Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Shack Out on 101 (1955) is a  roadside-diner anti-Communist espionage film noir with goofball elements set in a crummy but funny roadside diner and on a low-budget, and made by Allied Artists.

Indeed, you could call the joint a shack.

Down at the shack, Lee Marvin plays Slob a lecherous and bullying short-order cook who ain't good for much, other than sniping with his war veteran boss played by Keenan Wynn, whose life is a mixture of sarcasm and PTSD.

In September 1952, Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The studio ceased making movies under the Monogram brand name in 1953, although it was reactivated by AAI by the millennium. The parent company became Allied Artists, with Monogram Pictures becoming an operating division.

In fact French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his 1960 film Breathless to Monogram, citing the studio's films as a major influence.

The owner of the crummy, grotty and sub-par diner in question shares his PTSD with his pal Eddie, who is played by Whit Bissell.

Also dropping in is Frank Lovejoy, who is a Professor at the nearby nuclear research base, and two ACME chicken delivery men — who may have an undercover secret.

Terry Moore — in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Lee Marvin in Shack Out On 101 (1955) — with a shell, not an early mobile phone

Terry Moore jumped on the beach by Lee Marvin in Shack Out on 101 (1955)

In a salacious and surprising opening scene, Terry Moore is sunbathing while Lee Marvin listens in to a shell in the distance. He then approaches and jumps her, but instead of being arrested, this is just an opening scene to set the dangerous, untoward and unconventional tone of Shack Out On 101.

Acme Poultry down at the Shack Out On 101 (1955)

It is as well that these chicken and poultry delivery operatives have an undercover secret because their real life uniforms for ACME POULTRY are the most obvious disguise on the peninsula, although everyone in the diner is convinced and suspects nothing.

Also dropping in to the third-rate and contemptible diner is Frank DeKova as Professor Claude Dillon, someone for whom the Cold War is already proving to be too much. With all those raidable and exciting nuclear secrets, pressure seems to be building up on this guy.

Keenan Wynn at his old time Shack Out on 101 (1955)

As it does as far as the final shabby diner visitor goes — Len Lesser as Perch, who pops in with his smelly basket of fish, ostensibly to sell smelly fish from the smelly fish basket to sarcastic shabby diner owner George — played by Keenan Wynan.

Terry Moore — patriot and employee of the Shack Out on 101 (1955)

Seeming to hold of this together with sex appeal and charm is the only thing going for the diner, the long-suffering staff member of the shack crew of the beggarly and unworthy diner there on 101 — it is Kotty played by Terry Moore.

Directed by Edward Dein with a screenplay by his wife, Mildred Dein. Born in New York to Jewish immigrants from Russia and Germany, Mildred married writer-director Edward Dein in Los Angeles in 1934, and the pair would go on to collaborate on half a dozen films over the next 20 years. 

Frank Lovejoy rocks into the Shack Out On 101 (1955)

The pair also wrote books like 1947's The Pencil Is Sharp together. For years, they resided in a castle-like home in Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon. Together they worked on:

  • Curse of the Undead (1959)
  • Seven Guns to Mesa (1958)
  • Calypso Joe (1957)
  • Shack Out on 101 (1955)
  • The Heart and the Sword (1953)
  • Come Die My Love (1952)

Restricted to the one small set of the interior of the diner, placed directly on to the durable floor of a Hollywood soundstage, Shack Out on 101 (1955) sometimes seem stuck within the property, relying on some scenes of comedy to keep things rolling at times. 

Frank Lovejoy soothes Terry Moore in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

The diner owner George and his friend Eddie make muted references to their wartime PTSD with George planning to crack it by taking a boat trip, in which the two of them will go scuba-diving with a dangerous harpoon which they lark around with to a fair degree.

Frank Lovejoy, Whit Bissell and Keenan Wynn in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

This larking around includes a goofy weight workout scene with Lee Marvin and Keenan Wynn, and later a dry-land snorkel-around the sound-stage floor with Keenan Wynn and Whit Bissell.

Prof. Sam Bastion: Slob's got an eight cylinder body and a 2 cylinder mind.

The other principal location for the photography is the beach itself which is rather nice, and allows us to open on Terry Moore sunbathing, before being treated to a beach bullying session from Lee Marvin's character Slob. Like an ignorant little boy he plays around with her, and although she does not have pig tails to pull he messes up her clothes and pushes her around a bit, which she largely tolerates.

