Private Hell 36 (1954)

“These are night faces … Living on the edge of evil and violence!” Here’s your chance to see an early Don Siegel picture before he went on to direct such classics as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dirty Harry (1971), Escape from Alcatraz (1979) and others. A taut little film noir, Private Hell 36 (AKA Baby Face Killers) follows Los Angeles police detectives Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran) and Jack Farnham (Howard Duff) as they try to identify a suspect who passed a marked $50 bill from a $300,000 heist that happened in New York City. Spoiler alert! The trail leads to a nightclub singer, Lili Marlowe (Ida Lupino), who claims she got the $50 bill as a tip from one of her customers who claimed he had a good day at the horse races. So they have Lili help them out by staking out the racetrack (scenes were filmed at Hollywood Park Racetrack) to see if this guy is going to show up and sure enough she finally spots him. After a wild car chase that leads to the death of the suspect at the bottom of a hill, Cal starts stuffing his pockets with cash from the heist found on the scene. You see, Cal has fallen for Lili, who has rather expensive tastes and he figures the money will come in real handy if he is going to have any shot of keeping her around. Jack reluctantly agrees to split the cash with Cal but starts to feel overwhelmingly guilty about the whole sordid affair. You might be wondering what the hell the title refers to but you’re going to have to watch the movie to find out. As for the actors, Lupino is outstanding, Cochran does a good job and Duff simply fills the role. Lupino has some great lines such as “Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed I’d meet a drunken slob in a bar who’d give me 50 bucks and we’d live happily ever after.” The cast also includes Dean Jagger as “Capt. Michaels,” Dorothy Malone as “Francey Farnham” and Dabbs Greer as “Sam the Bartender.” It’s a low-key film but definitely worth a look. Useless Trivia: Private Hell 36 was produced by Collier Young, who had been married to Lupino from 1948-1951. Lupino was married to Duff from 1951-1984.

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