July 23, 2018
Street Date 7/24/18;
$19.95 DVD, $24.95 Blu-ray;
Stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey.
The first Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas teaming occurred in 1947 almost a full decade before same-producer Hal Wallis’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral finally paired them again for an even truer launchpad for what then quickly became one of the screen’s most durable male duos. Much earlier on, the moody if overheated I Walk Alone had been only the fourth film for both actors — with Douglas rating only fourth billing (under Wendell Corey, who plays an accountant). But the narrative centerpiece here is definitely a Burt-Kirk duel; Douglas has one of Walk’s two dominant roles playing more residue of slick slime from the same early-carer mold as his then recent role in Out of the Past.
Because neither of these alpha males were yet the superstars they would become, this unintended slice of screen history can’t help but give those inclined a mildly, if automatically, seductive time at the movies — just as nearly every postwar Wallis Paramount still does at the very least. Yet due to the rights and/or distribution foibles of certain Wallis titles over the years, Walk never even rated a VHS, Laserdisc or DVD release before this new Kino Classics issue in separate formats. I’m not certain how this picture fell through the home market cracks, and even its first TV showing came much, much later than you’d expect. But remember that NBC-TV, of all possibilities, ended up owning the Wallis-Elvis Loving You for a while — and its Blu-ray release is by now a generation overdue, for all its wish-list currency. Interestingly, Corey and Walk’s second-billed Lizabeth Scott showed up in that one, too, wrapping up their Wallis contracts.
This one isn’t that. Walk is dirty noir in which no one will ever sing “Teddy Bear,” even if it is the product of a more refined time when guys used to make a haberdasher stop-off just to hit Hiyaleah. We open with Lancaster getting out of the slammer after getting 14 years for, as we see in flashback, a bootlegging gig with Douglas that went way south. Each had vowed to help out the other and go 50-50 if either got caught, but spared Douglas basically pulled a “One-Eyed Jacks” and never even paid Lancaster a visit on prison visiting days — becoming so successful in the posh nightclub racket that he’s now making the newspaper society pages and (in our first view of him) wearing jodhpurs. The last alone is enough to bring on a double-take, when it comes to Kirk’s standard screen image. Try even imagining Jean Simmons (as Varinia) saying, “Spartacus, I think the beige get-up would flatter your lower regions more than the powder blue.”
So. Our just-sprung con, who does seem to have an adequate stipend of walking-around money, wants his 50%, but browbeaten Corey has cooked the club’s books to concoct a slew of legal but sneaky-plus side corporations that each owns a percentage of the assets. There’s one for, say, the restaurant chairs, one for the champagne that club chanteuse Scott likes to lap up during the joint’s private candlelit dinners, and maybe even one for the jodhpurs. When Corey tallies the figures, Lancaster’s share of two grand and change might buy him a ’47 Nash if the salesman is already having a good month in terms of his quota, but that isn’t much of a return for 14 years.
The rest is an over-the-top revenge pic with the usual expressive Paramount production design trappings, these photographed by Leo Tover not long before he got the Oscar for shooting William Wyler’s The Heiress. Lancaster all but bursts out of his tight-fitting suit taking on thugs employed by Douglas, who’s one of those guys with a hidden button under his office desk to signal doorman Mike Mazurki to come in and employ a headlock if need be. In keeping with this, Burt takes an unusually brutal gang beating here into some alley garbage cans — a familiar scene made more convincing than usual, notes Blu-ray bonus section commentator Troy Howarth, by the natural athleticism that went back to the actor’s days as a circus performer. Meanwhile, Scott gets two or three musical numbers here dubbed by another singer, despite the fact that the actress waxed an LP for real about a decade later for Vik Records, former recording home of Gisele Mackenzie and Mickey & Sylvia (now, there’s a playbill).
The nominal director is Byron Haskin, who had an unusual career: cinematographer and director in the silent era, then a special effects specialist for a lot of the cream projects at Warner, and then a return to directing (with Walk) that lasted 20 more years. He wasn’t much of a stylist nor much to write home about when it came to actors, yet a lot of his films looked good or moved along at a decent clip: Too Late for Tears, the Disney Treasure Island, The War of the Worlds, The Naked Jungle, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, some “Outer Limits” episodes and a trio of Technicolor Paramount Westerns from the early ’50s that I’ve always enjoyed in a kids’ matinee kind of way.
Douglas quit playing heels after 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful after basically owning that market for half-a-decade, while Lancaster began his escape from noir-ish screen beginnings around the time he and Nick Cravat enjoyed their first color romp in The Flame and the Arrow. As a result, I Walk Alone captures a special moment in marquee-name time and is thus worth a look by those for whom modest fun is enough. Nearly 30 years later, the two kingpins would still be at it with Tough Guys, a movie that took its own curious time getting to Blu-ray, though eventually it did.