Black Tuesday. 1954. USA. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. Screenplay by Sydney Boehm. Cinematography by Stanley Cortez. With Edward G. Robinson, Jean Parker, Peter Graves, Milburn Stone. 35mm print courtesy of Park Circus. 80 min.
This ferocious film noir, independently produced by Leonard and Robert Goldstein, proved to be Fregonese’s last Hollywood film, as well as the last time Edward G. Robinson played a toweringly malevolent figure. As Vincent “King” Canelli, Robinson draws on the audience’s memories of Little Ceasar and countless other gangster films, yet the evil he embodies is something new, born of the industrial-scale violence of WW2. In a brilliant opening shot, Fregonese presents Canelli as a caged animal clinging to the bars of his death row cell; he is to be executed that evening, along with his neighbor Peter Manning (Peter Graves), a bank robber and cop killer who has $200,000 in loot hidden away. With the help of his faithful gun moll (’30s ingenue Jean Parker) and an emotionless lieutenant (Warren Stevens), Canelli stages a mad, bloody breakout from the execution chamber itself, taking a group of hostages with him as well as Manning, whom Canelli hopes will lead him to the stolen cash. But the escape turns out to be largely illusory, as Fregonese channels his characters through a succession of closed-off, windowless spaces, leading to an upper floor in a warehouse where Canelli and his gang will stage their last stand.
Cinematographer Stanley Cortez, shooting the first feature film on Kodak’s revolutionary high-speed, black-and-white Tri-X stock, contributes images that rival the spatial complexity and prickly detail of his work on The Magnificent Ambersons, while looking forward to the strong, nearly abstract use of negative space that characterizes his contributions to The Night of the Hunter (a film with which Black Tuesday shares a mysterious family resemblance).