The Houston Story (1956)

The Houston Story (1956) is a corporate managerial Texas-based oil-boosting racket noir from the high era of corporate and racket noir.

It's a tough tale of industrial scale mob dodging oil thievery from the slick black beating heart of the Texas oil industry.

Seedy and pulpy and violent and silly, with a streak of cabbie noir and a lot of dirty oil scenery as well as some sordid poolside lechery, The Houston Story is a rewarding noir of parts.
The flick kicks off with a pre-credits scene that could make a preacher question his faith. A dame, faceless to the world, takes a one-way trip to the murky depths near a Houston pier – a siren's serenade ending in a watery grave, a dance with the devil beneath the oil-stained skyline. Suicide, they say. 

Night club noir in 1957 The Houston Story

Frank Duncan, a barely grease-stained oil jockey, stumbles upon her lifeless form. The gal, a chorus singer, went AWOL from the stage of life. The coroner, wearing his cynicism like a tailored suit, quips with a nod to 'Casablanca':

Corrupt older man Edward Arnold in The Houston Story (1956)

"Out of all the docks in the world to jump off, she had to pick Houston."

After the credits roll, Duncan's waiting around, playing the angles like a shark circling prey. The ink on the dead girl's dossier hits the headlines, and Duncan's the guy who puts a name to the face. A knock on his door, a visit from the mob's muscle – Chris Barker, a goon with a penchant for pain. Next stop, a joint owned by a songbird named Zoe Crane, or as the world knows her – Barbara Hale. Duncan, a man with a past, connects the dots. He and Crane go back to Oklahoma, a chapter in history when life was simpler, but Crane traded her past for the neon glow of the nightlife. Duncan's got a plan that goes beyond a friendly reunion. He smells green, sees dollar signs, and Crane's the key to a door with the word 'mob' written all over it. She introduces him to Paul Atlas, the puppet master pulling strings in Houston.

Duncan pitches his grand scheme – siphon oil, sell it in the shadows, and rake in the dough. Atlas bites, money flows, and Duncan's on the fast track to the top of the criminal food chain. But every ascent has its bumps. Gordon Shay, Atlas's right-hand man, smells trouble like a hound on a scent, thirsty for betrayal. The operation takes a dark turn when stolen oil pipes turn into instruments of death, and Inspector Gregg, the lawman with a taste for truth, starts sniffing around, ready to expose the grim symphony of crime.

In the shadowy underbelly of Houston, where oil and blood mix freely, Duncan's dance with the mob and the law takes center stage, and the music, my friend, is a deadly tune that leaves no room for false notes.

In the murky underworld of Galveston, Texas, Frank Duncan, a wily oil driller with a taste for danger, hatches a cunning plot to clandestinely siphon millions of dollars' worth of black gold from the oil fields, branding it as his own. To navigate the treacherous waters of crime, he entangles himself with Zoe Crane, a sultry nightclub singer with connections. She becomes the pawn in his dangerous game, the means to gain favor with Houston mobster Paul Atlas, the man with the sinister strings of the criminal symphony.

In the shadowy corners of betrayal, Atlas whispers to his right-hand enforcer, Gordon Shay, about his plans to betray Duncan once the illicit fortune is firmly clutched in their greedy grasp. The plot thickens as Chris Barker, a hired gun with vengeance on his mind, confronts Duncan in a deadly dance. In a desperate struggle on an oil rig, Duncan defies his fate and sends Barker plummeting to the abyss below.

Cabbie Noir in The Houston Story (1956)

In terms of cabbie noir, Gene Barry's host played by Frank Jenks, is a kind of slobby blue collar cabbie guy, critically not too bright but ultimately offered a heroic role in the film. He takes a heroic role in the crime by being a rather unknowing and ignorant patsy type of guy. Here he is showing the other cabbies round corporate life.

With dreams of escape, Duncan turns to his steadfast lover, Madge, for help. Yet, in this unforgiving noir landscape, loyalty is a rare gem, and the heartless Zoe betrays him, leaving Duncan's dreams shattered. As the dark night unfolds, a pair of Atlas's ruthless henchmen seize Zoe, strip her of ill-gotten gains, and callously cast her from a speeding car into the abyss of the unknown.

In the chilling aftermath, Shay pays the ultimate price, meeting his demise in the labyrinth of deceit. As Duncan inches towards freedom, the relentless footsteps of justice echo, closing in with the cold determination of fate. The city's dimly lit streets bear witness to the final act, as Duncan, cornered by the long arm of the law, is forced to surrender, the curtain falling on a tale of greed, betrayal, and the inescapable grip of noir justice.

In the gritty underbelly of film production, on the sizzling streets of Houston, fate played a capricious hand with the cinematic creation. The esteemed lead role, initially destined for the illustrious Lee J. Cobb, took an unforeseen twist. As the cameras rolled, capturing the essence of turmoil, Cobb succumbed to the relentless strain of the Texan heat after an arduous bout of filming a grueling fight sequence on May 8. The relentless grip of a heart attack rendered him incapacitated for the imminent three days of scheduled location scenes.

