Talkie of the Week: The Houston Story
USA 1956, 79 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: William Castle, Producer: Sam Katzman, Written by: Robert E. Kent as James B. Gordon. Cast: Gene Barry, Barbara Hale, Edward Arnold, Paul Richards, Jeanne Cooper, Frank Jenks, John Zaremba, Chris Alcaide, Jack Littlefield, Paul Levitt, Fred Krone, Pete Kellett
Plot summary: Frank Duncan plays a game of double-cross with Houston’s syndicate, trying to steal one of the mobster’s girl while getting rich on black gold.
Review: The Houston Story is a classic film noir with all its sultry elements of crime, drama and suspense. Gene Barry plays Frank Duncan, an oil field worker who is trying to outsmart the local mob by getting to their money in order to get rich himself. His scheme is dangerous and reckless, especially when he starts to play with fire and gets involved with one of the mobster’s girlfriend, a lusciously enigmatic night club entertainer. As convoluted as the plot, the characters’ fate is inevitable yet inscrutable in a gripping way.
Gene Barry gives an absorbing performance as Frank Duncan who is trying to keep ahead in his own bold venture. He is surrounded by a stunning cast of supporting actors, who tease out the ruthless morale of their characters to a tee.
Barbara Hale plays Zoe Crane, the female lead who is full of allure. An enigma of her own making, elegantly walking a tightrope to survive the dangerous game she finds herself entrapped in. It is not clear if she’s a victim or a player, if she tries to escape or trick the men surrounding her. She is positively mysterious, a captivating beauty with her cropped platinum curls, a seductress whose glittering introduction merges class with sin. Her enticing wardrobe and memorable performance of “Put the Blame on Mame” (originally introduced in Rita Hayworth’s famous film Gilda in 1946) set the tone for the entire movie and beautifully tie in with Zoe Crane’s fatal attraction, her doom.
All in all, The Houston Story is the kind of film you cannot watch and iron to. It is fast and keeps its audience on its toes, wondering who will survive this mess of greed and violence. It is beautifully shot with a fantastic cast of actors, a real gem you may find yourself returning to over and over again.
Available on VHS and DVD. The Houston Story trailer