picture A Bullet for Joey (1955) unites the two stars Edward G. Robinson and George Raft,  who had previously been paired in Raoul Walsh's Manpower (1941).

Edward G. Robinson was at ease in film noir, and able to play good guy roles, which he often did with pipe-wielding authority, and out and out villains. 
George Raft in A Bullet For Joey plays the hoodlum figure, working here to kidnap a nuclear scientist, with Peter van Eyck as the true ring-leader.

Comparing it to Illegal (1955), also with Robinson and by director Lewis Allen, there is slightly less in terms of dark city noir qualities, paranoia, and psychological damage.

In Montreal, a police inspector (Edward G. Robinson) uncovers piece by piece a plan to kidnap a nuclear physicist. American mobsters, foreign spies and a blonde seductress are all involved in this rather staid caper.

Shout out, however, to monkeys in film noir.
The film noir pantheon does ship with a special fondness for George Raft, and an even bigger fondness for Edward G. Robinson, so in one sense we are on firm footing with a film that has both men. 

And then adding in some film noir elements, which were popular in the previous decade, being spies and gangsterism in combination with police procedural, and there may be potential in A Bullet for Joey.

Edward G. Robinson in A Bullet for Joey (1955)

Edward G. Robinson plays Montreal Police Inspector Raoul LeDuc and George Raft plays exiled American hoodlum Joey Victor. The story of  A Bullet for Joey has to do with Joey Victor being hired by this shadowy rare book collector Eric Hartman, Peter Van Eyke, to do some work for him in kidnapping absent minded and a bit naive,in all the fuss about him in the movie, physics professor Dr. Carl Macklin, George Dolenz.

Prof. Marklin has invented this gizmo that's supposed to revolutionize atomic physic and it's Hartman's bosses back in the Kremlin who want to get their hands on it. This is only a guess on my part in that not once in the entire movie are we told or made to understand just whom Hartman, whom we know for sure isn't a member of the Canadian Mounties, is actually working for!

George Raft and Stephen Geray in A Bullet for Joey (1955)

It's only later when Joey finally realizes that Hartman isn't a good guy, or hoodlum like himself, but a slime ball working for Evil Empire the Soviet Union that he changes his mind and becomes patriotic for the first time in his criminal life.

That's after Joey's boys just about helped Commie master spy Hartman almost get everything, like Prof. Hartman and the gizmo that he was after. Joey also shows his good side by exonerating his old girl friend who wants nothing at all to do with him Joyce (Audrey Totter) in a letter to the Montreal Police Department. 
A film show for Joey

Taxi for Joey

A freeway for Joey

Audrey Totter in A Bullet for Joey (1955)

A Bullet for Joey (1955) may be one of the more low-key film noirs, in which crime collides with The Cold War, perhaps to reveal a cabal of hat wearing heroes and hoods, who may have had their day.

If anything it is a melding of styles, and the low deadpan voice of George raft keeps things as close to the noir highway as we will ever get.

Cold War spy gizmo - - the fascination of the mini-camera
A Bullet for Joey (1955)

After all, the film noir cycle at its very best covers a range of roughly 15 years, from around 1940 to around 1955, placing A Bullet For Joey at the tail-tip of the totality.

A Bullet for Joey is a brave attempt at the tail end of the style to merge the formats of the spy movie, with the burgeoning Cold War movie style; with the police procedural and the gangster story.

For these reasons, A Bullet For Joey should be filed as Not Noir But Relevant. This movie in fact follows none of the conventions of film noir and cannot be called noir by any stretch, truthfully speaking.

Snogga Snogga
A Bullet for Joey (1955)

And yet the style is the same; the sets and the suits have not changed, or if anything have become less confident, and less boastful of their novelty and sinister qualities.

A Bullet for Joey (1955)

It's almost as if film noir begins to age in the middle of the 1950s, not just because of the advent of Color Cinema, but because crime was becoming corporate and political; the family unit was becoming a veritable cultural battleground as the motorcycle and teenage movies were aching to show; and because of something as plain as innocence.

So corporate and Cold War crimes are the real thing, but there is an issue with titling department, who decided that A Bullet for Joey was appropriate. Its is certainly an appropriate film noir title, evoking both fate and violence, but also in an individual sense, almost inviting viewers to care for this Joey,. before the film even starts.

This is not the title for a Cold War gangster-spy-police-procedural hybrid, it is a title for film noir. The title of this film more than anything evokes the impassioned and ill-fated descent of a hero, or anti-hero; and this is not George Raft's character.

Death on the Highway - - not a bullet for Joey
A Bullet for Joey (1955)

The real world of film noir, is after all a world of innocence. Through the criminality and seething waters of psychology, there is still something predictable about noir, and something in its morality remained constant as society changed. Crime was a metaphor for any kind of falling away from that morality, and everything always tied up according to codes; some unwritten; others like the Hayes Code, written.
Card game visible in the urban night -- A Bullet for Joey (1955)

Something, and it is hard to say what, keeps A Bullet for Joey from being passionate and fun. Something stops A Bullet for Joey enjoying itself, or stepping gaily into the unknown, even for a minute; a lack of care which might best be summed up by making the observation that there is NO ONE EVEN CALLED JOEY in this film.

A Bullet for Somebody - - urban sniper in A Bullet for Joey (1955)

Joe — aye, there is a Joe. But nobody even tips a hat to the title, by calling him 'Joey' at any point. Leaving a strange combination of tastes in the mouth. There is nothing wr4ong with this film noir, but neither is there anything that is memorable, or outstanding — not even anything outstandingly bad.

The performances seem tame, and automatic — other than that of Audrey Totter, who is probably the star. And the reason for this lack of passion is that film noir is about to lose its way; in 1955, film noir is about to become less relevant, perhaps as it gives birth to the teenage movie, and the darker political conspiracies which make up the best examples of film noir from that later period. 

As a spy film, A Bullet for Joey may not be aptly named, but it is in total much more of a spy flick. Viewers will enjoy the miniature cameras which are used to capture secrets, and which fascinate the director Lewis Allen.

The trail is hot, and it is even possible to imagine there is a good script lurking far beneath the rather anodyne action. And in honesty, the seriousness of what is at stake must be what is causing everyone to pause before they consider how to perform. For nothing much comes light.

There are hints and suggestions that what is at stake in this run-around-romp, is nothing less than a nuclear secret of sorts, if not an actual McGuffin-style nuclear contraption of some kind. Interestingly, A Bullet for Joey was released a month or so before Kiss Me Deadly, also 1955, which makes a dramatic virtue of this subject like no other movie ever has.

The handling of the nuclear problem is like everything else in A Bullet For Joey; conservatively hinted at, in a rather non-committal manner, almost as if nobody on set was willing to take an actual lead, and tell the audience in as plain or dark detail as possible - what the hell was going on.

There must be a tidal flotsam of flicks like this that don't quite make it, but yet which tick the boxes their producers were aiming for. Everything in A Bullet For Joey is to a strange degree quite standard. There aren't any majorly sagging scenes of dullness, but neither is there much in the way of excitement, or even any unusually entertaining action - the kind of surprises we love in film noir.

Edward G. Robinson and George Raft
A Bullet for Joey (1955)

Maybe all that can be said in that department, which may be all focused on the start of the move, is the presence of a monkey -  always a bonus, and certain to please - and thus an addition to one of the critics' favourite lists, the list of Monkeys In Film Noir.

Give it to Joey! (Wikipedia)

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