In a peculiar dance of providence, the director, William Castle, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Cobb, stepped into the void. Doubling for the ailing actor, Castle infused the scenes with his own shadow, a temporary surrogate in the cinematic dance.

Spying devices in The Houston Story (1956)

A span of ten weeks saw Cobb muster the strength to return to the cinematic battleground. Yet, the fates, ever capricious, dealt another blow as a second heart attack befell the seasoned actor. In the cruel aftermath, Cobb's presence dwindled, fading from the filmic canvas.

In the ensuing shuffle of casting decisions, the producer, Sam Katzman, resolute and unyielding, championed a new face for the role. Enter Gene Barry, a fine actor, whose essence stood in stark contrast to the formidable Cobb. Katzman's insistence on novelty birthed a dynamic shift in the film's trajectory.

As the cinematic tapestry unfolded, fragments of both Cobb and Castle lingered, ghostly echoes of the initial vision haunting the final frames. In the crucible of creation, the cast metamorphosed, and the indomitable spirit of filmmaking persevered, etching a tale of resilience and adaptation in the annals of cinematic lore.
Barbara Hale in The Houston Story (1956)

The cinematic odyssey commences with a prelude that titillates the senses—a nameless maiden discovered lifeless in the proximity of a Houston pier, ostensibly succumbing to the tragic embrace of drowning, an aquatic waltz with demise. Enter Frank Duncan (Gene Barry), an oil maestro, unriddling the mystery's enigmatic tendrils, unveiling the departed damsel as a once-vanished songstress from the chorus line. The coroner, a maestro of morbidity, punctuates this somber prologue with a poignant nod to the realm of celluloid classics, yes we already said it: 'Casablanca':

Post-credits, Duncan lingers in the liminality, anticipating the inked narratives that will recount the discovery and his role as the herald of identification. A harbinger of fate arrives in the form of Chris Barker (Chris Alcaide), the muscle-bound emissary of local mob dominion, ushering Duncan into the realm of Zoe Crane (Barbara Hale), the nocturnal serenader whose authentic nomenclature mirrors the appellation Duncan bestowed upon the deceased siren. A symphony of interconnected destinies unfolds as Duncan, a compatriot of Crane's estranged spouse in the yesteryears of Oklahoma, reveals that the introductory encounter is but the prelude to a grander orchestration.

Duncan's clandestine overture extends beyond mere acquaintance, transcending the realm of chance encounters. Aware of Crane's entanglements with the underworld, Duncan orchestrates a rendezvous with Paul Atlas (Edward Arnold), the orchestrator of Houston's dominion. A clandestine ballet of scheming ensues as Duncan, harboring a clandestine design to siphon the lifeblood of oil fields for a subversive market, seeks Atlas's sponsorship to catalyze his machinations. The crescendo of this clandestine symphony reverberates, propelling Duncan into a crescendo of opulence and ascension within the clandestine hierarchy.

Yet, within the shadowy echelons of Atlas's regime, discord simmers. Gordon Shay (Paul Richards), the second in command, tastes the acrid tang of insecurity, fanning the flames of treachery. The clandestine operation, veiled in the pursuit of oil wealth, descends into a macabre ballet with lethal ramifications—stolen oil pipes wielded as instruments of fate. As the clandestine orchestrations of Duncan spiral into chaos, Inspector Gregg (Roy Engel) emerges as the arbiter of justice, navigating the labyrinth of deception to unearth the truth that lies beneath the oil-stained surface.

Barbara Hale, a luminous star who graced the silver screen with an ethereal glow, lived a life that mirrored the enchantment of a classic Hollywood love story. Born on April 18, 1922, in DeKalb, Illinois, her journey unfolded like the opening scenes of a golden-era romance, with the Midwest as the backdrop to her early years.

From the tender embrace of a loving family, Barbara's youthful spirit bloomed, hinting at the promise of a beautiful tale. As the winds of destiny whispered, her passion for the arts ignited, and the allure of acting beckoned her toward the dazzling lights of Tinseltown.

In 1943, love took center stage when Barbara Hale crossed paths with fellow actor Bill Williams. Their courtship unfolded like a tender sonnet, each moment a verse in the symphony of their burgeoning affection. United in love and marriage, they embarked on a shared journey, hand in hand, with Hollywood as the witness to their unfolding narrative.

The silver screen welcomed Barbara's grace, and she adorned each role with a magnetic charm that left an indelible mark on the hearts of audiences. Her performances resonated with the timeless elegance of a bygone era, capturing the essence of love and longing on celluloid.

As life's tapestry unfurled, Barbara Hale's roles as wife and mother became the truest expressions of her romantic saga. Alongside Bill Williams, she raised a family, nurturing a love that transcended the glitz of Hollywood. Theirs was a partnership that weathered the storms and reveled in the sunshine, a love story etched in the quiet moments of shared laughter and enduring companionship.

Barbara's career unfolded like the turning pages of a cherished novel, filled with accolades, admiration, and the gentle applause of a grateful audience. Yet, it was her role as a beacon of love within her family that truly defined her legacy.