Kotty is a self-styled 'hash-slinger' in the old shack, and the men all call her 'tomato' during the story, a popular slang term for young women back in the 1950s.

Terry Moore is more in love with passing scientist Frank Lovejoy, although he is portrayed as an occasional useless scientist type, more fascinated by the curves of the local shells than he is by the curves of her 1955 body — most annoying for her it turns out. It's a dead end shack and it is inhabited by and visited by dead end men. The shack is of course an outcast and swinish locus of espionage, where the secrets of the nearby nuclear base are sold on up the road, with only the Federal Chicken Men able to crack the case.

Frank Lovejoy and Lee Marvin shoot shit at the Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Prof. Sam Bastion: Kotty, now what's wrong.

Kotty: Nothing. I just don't want to stand between you and your shells. You don't need a woman, you should go steady with a clam. I don't get it... a grown up man, and you still play with sea shells.

Shack Out On 101 may be classed as mild noir for a variety of reasons that leave it floundering between any true categories of film, while being hashed together out of several to create something that is genuinely between the cracks. The result is an unconventional mix of moody melodramatics, strange but also campy nostalgia for a roadside beach-life that may miss the mark entirely, and moments of gruff film noir —  a brand of outré noir which introduces screwball and even improvisation to a captured mix of elements.

Terry Moore uncovers a spy ring in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Lee Marvin is quite the star, and makes for a strange traitorous dishwasher, a Communist in a filthy apron, both comic and menacing and able to switch between the two. The weight-lifting scene is a strange paradigm of goofball which looks improvised and includes Marvin strangling himself in pursuit of "a really big neck".

Broken down to its compounds Shack Out On 101 becomes even wilder. A triple-McGuffin love interest subplot has Terry Moore walking straight into a night time spy conference without being noticed, and while the film seems calm and goofy, there are suddenly overwrought and vague speeches and moments too. The culmination is also strange — a pacifist war veteran shoots a Communist spy with a harpoon gun.

Goofy diving scene in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Minimal thought goes too into the maritime bric-a-brac which decorates the titular shack, a shack which veteran George (Keenan Wynn) loves to bits and still sees as his dream come true. Typical of the film as a whole, it is hard to find anything rational within this set up although it is still enjoyable. 

It's the joy of containment, and low budget entertainment contained on one set. Everything that happens on that set must contribute to the film's final logic which means that the scene where Wynn and Marvin attack a neon swordfish sign becomes as zany as anything in the George Zucco classic-monster guy-in-a-gorilla-suit action which from the Monogram / Allied Artist studio's earlier days. 

Acme Poultry in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

By the same logic, everyone on set is crazy about Terry Moore, because she is literally the only woman on the planet. Luckily she is patriot enough to sniff out what is going on and foil the spy-ring.

Shack Out On 101 (1955) may then qualify as spy-spoof — almost — as outré noir or as an anti-Communist rant, which minor achievement of a genre it also satisfies. It's a movie of bizarre banter and of extremity and silliness — a kind of goofball noir that flies as high as it can on the extremely serious trend of anti-Communist and pseudo-patriotic spy films. 

Lee Marvin in Shack Out On 101 (1955)

Especially puzzling perhaps is how the unambitious American bad boy and slouch played by Lee Marvin is a spy, for we never usually see spies as being this much fun. Ordinarily a spy in a da movies tries to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. However Lee Marvin plays the opposite, goofy, evil, flirty, aggressive, and able to cook a burger with the piece of a wristwatch in it if he feels like it. 

Frank Lovejoy plays a role similar to his previous Communist movie I Was A Communist for the FBI and tries to show himself torn between the truth and a lie by trying to infiltrate the spy ring led by Slob at the diner. His girlfriend is Kotty and there are some kissing and conversation scenes on the sand which are most exciting, and Terry Moore as Kotty plays a naïve girl who will learn a lot during the movie about who to trust.

Lee Marvin

This beanery of espionage and nuclear secrets is supposedly north of San Diego on Route 101, although nothing is auspicious about these premises. Seen from the beach and glimpsed from the road, the shack out on 101 truly is a shack.

U.S. Route 101 (US 101) stretches from Los Angeles, California, to Tumwater, Washington. The California portion of US 101 is one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state, and the longest highway of any kind in California. US 101 was also one of the original national routes established in 1926.

Shack Out on 101 (1955)

Directed by Edward Dein

Genres - Drama, Spy Film  |   Release Date - Dec 4, 1955 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States  |

Shack Out on 101 (1955) on Wikipedia

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