Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Las Vegas Story (1952)

The Las Vegas Story was filmed when Howard Hughes was at the helm of RKO Pictures, and he was notorious for meddling in the production of the studio’s films. His meddling became more pronounced if the film’s female lead was an actress that drew his romantic attentions. Rosalind Russell was one of those actresses and so she has a prominent place as the film’s star in the role of Linda Rollins. Because of his interest in aviation, Hughes also okayed an extended chase sequence featuring a helicopter. Even by today’s standards, the chase sequence is a bit of a thrill ride, with the helicopter maneuvering in some pretty tight spaces.

Happy (played by Hoagy Carmichael) narrates the opening of the film. He is also a character from Linda Rollins’s past and has a prominent role in the story, in addition to acting as narrator. The narrative starts with a shot of the desert; a map of Clark County, Nevada; shots of Las Vegas; and shots of The Last Chance club, where Linda used to sing and Happy still plays the piano. He still recalls the romance between Linda and Dave Andrews, and he provides details about how they met and musings about what went wrong in their relationship. He’s just guessing; he doesn’t know the facts. But it sets up expectations for what viewers are about to see.

Once Happy sets up the background and how things stand currently in Las Vegas, the film cuts to a couple on a train: Linda and Lloyd Rollins. Linda eventually left Las Vegas and married someone else, in other words, not Dave Andrews, played by Victor Mature. Lloyd wants to stop in Las Vegas; she doesn’t. He suspects she has a past there, and, of course, she does, although she doesn’t share any details with her husband. Even if viewers hadn’t been told that Linda’s past is troubling her, they could guess because the past and fate intervening in characters’ lives is a feature of film noir, and both are definitely features of The Las Vegas Story. Linda can’t talk her husband out of visiting Las Vegas, but she does give him a warning of sorts when she says to him, “You like running risks, don’t you, Lloyd?” Lloyd has made up his mind, however, and responds, “For a woman like you, a man always runs risks.”

Once the Rollinses have settled into the Fabulous Hotel in Las Vegas, Lloyd encourages Linda to find out what is haunting her from her past. Lloyd takes a magnanimous approach here. He is right when he says that Linda may never feel settled if she doesn’t face what’s troubling her, but it comes as a little bit of a surprise from a man who certainly doesn’t feel the same way about their money and her valuable possessions. All money and expensive jewelry are free for him to gamble away apparently.

(This article about The Las Vegas Story contains spoilers.)

Linda does return to The Last Chance nightclub and sees Happy still playing piano there. She has fond memories, which are shown in flashbacks that fill in a few details. The film cuts back and forth between the past and the present while Linda is standing in the club, reminiscing. In the present, Linda is also looking for Dave Andrews, but he is not in the club. Happy spots her and is thrilled to see her. Mike Fogarty, the former owner of the nightclub, is also happy to see her. Happy gets up from the piano and convinces her to stay for a visit. Linda agrees, and she also agrees to sing briefly with Happy at his piano, like old times.

I found it a bit odd that both Happy and the former manager of The Last Chance nightclub find Linda’s and Dave’s romance so intriguing. I could understand their interest in her as a woman, a singer, a person. But why were they also so interested in seeing that she and Dave reunite? This detail is never explained in the film; viewers just have to accept it as part of the story.

As if on cue, Dave actually shows up and sits at his old table while Linda is singing alongside Happy. Dave is happy to see Linda, but he is also harboring some bitterness. Linda was supposed to show up and say goodbye when he was shipped out to the South Pacific during World War II, but she never did. And she doesn’t give an explanation to him when they talk about it in the present. I side with Dave on this one. I don’t blame him for not accepting her nonresponse when they discuss it after their first meeting in years. Linda could have at least shown up and seen Dave off when he was heading to war and might never return home. Dave does return home to Las Vegas following his military service and is now a detective with the sheriff’s department. When the Rollins’s story takes a dark turn, he is naturally involved in the investigation.

At the Fabulous Hotel, Lloyd Rollins gets a phone call from Boston about someone named Monte, who has committed suicide. The implication is that Lloyd Rollins may be fleeing some financial complications back East and is in trouble. He takes Linda’s very expensive necklace and tries to use it as credit at the hotel. Drucker, the hotel manager, denies his request, but the new manager, Clayton at The Last Chance nightclub, advances $10,000 to Lloyd based on the value of his wife’s necklace. Lloyd promptly loses the money that same night, gambling it all away.

The fact that Linda stops wearing the necklace doesn’t go unnoticed. Tom Hubert (played by Brad Dexter) was hanging around and asking questions before the necklace disappeared. He is a private investigator for the East Coast Indemnity Insurance Company, which insured Linda’s necklace. He and others, including Dave Andrews, saw her wearing it soon after she and Lloyd arrived in Las Vegas. It’s never stated directly, but Hubert probably knew a little bit of Lloyd’s past business dealings and his gambling habits, and that’s probably why he was asking about the necklace in the first place. When Clayton is murdered and the necklace goes missing for good, Lloyd Rollins’s plans to make money in Las Vegas start to unravel and he becomes involved in more than one criminal investigation.

Even though I’m not a big fan of categories, I would say that The Las Vegas Story is just barely a film noir. Arguments against it are its happy ending for everyone but the two murder victims and the emphasis on the musical numbers. Yes, a lot of the film takes place in The Last Chance nightclub, Linda Rollins’s old stomping grounds, and yes, Happy is the piano-player-slash-film-narrator, but the three musical numbers struck me as one or two musical numbers too many—even though they are enjoyable, even though they make sense in a nightclub.

Victor Mature is good as Russell’s old flame Dave Andrews. He portrays the right mix of longing and bitterness over the way that things might have been. But he and Rosalind Russell are outshone by Vincent Price, who is the best reason to see The Las Vegas Story. He may not have top billing or be the male lead, but the film is so much better with him in the role of Lloyd Rollins. He shows just the right amount of oiliness to let the viewers know he’s up to no good, but he manages to fool everyone else at least some of the time. And he has some of the best lines. My favorite is the line he utters during his entrance into The Last Chance nightclub, which he sees for the first time with his wife Linda. As the two of them move past the front doors and walk into the club, he tells Linda, “Hm, I can see from here almost anything could have happened in this place—and probably did.” This just before he’ll add his own chapter to the story of The Last Chance nightclub.

January 30, 1952, release date    Directed by Robert Stevenson    Screenplay by Paul Jarrico, Earl Felton, Harry Essex    Based on a story by Jay Dratler    Music by Leigh Harline    Edited by Frederic Knudtson, George C. Shrader    Cinematography by Harry J. Wild

Jane Russell as Linda Rollins    Victor Mature as Dave Andrews    Vincent Price as Lloyd Rollins    Hoagy Carmichael as Happy    Brad Dexter as Tom Hubler, private investigator    Gordon Oliver as Mr. Drucker, manager at the Fabulous Hotel    Jay C. Flippen as Captain H. A. Harris, Dave’s boss    Will Wright as Mike Fogarty    Bill Welsh as Mr. Martin    Ray Montgomery as the desk clerk    Colleen Miller as Mary, the newlywed    Chester Marshall as Bill, the newlywed    Robert J. Wilke as Clayton, manager of The Last Chance nightclub    Paul Frees as the district attorney

Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.    Produced by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Saw this again fairly recently and enjoyed it even more the second time. The leads are excellent, Price is a great foil for Mature and Russell, and that helicopter sequence is daring and eye-opening for the time!