As the final curtain descended on Barbara Hale's earthly tale on January 26, 2017, the echoes of her romantic journey lingered in the hearts of those who had the privilege of witnessing her life. Her story, a serenade of love and artistry, remains an enduring chapter in the grand anthology of Hollywood's golden era. In the soft glow of memory, Barbara Hale's life story continues to dance, a timeless waltz that forever enchants the soul.

Some major crime from 1950s Houston:

Clarence L. Wilson Kidnapping (1957): Clarence L. Wilson, an oilman, was kidnapped, and a ransom was demanded. The FBI got involved, and eventually, the kidnapper was caught. This case highlighted the risks associated with wealth and prominence.

Domingo Cantu Police Scandal (1951): The Cantu scandal involved allegations of police corruption and ties to organized crime. Domingo Cantu, a former Houston Police Department officer, was accused of accepting bribes and aiding criminals. The scandal revealed systemic issues within the police department.

Edward Arnold street showdown in The Houston Story (1956)

Armed Robbery and Murder (1952): In 1952, there were several incidents of armed robbery and murder reported in Houston. These crimes often involved confrontations during robberies and occasionally resulted in fatalities.

Prostitution and Gambling Rings: The 1950s saw ongoing issues related to organized crime, with illegal gambling and prostitution rings operating in parts of the city. Law enforcement efforts were made to curb these activities.

I really enjoyed Hale as Zoe, a platinum blonde chanteuse who starts out as mistress to Shay but then gets together with Duncan. It's a very different look and part for Hale, and she's definitely one of the main reasons to watch the movie. It was quite something watching her sing Put the Blame on Mame in what sounded like her own singing voice. She also has an amusing scene where she attempts to fool the hitmen by acting drunk. She's quite effective as a woman who is always looking out for No. 1.

I especially enjoyed Zaremba as the mob boss who claims to want to avoid violence at all costs ("it's bad for business") but who reveals himself to be a very lethal man. It was such an interesting performance, I would enjoyed seeing a lot more of him and a lot less of Barry.

Frank Duncan, a slick operator in the oil game down in Galveston, Texas, hatches a plan as sly as a cat in the shadows. His game? Sneak away with millions in liquid gold straight from the oil fields, flipping it on the market like it's his own. And how does he play it? Through Zoe Crane, a dame belting out tunes in the night joint. He snakes his way into the good graces of a Houston mobster, Paul Atlas, pitching his scheme with the grease of a used car salesman.

But here's the twist – Atlas, the big shot, whispers to his right-hand man Gordon Shay, spills the beans that Duncan's in for a double-cross as soon as the greenbacks hit the table. Trouble's on the horizon when Chris Barker, a hired gun with an itchy trigger finger, takes a stab at robbing Duncan. The oilman, he's got grit, sends Barker plunging off an oil rig, a one-way ticket to the abyss.

Freeway photography in The Houston Story (1956)

Duncan, smelling danger in the air, tries to make a clean break with his loyal gal Madge. But that's where the dagger twists – Zoe, the songbird with ice in her veins, snatches Duncan's loot and spins a yarn to Madge, painting Duncan as a two-timing rat. Atlas's goons grab Zoe, strip her of her dough, and toss her from a speeding jalopy. Shay takes the fall, breathes his last, but Duncan's not off the hook. The heat's closing in, and he's left with no choice but to throw in the towel, hands up, and surrender to the long arm of the law. The oilman's slick scheme, drenched in deception, ends with a bitter taste of justice.

In the shadowy corridors of film production, the casting dice took a tumble, leaving the acclaimed Lee J. Cobb, a heavyweight in the character actor ring, as the original headliner. But the cruel hand of fate played its cards, dealing Cobb a heart attack blow after a gruelling on-location brawl under the scorching Texan sun. The relentless heat in those parts can make a man's heart skip a beat or two, and Cobb wasn't spared. Collapsing on May 8, the actor faced a three-day hiatus from the scheduled shoot.

Enter William Castle, the man behind the lens, bearing a resemblance to Cobb that became more than just a passing note. Castle donned the mantle, pulling double duty as director and Cobb's doppelgänger for those pivotal scenes, carrying the weight of the narrative on his own shoulders. Ten weeks drifted by, and Cobb, fueled by tenacity, took a swing at a comeback. Alas, the cards turned cold again; another heart attack landed the knockout punch, sealing Cobb's exit.

The show must go on, they say, and producer Sam Katzman was adamant about replacing Cobb with someone fresh on the picture scene – Gene Barry, a capable actor but a stark departure from the Cobbian charisma. The clash of the old and the new echoed through the frames, and even as Cobb and Castle's shadow lingered in the celluloid, the torch had passed.

Behind the scenes, Paul Palmentola orchestrated the visual dance, his artistry shaping the film's sets, a silent maestro orchestrating the backdrop for the dramatic twists that unfolded in the unforgiving heat of Texas. The saga of casting upheaval and directorial duality wove its tale, leaving an indelible mark on the reel, where the art of the unforeseen played its part.

The Houston Story (1956)

Directed by William Castle

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Feb 1, 1956 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 79 min.  |   Countries - United States

The Houston Story (1956) at Wikipedia

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