Tight Spot (1955)

“You realize you’re the only one who can help us, don’t you?”

Synopsis:
A prosecutor (Edward G. Robinson) hoping to convince an imprisoned gangster’s moll (Ginger Rogers) to testify against a crime boss (Lorne Greene) brings her to a hotel room for safe-keeping, where a policeman (Brian Keith) and a prison matron (Katherine Anderson) watch over her. While Rogers tries to decide whether or not to testify, she and Keith begin to experience romantic feelings towards one another.

Genres:

Review:
Cult director Phil Karlson helmed several gritty, must-see masterpieces during the 1950s — including a caper flick (1952’s Kansas City Confidential), a docudrama (1955’s The Phenix City Story), and a western (1958’s Gunman’s Walk); other less-successful titles in his oeuvre (click here and here, for instance) remain of minor interest as well. Karlson’s Tight Spot (adapted from Leonard Kantor’s play, Dead Pigeon) is perhaps best known for offering Ginger Rogers one of her few late-career leading roles — and though it’s nice to see her back on screen, the result is a mixed blessing: she’s suitably brassy, effectively embodying her character’s working-class origins (“How can I even think about it when I’m famished all over the place?”), but she ultimately overplays the part, occasionally veering into caricature. Meanwhile, her highly questionable “pixie” hairdo deserves a discussion all its own — which, perhaps not surprisingly, it has; click here for a lengthy thread on IMDb’s message board.

In an unexpectedly complex role, Keith emerges as perhaps the most nuanced actor in the film; one is reminded once again that he should have been given more opportunities for leading cinematic roles. Robinson does fine supporting work in a low-key yet critical role, and Katherine Anderson is memorable in a bit part as the kind matron watching over Rogers. Burnett Guffey’s cinematography is suitably noir-ish at critical moments in the screenplay — but one ultimately wishes for even more of the same; indeed, while the storyline remains intrinsically taut (given both the constant danger Rogers is in, and a critical later plot twist), Rogers’ performance imparts the entire affair with an oddly misplaced sense of light-heartedness. With that said, fans of Karlson’s oeuvre will certainly want to check this one out once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Keith as Vince Striker
  • Effectively noir-ish cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

One Response to “Tight Spot (1955)”

  1. Just rewatched this – and I’m in complete agreement with the particularly well-written and accurate assessment, so there’s not really anything to say that hasn’t been covered.

    ~esp. in regards to Rogers’ performance – though, in her defense, the oddly verbose way the role is written reflects the ‘type’ of woman she should be playing without really succeeding in making her completely believable as a person. So anyone playing the role would have had the same road block. Anytime she is not on-screen, the film suddenly gains strength as the kind of film we expect from director Karlson (but, again, Rogers is saddled a bit unfairly).

    With the arc his character is given, Keith does come off best – and it’s a treat being reminded of his impressive quality as a hunk.

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