Armored Car Robbery (1950) dir. Richard Fleischer
Starring: Charles McGraw, William Talman, Adele Jergens, Douglas Fowley
By Alan Bacchus
Old Hollywood b-movies were never shy about using extremely literal titles to tell audiences exactly what to expect. This one is perhaps the most literal of noir pictures I’ve seen.
Indeed, Armored Car Robbery is about an armed car robbery. William Talman is Walter Purvis, the mastermind of a new heist job, which, if all goes right, will make him and his buddies rich. Purvis is tough as nails and like clockwork in his method. But the job doesn’t go quite right, and one of the gunmen, Benny, is shot and injured. Despite Benny’s pleas he can’t go to a hospital, and after a confrontation he is shot and killed.
With Benny found dead it gives the cops the one lead to track down Purvis and the money. A cat-and-mouse chase between cops and robbers ensues with a buxom stripper named Yvonne Le Doux at the centre of it all.
Armored Car Robbery works best as an iron clad procedural in the tradition of the crime work of Michael Mann. In fact, the rhythm and construction of the police investigation with the perps' escape recalls the Pacino/De Niro dynamic in Heat. On the side of the cops is the equally ruthless hardliner, Lt. Cordell (Charles McGraw), who, like Pacino’s character, commands his troops and analyzes the evidence with workmanlike efficiency.
But let’s not aggrandize this film too much. Heat this is not, nor is it M or High and Low, the two essential classics of the procedural genre. In Armed Car Robbery we’re never quite sure who to root for. Most often in heist films we cheer for the robbers, who often steal for a purpose other than just money, or because they are charming or charismatic. Purvis is no hero – not even an anti-hero – and thus, we never really feel any warmth or attraction to him. Is it the cops? Do we want the cops to catch the thief? Unfortunately, Lt. Cordell is thinly drawn and not much deeper than a mere characterization of a cop instead of a hero with a journey.
As such, this noir is simply an exercise in style – a series of crafty set pieces choreographed and directed with considerable flare by director Richard Fleischer, who is certainly no hack. He would later go on to a successful career of populist entertaining classics such as the Fantastic Voyage, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green and even all the way up to 1984’s Conan the Destroyer.
Armored Car Robbery is available in the Film Noir Collection Vol 5. from Warner Bros Home Video.